For our Western Night get-together last evening it was my turn to select the films. The first was an episode from the television series, THE REBEL, starring Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma, an ex-Confederate keeping a journal as he wanders the West. The episode, from 1960, entitled “The Waiting,” takes place inside a small, dank saloon a short time before sunrise. Written by Bruce Geller, who would go on to create MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, there are only six characters and it plays in nearly real time. I don’t want to say anymore about this surprising and suspenseful episode, except, if you like noir, give it a look. It’s available on DVD as well as on youtube.
THE REBEL was created and produced by Andrew J. Fenady, who also produced and wrote the main feature I brought: CHISUM (1970), starring John Wayne. Made after his Oscar-winning turn in TRUE GRIT, it features Wayne as John Chisum, a cattle rancher in 1878 New Mexico Territory who played a part in the Lincoln County war. Billy the Kid is there. So are Pat Garrett, Lawrence Murphy, Jessie Evans and many of the others who were involved in that bloody piece of Old West history. Early into the screening, Robert Nott called it “delightfully hokey” and Johnny Boggs said it was “a guilty pleasure.” All true.
Admittedly, the picture has its faults. It about twenty minutes too long, slow in the middle, including a poorly staged shootout at a river, and some characters, like reliable Ben Johnson as Pepper, Chisum’s friend, have little to do. But it’s a joy to watch because of Wayne himself. He plays an honest man who says what he means. When Chisum backs a new general store in the town of Lincoln that bad guy Lawrence Murphy (Forrest Tucker) pretty much runs, he meets Murphy in the middle of the street and tells him, “If anything happens to that store, I’m not going to the sheriff, the governor or the president of the United States. I’m coming to see you.” There’s authority in Wayne’s voice and a look in his eyes that says don’t mess with me. At the climax of the film when he charges into town with his men driving a herd of cattle before them to knock down the barricade Murphy’s men have thrown up, it’s a thrilling moment. It’s followed by the big scene where, still on horseback, Chisum crashes through a window into Murphy’s office and the two of them brawl up the staircase and out onto the balcony for the finale. It’s almost like watching Wayne in those early 1930s Monogram programmers when he was just starting out in pictures: the bad guys lost and the good guys won.
Also in attendance with Johnny D. Boggs, seven-time Spur Award winner, and Robert Nott, award-winning journalist whose new book on the films of director Budd Boetticher is due out soon, were David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of FIRST BLOOD, and Kirk Ellis, Emmy-winning writer and producer of HBO’s JOHN ADAMS.