The Gambler gets ruthless
There is a whole sub-genre of country-singer Westerns, featuring among others Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Kenny Rogers, Travis Tritt and, lord help us, Willy Nelson. Cash was actually a good actor, as A Gunfight testified, and Kristofferson reached the heights of being Billy the Kid for Sam Peckinpah, as well as starring in the elephantine Heaven’s Gate, but in all frankness, as actors the others made good singers.
In between parts 4 and 5 of his Gambler series, Rogers changed persona somewhat for the 1993 TV movie Rio Diablo, adding to the Rio Westerns – you know, Rio this and Rio that. Instead of the roguish gambler he was now Quentin Leech, a hard-bitten and implacable bounty hunter shooting down bad guys for money. He didn’t do too badly, I reckon, and at least he looked almost plausible in the clothes (the other cast members were obviously wearing costumes, as if on their way to a fancy dress ball or playing cowboys).
He is joined in his quest by good guy Ben Taber (Tritt), who is after the same villains but not for the bounty (or bounny as they call it) but because they kidnapped his new bride Maria (Laura Harring) on their wedding day during a bloody (though sub-Northfield) bank raid. During the mismatched couple’s partnership – I mean the two villain-hunters, not the newlyweds – they will, despite initial antipathy, grow close, and Quentin will learn some humanity, Ben some toughness, and they’ll meet somewhere in the middle. One reviewer said of Tritt, justly, I think, that he was “too flat on screen to really convey the whole ‘driven by vengeance into desperate action’ thing.”
Co-star Naomi Judd, as Flora Mae Pepper, gets little more than a cameo and is incidental to the action. She too does her best and tries to be an actress.
Stacy Keach also gets a guest-star cameo, as Kansas, a rival bounty hunter, and there will be a cliff-top dénouement involving the guns of all three men, but the outcome I shall not reveal in the rather unlikely event that you wish to see this movie.
No one sings, though, or not much.
I didn’t recognize anyone else in the cast, though country music fans may.
The picture, a Kenny Rogers production, was helmed by Rod Hardy, who would later direct Kristofferson in Two for Texas and be one of the assistant directors on the 2003 Monte Walsh. He does OK on Rio Diablo, I guess. The teleplay, as they call it, was by Frank Q Dobbs, who produced Hallmark’s series Johnson County War, stuntman/assistant director/producer David S Cass Sr, and Stephen Lodge, who co-wrote James Coburn’s rodeo picture The Honkers.
In one scene, there’s a rattlesnake in a glass jar on the bar and tough Kenny shoots the jar, freeing the serpent to intimidate the sniveling barkeep. But goody Travis brings his rifle to bear. Unfortunately he got the wrong snake, and hit the rattler.
It’s all harmless enough, though hardly great art.
It’s worth seeing for the opening scene when Kenny gets the drop on two bad guys with a matched pair of derringers, and he has a special derringer-holster attached to the back of his gun belt. So that sent the movie up in my estimation.
Jeff, say what you may, but I applaud the Country and Western singers for doing their part in keeping the Western genre alive and kicking after the death of John Wayne in 1979. Kenny Rogers in particular for his THE GAMBLER series of Westerns released from 1980-1994 and his non-GAMBLER Westerns. Sure, these made for tv Westerns aren’t masterpieces and they have flaws, but I think they are solid made good entertainments and are well worth viewing. I would much rather view them than most of the tripe that is being made today.
As for Willie Nelson, have you ever viewed BARBAROSA(filmed 1980, released 1982)? I think this Western Movie is a really good one and Willie Nelson is good in it. Also, I think that Tim McGraw and Faith Hill held their own very well in 1883(2021-22).
I certainly agree with your take on Willie Nelson and Faith Hill, but this is a terrible project. All modern westerns are but in differing degrees. The worst in my view and most applauded, Dances With Wolves. I think of it as Dances with Bowel Movements.
Barry, I couldn’t help from laughing on what you think of DANCING WITH WOLVES(filmed 1989, released 1990) and it called to mind an earlier scene from that particular movie at Fort Hays where Major Fambrough(Maury Chaykin) couldn’t control his bladder. Russell Means formerly of the American Indian Movement(AIM) called the movie “Lawrence of the Plains” and not in a complementary way. I needed a laugh today, because of what I’ll have to be dealing with tomorrow, which perturbs me to no end. Thanks.
