Cry Onion 1975 ****

onionWith a title that’s right up there alongside Surprise Sock in the ‘surely not?’ mistranslation stakes, Cry Onion lives up to a silly name by being the mother lode for onion fans. A nice find on Amazon Prime, Enzo G Castellari’s 1975 Western should ensnare a few viewers on sheer curiosity value. The setting is a Western town called Paradise City, but the grass is not green and the girls are not pretty. If someone does take you down to Paradise City, then you’ll likely be smelling of onions for days.

Cry Onion opens with a frank description of onion juggling, before unfolding a wider picture of the root vegetable and what possible uses they might have. Onions are eaten, used as weapons, drunk; even the main character’s name is Onion. Played by the great Franco Nero, Onion is an onion farmer who loves onions, and is prepared to fight for his life to protect his onion crop. Onions are to him what melons are to Mr Majestyk or bananas to Mike Connors in Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die; they’re our hero’s way of life.

It’s always hard to assemble a great cast for a low-budget film, but when the subject is onions, the big names assemble. Nero is sending up his Django role, with the assistance of Sterling Hayden, fresh from working with Sam Peckinpah and Stanley Kubrick, while Martin Balsam uses his experience of working for Hitchcock to play a land-owner who reveals an Inspector Gadget metal hand on a ten foot retractable arm during the final fight sequence. Onion also has help in the form of Archie, a farting white horse in a straw hat, and two comedy child gangsters.

Cry Onion is a burlesque film in the vein of Loaded Guns; it’s a parody that eventually loses momentum due to reliance on speeded-up fight scenes and circus choreography. It’s also a lot of fun, with the impeccable Nero wide-eyed and mugging like crazy, but in the context of the madness around him, catching the mood of this crazy, crazy film admirably.

To see if Cry Onion can be viewed in your region, click the link below…

Never Grow Old **** 2019

why-westerns-never-grow-old

We’ve seen this character in Westerns before; from Sergio Leone to Carry On Cowboy; the small-town mortician scuttles in the shadows between the buildings, following in the wake of a violent protagonist as he shoots his way to grim justice. Often played for laughs, the undertaker is usually a bit-part player; Ivan Kavanagh’s violent thriller puts him centre stage in a strong, involving story about morality and money.

A flash-forward shows Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch) entering a church, shotgun in hand. It’s an image that hangs heavily over the rest of the film, as the story uncoils to reveal his deadly motivations. Tate lives and works in the small frontier town of Garlow, populated by right-thinking, sweet-natured religious people until Dutch Albert (John Cusack) and his gang arrive. They bring booze, and recruit child-prostitutes for a local brothel, and dish out death to those who stand in their way. For Tate, it’s a moral quandary, but also a business proposition; after all, he has a young wife (Déborah François) and hungry children to feed…

Never Grow Old has a timeless story, but also one that feels intensely relevant in 2019. Dutch Albert promises a better life, or at least a more moneyed existence, but at a high cost. Tate has the option of keeping his head down and not acknowledging where the cash is coming from, but it’s inevitable that his supping with the devil will lead him to the moral awakening of the final confrontation. Faith in capitalism is one thing, but it doesn’t allow entrepreneurs to operate in a moral vacuum. Kavanaugh’s story is suitably elliptical that it doesn’t have a specific political meaning, but all comers can take something away from the picture of a world where the good guys are hamstrung by trying to do the right thing while the bad guys run roughshod over the rules.

What makes Never Grow Old really worth switching your phone off for is the acting; Cusack has travelled some distance from his pretty-boy rom-com image, and he adds a personal best performance amongst the gallery of villains he’s played. Dutch has a touch of Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York, volatile, off-key, oozing menace behind a blank stare. He’s well-matched by Hirsch, also a teen idol who has conjured up the grit required to gravitate to bigger things; his good looks work against his character’s moral weakness, making something complex of Tate; Hirsch’s Jay Sebring in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time …In Hollywood brought him back to public notice, but Never Grow Old shows he’s still a first-rate lead. François also deserves credit for taking a familiar character and giving her a hard, sympathetic edge as she begs her husband to recognise that the source of their good fortune is also their undoing.

Shot in Luxembourg and Ireland, Never Grow Old is a handsome, well-mounted Western in the old-tradition; it’s the kind of film that might have genre fans standing in supermarkets examining the case, wondering if this is any good; it is good, the kind of tough, thoughtful film that’s increasingly hard to find but easy to recommend.

