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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Gary Cooper Does a Last Western

The Hanging Tree (1959) Deals Harsh Hand

I Don't Recall Ben Piazza Being "Dreamy." Was He?
What makes me uncomfortable with The Hanging Tree? Maybe it’s crepe hung over Gary Cooper, his character, Cooper himself. There are signals from a start that the town will rise against him and he’ll be strung from the title tree. How he regards it, post-titles, is presage to Cooper being dragged there. Delmer Daves directed The Hanging Tree. He was at verge of new fame staging hysteria with teen stars (stars, that is, playing teens). They'd be characters misunderstood and victimized by gossip. A same happens to Cooper in rounder-bout ways, except thick pioneer tongues get murderous once driven by gold lust made intense by New York 50’s actors gone whole-hog (Karl Malden, George C. Scott, womenfolk mean to cores). Cooper meanwhile plays so close-to-vest that we barely get "Joe Frail's" backstory, how he burned up a plantation and presumably a brother taken up with his wife. The Hanging Tree is glum to extremes, Cooper tortured by the hinted-at past. Close-ups on his monument of a face show thirty years at persona building paid off by light of a cigar, flipping off a spent bullet to reveal character others could not convey with five pages of dialogue ... there was no such authority from any beyond Cooper and a handful with comparable backlog.

Delmer Daves Directs Cooper and Maria Schell

A Thrill for Maverick Boys When They Visit Gary Cooper
50’s-driven domestic drama bled into other genres, notably here with busy-bodies wrecking Cooper as healer and potential mate to Maria Schell, the blinded woman he rescues. I wanted Coop to strap on sixes and put drop to loose talk and never mind crooked card deals or would-be faster draws. What does The Hanging Tree have in common with likes of All That Heaven Allows? Plenty … in fact, too much. The 50’s, and not the 1850’s, was never so hot a bed of repression as here. Daves had found a niche and would develop it further. Lush as they are, his Summer Place, Susan Slade, down the line, are unrelieved downers. Unless babies catching fire are your bag (seriously, it happens in Susan Slade), stay off his grass. How were us 50’s-born conceived in shade-drawn, extreme sex-guilt era as depicted in these? Man Of The West, Cooper’s previous, had some of same taint, his and Julie London’s ordeal a sick ritual as woven into much writing of the period. Scribes graduated off tube-live dramas took liberties many had itched for, result unease for filmgoers. Did this hasten skid for westerns? Television dealt simpler per network standard/practices, but then look at Bonanza. They are depressing to a fault, save isolated episodes where Hoss overeats flapjacks or sees leprechauns.

He had the face work I know, but Cooper seems to have settled into tightened features by this point, for he looks fine in The Hanging Tree. Does countenance adjust to soften plastic surgery’s effect? Granted he was carefully photographed. There was back pain when Cooper got on his horse, director Daves later assuming that was start of cancer that felled the actor (Anthony Perkins observed a same problem during Friendly Persuasion). Characters Cooper played were laid low by gloom of late vehicles, tall trees everyone was intent to chop down. Did despair they project reflect Cooper’s own? He chose Ten North Frederick and They Came To Cordura after all (in fact co-produced the latter). Was it for Cooper to expiate our shared sins of the past? Frederick is lately out on Blu-Ray, which I applaud, but OMG, what a dampener, Coop as cuckold plus sire of neurotic offspring, a coin 50’s minted and reliable to make watching a chore. Did youth viewership regard themselves as misrepresented? I would have. Picture new-married couples coming out of shows like this and both saying, Honey, let’s never have kids. The Hanging Tree is not fun for me, much as I admire it, being like walk of plank other classics lately are. Maybe getting older for real makes grim films the grimmer. I keep wishing The Hanging Tree could be more a traditional western rather than trying to be something else, because that something leaves me in a slump. But then there is spectacular location plus a stirring Max Steiner score to link The Hanging Tree with westerns as once they were.