I’m no “high falutin’ big mouth” critic here to defend DANCES WITH WOLVES, but I do like it and I think it has a lot of good things going for it, despite knowing that it’s a late 20th century moviemaker’s vision of what it was like in the late 19th century West, which is two different things in reality. I say this as a descendent of frontiersmen and frontierswomen, who conquered and tamed the West so they could feed themselves and their families and live FREE. At the moment comes to mind my four-great grand uncle Green River Valley Kentucky rifleman “Barefoot” Mike Severs a real life Natty Bumppo. Barefoot Mike was with General Andy Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Looks like I’m off chasing rabbits again, so I better get back to the subject at hand. Barry, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on DANCES WITH WOLVES. Oh, by the way, I borrowed your neat term “high falutin’ big mouth,” for the so-called critics. I like it and will probably use it again, so I think I should give you credit.
I need to clarify something here. Did you mean, “I certainly agree with your take on Willie Nelson and Faith Hill” as in Willie Nelson in BARBAROSA and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in 1883? That BARBAROSA and 1883 are both terrible projects, or just 1883?
I always like hearing from you.
I salute you, and I hope tomorrow will not be troublesome. Oh, I like your take, it was the movie I could not stand.
Barry, fair enough. Thank you about tomorrow. It doesn’t have anything related to health, just dealing with junk.
I mentioned the tv series 1883. I don’t know if you, Jeff, or any of his readers have viewed it yet, but I personally don’t really care for it. It looks good, because it is beautifully photographed, production and art design are top-notch, costuming is good and so-forth. Sam Elliott and LaMonica Garrett are good, and husband and wife Tim McGraw and Faith Hill hold their own, but it’s the writing that’s just not believable too me. 21st century language isn’t 1883 language, and 21st century thoughts and values aren’t 1883 thoughts and values. I could go on, but enough said for now.
I’m more of a lo-falutin’ bigmouth but I’m somewhere between Walter and Barry on DANCES WITH WOLVES (see review https://jeffarnoldswest.com/2013/09/dances-with-wolves-mgm-1990/).
As for Willie Westerns, see today’s post https://jeffarnoldswest.com/2023/05/barbarosa-universal-1982/
Walter S. writes “21st century language isn’t 1883 language, and 21st century thoughts and values aren’t 1883 thoughts and values.”
Don’t you think you can apply this rule to most of the westerns !? Jeff has said many times that a western movie is not a documentary or some history lesson even when it says at the beginning “based upon a true story” or similar expression. For years the costumes were rarely correct, the weapons not the right ones considering the times, so was and probably still is the language. Yet there has been an evolution since the lates 1960s and 1970s partly thanks to the spaghetti westerns whether we like it or not for the costumes, the way of living and the props. As far the values are concerned, quite often a film says more of its time than the times set in the film.
That is fair enough, but I wish it were otherwise.
Language is a tricky if interesting question. What was ‘authentic’ 1870s and 80s frontier language? It’s impossible to know. The nearest we get are diaries and letters of the time but even these are unlikely to reflect what the coarser element actually said. HBO’s DEADWOOD blended hi-falutin’ Victorian eloquence with f- words and it was brilliant but whether it was true is hard to say. I think all Westerns (and other genres too) reflected the language and mores of the times they were made in. I don’t have a problem with that.
Jean-Marie and Jeff, first of all I enjoy your comments. On my last comment I ended with, “I could go on, but enough said for now.” I was tired then and now, I’m still tired, but I’ll attempt to better explain myself, and only myself. I grew up on a small ranch in the fly over country west of the Mississippi River. I grew up and worked with my share of old-timers both male and female and they were for the most part good honest hard-working people. I’ve known people who were born west of the Mississippi in the 1870’s, 1880’s,1890’s, and early 1900’s. These people had memories and stories from their families and people they had known back to the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. I knew Turk Hess(1873-1974) and his sister Cleo Hess Gray(1877-1982) who were children of Thomas Hess(1834-1921), who at age nineteen in 1853 made the journey with his family over the Oregon Trail to Oregon.
In my own family, my maternal grandfather Preston Walter Davis(1900-1983), whose father Mark Davis was born in 1851 and died in 1930, and his mother Martha Victoria Knight Davis was born in 1863 and died in 1934. My maternal grandfather Charles Elmer Severs(1898-1990), whose father was born in 1870 and died in 1931, and his mother Mable Gayle Severs was born in 1879 and died in 1952. My paternal grandparents were 19th century people living and working in the 20th century. Charlie and Ollie Patterson Severs(1900-1985) were quite a couple. Grandpa Charlie was a mule man. He liked to ride and work mules more than he did horses. Grandma Ollie, especially when she was young, would ride the most spirited horse or mule she could climb up on. My maternal grandparents Press Davis and Lillie Canard Davis(1912-2004) were a more modern couple, but they never forgot the old ways. Grandpa Press had traveled quite a lot in his younger years having lived and worked in Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Colorado during the years 1900-1930. In 1931 Press married Lillie and settled down to farming and ranching.