NEVER GROW OLD is released on DVD 23rd September 2019 from Altitude Films

Battle Beyond The Stars 1980 ****

battle

‘I eat serpent seven times a week’ says Gelt (Robert Vaughn), in one of a number of quotable lines from Roger Corman’s Star Wars rip-off Battle Beyond the Stars. There’s a certain logic to Corman’s thinking here; if Star Wars knocked off Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, then why not rip of Seven Samurai? Sure, The Magnificent Seven already Westernised that classic text, but why not lean into it and have characters like Cowboy (George Peppard) and to take things further, get Robert Vaughn back and have him say the same dialogue he did in John Sturges’s film? John Sayles was the screenwriter charged with sorting out the conceptual issues, and presumably his writing process involved being locked in a room with the script for Magnificent Seven, Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces and a massive lump of cheese, because cheesy action is what results. Henry Thomas is Shad, a young farmer dispatched to put together a group of mercenaries to defend his home planet against despot Sador (John Saxon). The team he puts together include various oddities like a lizard man, bald twins and a Valkyrie, played by the voluptuous Sybil Danning in costumes which make Caroline Munro in Starcrash look positively demure. With a James Horner score and James Cameron on effects, Battle Beyond The Stars has quite a pedigree, and the talent bring their A-game to this B movie. Jimmy T Murakami directs, so what do we talk about when we talk about Battle Beyond The Stars? Spaceship interiors seeming made of plasticine, planets made of candy-floss; it’s a strange universe to explore in low-budget cinema, but there’s a degree of knowing wit in the dialogue that makes Battle Beyond the Stars a guilty pleasure.

The Outsider 2019 ****

Despite the best efforts of Quentin Tarantino and Westworld, the Western hasn’t quite been revived as a genre, but there seems to be a strain of tough, adult fare developing from Bone Tomahawk onwards. Director Timothy Woodward Jr seems to be a fan of the form, with a Bill Hickok biopic amongst his many recent credits, and The Outsider is a more than decent entry in the Western stakes, shot at the old Paramount Ranch.  John Foo plays Jing Phang, a railroad-worker who not surprisingly struggles to find social equality in the Old West. When the increasingly unhinged James Walker (Kaiwi Lyman), son of lawman Marshall Walker (singer Trace Adkins ) takes an unpleasant shine to Phang’s wife, Phang is unable to prevent her from falling into his clutches , and revenge ensues. The Outsider’s plotline makes it sound like an eye-for-an-eye Charles Bronson movie, but Sean Ryan’s script is considerably more complex and thoughtful than might be expected, and follows a number of factions in the town while Phang is on the run. If the climax doubles down on melodrama in a frustratingly conventional way, The Outsider scores points as a well-mounted, traditional Western that should please anyone looking for a fix of old-school moral justice.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-outsider/id1460596870

Slow West 2015 ***

slow-west

John Maclean’s debut film is an offbeat Western which features the star of his BAFTA-winning short, Pitch Black Heist, Michael Fassbender. Kodi-Smidt-McPhee plays a young Scotsman befriended by Fassbinder’s gruff stranger who a cross -ountry trek to find a lost sweetheart. Ben Mendelsohn makes a suitable adversary, but Slow West never conforms to genre expectations, feeling more like a road movie with horses, and with sudden, shocking violence in the vein of Dead Man. The sight of a washing line hung between the men’s horses as they ride sets a whimsical tone that’s laced with dark humour. Slow West has echoes of The Coen Brothers’ version of True Grit; a semi-mythical West, unexpected in its simplicity, deadly in outlook.

The Salvation 2014 ***

134f5-salvatation-poster-2-copy-copyIf you only see one Western featuring Eric Cantona, Douglas Henshaw, Mads Mikklelsen, and Eva Green as a murderous mute, The Salvation is likely to be the answer to your prayers. Mikklelsen plays a man who revenges his family’s killer, only to find himself alone in his battle against a larger, better equipped villain.  Kristain Levring’s western has a welcome dash of Leone, but has its own violent, remorseless energy, with Green magnetic as always amid plenty of quirky, offbeat incident.

The Long Riders 1980 ***

images-5

The stunning images of a bang-robbing gang on horseback smashing through the plate-glass windows of an Old West Street is just one of the visual high-points of Walter Hill’s overlooked Western. Co-written with Bill Bryden amongst others, The Long Riders de-mythologizes The Jesse James gang, and cleverly uses acting clans to depict the brothers. Three Carradines (David, Keith and Robert), two Quaids (Dennis and Randy), two Guests (Christopher and Nicholas) and two Keaches (James and Stacey) are the gangs, with the latter two as James and Frank James, who become outlaws as an act of revenge. It’s a shame Beau and Jess Bridges weren’t able to schedule The Long Riders in, but Western fans should make an effort; Hill’s dark, brooding epic is a classic slice of revisionism.