Look-Alike Visitors to The Hanging Tree Location

L.A. First-Run Saturation
I know a local front row kid who was visiting Washington state in ’58, stumbled across the busy site of Hanging Tree production (Yakima), and spent a day watching progress, being welcomed there, seeing stars, the whole kit. Heroes on TV could be heroic, but lead men in theatre westerns came on flawed and left that way, assuming they finished up whole. Cooper’s Joe Frail is a good man, if unapproachable, everyone piled on him where they should thank his saving their hostile lives. Did this come of 50's demand that males be sensitive to community need? James Stewart took a trimming for anti-social attitude in The Far Country. Shot up, his friend dead of villainous design, yet Jim still owes ingrates who withhold credit for his disposing of evil force that is John McIntire and minions. Nothing short of laying down guns and joining the Chamber of Commerce will do. He-men off prewar frontiers had to bend, or be broken. I get forbode for Cooper had he lived deeper into the 60's --- Gable too, let alone Bogart. These people not only belonged to their Classic Era, they could not trespass beyond it, except for revivals and late show posting of irretrievable past they stood for.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

This sounds like one of the few Cooper movies I'd be interested in seeing.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

John, you intrigue me with your turn of phrase walk of plank. Is there a certain type of picture that forebodes walk of plank for you, or do individual titles have their plank-worthy moments? Just curious; I don't want you to torture yourself recalling nominees for the Greenbriar Plank Awards.

1:03 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

What happens is, I'll look again at something that has been enjoyable to me for years, but now has some aspect I find unpleasant or disagreeable. Certain films I've avoided since seeing them a first and only time, such as both CARRIE's, the 1952 Larry CARRIE, and the 1976 Scary CARRIE. The first is too hopeless for Olivier, ends too bleak, the second non-stop cruel from start to end. Even comedy can be toxic: I never liked THE BOHEMIAN GIRL because Mae Busch is unrelentingly vicious to Oliver Hardy, and SAPS AT SEA with Richard Cramer so sadistic that none of it is funny. BIGGER THAN LIFE bothers me because of how James Mason victimizes his kid. No wonder it lost money. I admire aspects of THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but what a sad, sordid tale it tells. Will I ever go back to it? Not likely. Joan Fontaine should have left Cary Grant after a first third of SUSPICION, just like Gregory Peck should ditch Jennifer Jones in THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT. Wed for better or worse, I suppose. And don't start me on the 1944 JANE EYRE, or better yet, just drop the first two reels and start with grown-up Jane meeting Rochester. That Lowood School portion has always been unbearable to watch ... Elizabeth Taylor's hair being chopped off ... spare me ever having to look at that again.

These are just titles that immediately come to mind, my Walk Of Plank list a lengthy one.

1:56 PM  
Blogger shiningcity said...

John, re Hanging Tree, it seems your circling around the element introduced after the war, the anti-hero, which doomed the ability of the Western to project its mythology.

7:35 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I have seen this film like 25 years ago on HBO or Cinemax but I don't remember much about it except for some details near the end with Maria Schell begging for Coop's life.

There are way too many films that I also can go back and see it again. I remember seeing POTEMKIN for the first time and I felt bored and it kept me falling asleep. I saw it again and it was almost the same... it was shown to me once more at a university class as a replacement for CITIZEN KANE and I couldn't stand it again... the reason of the replacement is actually a funny situation: the Orson Welles film was originally presented to us dubbed in Spanish because the teacher wanted us to concentrate in the visuals instead of reading subtitles... but after only a few minutes of an ordeal with accents from Spain that were actually difficult to understand, the teacher himself couldn't stand that anymore, put POTEMKIN, and the next week brought an original version with subtitles.

Other movies that I don't want to revisit include almost all of the George Stevens productions, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, several non comic Doris Day films, a lot of musicals and one particular title from Argentina that I hate with passion, whose supporters are all a bunch of idiots: GATICA EL MONO.

12:01 AM  
Blogger Glenn Erickson said...

Love Hanging Tree one end to the other -- the pain, the drama, even some of the overacting. Only fault for me is the sometimes over-emphatic music score... that and maybe somebody should have taken Daves' crane away. I think most audiences find it very satisfying when the hard-won conclusion comes around ... Maria Schell's best movie, for sure (that I've seen).

I know exactly what you're saying about 'walk the plank' movies. This one just rewards viewing all the way, though. Plus violence delayed is violence ten times more impactful.

Hey, even love the anachronistic upbeat title tune -- 'WHUP -- WHAAA!'

: ) All good, maestro.

1:08 AM  
Blogger Chrisk said...

Agreed other than the location and the stirring score, The Hanging Tree is grim. After Man Of The West, I looked forward to seeing this but was rather disappointed.