I realize this is a long way around, but I want you to know who and where I come from. I know how the old-timers of the rural areas lived and talked. Their speech was heavily influenced by the King James version of the BIBLE, the WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE, John Bunyan’s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, the NATIONAL POLICE GAZETTE and the KANSAS CITY STAR newspaper. Did the old-timers know anything about “cussing”? Of course, they did. They knew the Anglo-Saxon blackguard words, but there was the unwritten law of never using bad language around women and children. They wouldn’t use bad language if they even though women and children were nearby. My Grand Uncle Bob, who was known for being able to throw oaths around like nobody’s business, wouldn’t around women and children. When I was a youngster the worst oath he used around me was “damn.”
When I was seventeen and my brother was twenty-five, we were working on a cross fence on Grandpa Press’ place(land). My brother had leased the place from Grandpa, who was now seventy-six years old. Grandpa was at the age where he could no longer keep the place up, and the fences were down. The cattle were going around as they pleased, which caused problems. My brother and I were straightening the fence posts and tightening the barbwire, and here drives up Grandpa and Grand Uncle Homer in a pick-up truck. Grandpa thinks he needs to help us, so he grabs a hold of a fence post, but the post doesn’t want to cooperate. He lets loose with a f-bomb! It was the first time I had ever heard him cuss. I guess he didn’t think my brother and I were children anymore. Anyway, the f-bomb was used in anger, not in every other sentence spoken.
How about the badmen and badwomen? They were conscious of the unwritten law about not cussin’ in front of women and children and adhered to it. I knew some bad ones in my time, and they still adhered to the unwritten law. Some years later, in 1985, I was working for the government(or should I say working for the public, even though many elected officials have forgotten that) doing administrative work in a U.S. senators office, which is doing casework for people having problems with federal government agencies. I was in the home state office. A Washington D.C. senate staffer came down from the capitol. She used bad language just in normal speaking, not in anger. I thought “man alive!” I asked Martha, who had been with the senator for almost fifteen years about her. Martha told me, “That is the way they talk in Washington D.C.”
In 1987 ROBOCOP was released and set a new extensive standard in screen violence and foul language. At least it was rated R. Although, I’ve read where some scenes had to be re-edited to keep the movie from receiving an X rating. Well, it will get much worse and has in both movies and tv. David Milch’s DEADWOOD(2004-06) HBO-TV series brought the Western into the foul fold and set the new standard for foulness in a Western. Today we have the New Westerns from creator Taylor Sheridan, one of which is 1883(2021-22).
We moved back to the hinterlands in 1988 to try to make a life and living off of the land. We followed this trail for the next fourteen years. Later on, after two more career changes, we are in retirement. We continue to live in a rural area. What kind of people have I worked with and lived nearby? The majority are honest hard-working family-oriented people, who are good citizens. Do they use foul blackguard language every other sentence? No. Do their thoughts and values call for doing it to others before they do it to you? No. What concerns me is the young people. Movie and television viewers have been bombarded with so much abusive gratuitous language, because it’s so commonplace in Hollywood movies and tv shows. Bad language comes so fast and furious that it’s virtually impossible to count the bad words. Scurrilous language is so common in modern Hollywood movies and tv shows that many viewers, especially young people, consider it normal in everyday conversation.
Since we’re talking about Westerns, is the language and mores of our times reflected in DEADWOOD and 1883? In my opinion, and I can only speak for myself, I think some of the Western movies and tv shows of today, and the recent past have contributed to the use of scurrilous language in general conversation, especially by young people. Also, in questioning our communities’ mores. Just because they talk and behave badly in Hollywood and Washington D.C. doesn’t mean we have to follow along like good little sheeple.
I’m not a prude, or overly religious, and I’ve used some foul words in extreme anger in the past, and I’m far from perfect. Still, I’m hopeful that things will improve in the future. Anyway, we still have all those wonderful Classic and not so classic Western movies from back in the day to view and enjoy.
Tha,kyou for this long and intersting comment, Walter.
My grandparents were born in the 1880s and they certainly had the kind of attiude to language that you describe.
Jeff, I can be long winded at times. My point is that out here in the good old USA hinterlands, the fly over country, that kind of attitude of the use of bad language didn’t die with our grandparents, parents, our generation, or the next generation. Did today’s young people learn to use scurrilous language in everyday conversation from their parents and grandparents? I don’t think so. In my neck of the woods, the young people seem to have a new unwritten law when it comes to using foul language. Don’t use it around old people, they might not like it. Wow! What a switcharoo from back in our day.
Concerning mores, well that can be argued back and forth until the cows come home.
There’s no doubt that language usage evolves thru the generations, and that often the previous generation don’t care for the changes! I wonder what people will be saying a hundred years from now…