4:14 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Stayed up to watch this on the Late, Late Show (1 AM) when I was about 11 (1962) expecting to see the Gary Cooper of Beau Geste or The Plainsman along with comparable action. At that point of my life, I didn't really get this aging thing. Mom and dad still looked the same to me. That viewing of The Hanging Tree was tough sledding and I don't know that I've ever gone back to watch it, start to finish.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Vance said...

The movie is grim, but I've always liked “The Hanging Tree” song sung by Marty Robbins under the opening credits and at the the end. Written by Mack David (older brother of Hal) and Jerry Livingston, it pretty much tells the story of the movie. Nominated for an Academy Award, the song was a radio hit in its own right and comes from a time when some movies had a title song associated with them which no doubt helped with promotion.

Another in this genre was “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, a Top 10 hit by Gene Pitney in 1962. Though obviously commissioned for the movie, it was never used in the film. Would have been great under the opening credits and when I finally saw the movie on TV I was disappointed to find it MIA.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

That nicotine can sure keep the weight down. I saw this in TV about 40 years ago and I can distinctly remember that I found the very last shot unbearably corny.

1:52 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

POTEMKIN must be seen with the Edmund Meisel score. The combination of Meisel's music with Eisenstein's visuals is dynamite. That was what the experience was in 1925:, "In 1925, Meisel came to prominence with a new score for Sergei Eisenstein's Potemkin, helping to turn the movie into a major hit from the modest success it had had in Russia. The opportunity arose when the German distributor decided to capitalize on the unexpected success the movie achieved in Berlin by improving the score. Meisel's music established an approach to scoring movies that came to dominate filmmaking, especially in Hollywood.[3] Writing in just 12 days' time, his score more closely paralleled the movie, shot-by-shot and scene-by-scene, in a way that was novel for the time. Meisel's only guidance from Eisenstein was with the final reel, where Meisel was asked to rely on rhythm as the dominant element. Eisenstein was apparently pleased with Meisel's score, hiring him later for October in 1927.[3] ."

Eisenstein's OCTOBER (TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD) is also available from Europe with Meisel's score. Wow!!! Talk about kicking ass!

Meisel's music for THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is available on cd. I got it and then built a score for THE HOLY MOUNTAIN with Leni Riefenstahl as the score on the Kino DVD and Blu-ray misses the mark by miles. That music really puts the juice into the movie. I used the way Meisel used music in POTEMKIN and OCTOBER to guide me.

Most film teachers I have met know next to nothing about presentation. A writer for a University of Toronto paper wrote, "I have rarely felt a film's greatness in film class. I often feel it at Reg Hartt's Cineforum."

Presentation is everything. The audiences expectations have not to be met but surpassed. That is what show business (and life) is about.

I first saw THE HANGING TREE last year. While it certainly is an uncomfortable film it is meant to be. It certainly mirrors the moment we are now in with mass media lynch mobs acting as judge, jury and executioner. Harvey Weinstein may be every bit the monster we are being told he was. The same for Bill Cosby. However the delight in their downfall is far worse than anything they did.

McCarthyism lives.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

Harvey Weinstein may be every bit the monster we are being told he was. The same for Bill Cosby. However the delight in their downfall is far worse than anything they did.

McCarthyism lives.

Exactly that, Reg, and I've tried to tell people that countless times how wrongly-directed #MeToo is, and how similar it is to McCarthyism. But nobody seems to want to listen, so it goes on-only now from the left and not the right. How ironic.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

John, I have the same kind Walk The Plank list that you do for films I find hard to sit through:

*Welcome To The Dollhouse-Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) getting constantly victimized at junior high school, ignored at home, then blamed for kidnapping her younger, prettier, and blonde sister (she's reported to have committed suicide in the 'sequel' Palindromes.) The critics loved this crap movie to such a degree that it was insane; it was bullying porn, showing the same kind of bullying now under fire, close investigation, and prevention in most schools due to some recent events with LGBT youth, and yet, they love this movie and call it a classic?

There are others I have on the list I'll post as soon as I can remember them.

6:04 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

I don't think McCarthyism applies to Cosby and Weinstein. Go ahead and defend Epstein while you're at it. And ask the countless number of women who were raped and abused if the delight people feel in their downfall is worse than what they experienced.

11:08 PM  

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