59 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2014
Teaming with directors such as Stanly Kubrick, John Houston, Michealangelo Antonioni, and Bob Rafelson, Jack Nicholson has one of the finest, most diverse careers in film.
But few know the two westerns in this Blu-ray set that Nicholson made with underrated Director Monte Hellman prior to his first supporting star-turn in "Easy Rider."
Coming from from Roger Corman's stable, Monte Hellman is a low-budget renegade in the Mexican-era Bunuel mode, and Hellman's later "Two-Lane Blacktop" (1971) is considered a classic existentialist road movie that, like these westerns, initially tanked at the box office, underwhelming critics, only to be reappraised, first by devoted cult audiences who'd discovered it, and later by critics who came to realize what a unique, eccentric work it is.
I came across "Ride in the Whirlwind" and "The Shooting" by accident in the form of two 99 cent VHS copies by a company that seems to have (equally accidentally) taken unwatched classics, given them ultra-bad transfers, always with a noxious static hum swelling like a quiet ocean in the backdrop.
Even in those bad copies (Blu-ray now! wow!) I sensed something if not boldly 'great' at least unique, fascinating and experimental.
I wondered why I didn't read, hear, see more about the films, until a buddy in college, a slacker cineaste in the 90s Kurt Cobain mode -- he went to film grad school at Loyala, and I: UCLA -- told me about "Two Lane Blacktop" and Hellman's "Cockfighter," also with Warren Oates playing that very thing in an odd, often praised (now) work about that sick sport.
Finally reaching theaters in 1968 these westerns -- both -- are spare, ultra low budget works that profit from the budget limitations, and both "Ride in the Whirlwind" and "The Shooting" have strong character turns from Warren "The Wild Bunch" Oates, and Harry Dean Stanton, respectively.
Watching them, it stuns how much leading men change. Stanton, Nicholson, and Oates have tremendous gifts combined with the temerity to look like living, breathing men, men who walk around, buy houses, make love and lose jobs; men who could live next door, especially if you live in a working class southern neighborhood, where people keep pens of pit bulls chained up in their backyards. At this point especially they have all the specificty and are absent any sign of Hollywood glamour. Stanton and Oates will never develop a polished quality.
From these films no one then could have assumed then that Nicholson would morph into the 1970s greatest American actor, debonair in "Chinatown," combustible in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and a nascent house on fire in "Five Easy Pieces," let alone to the unmitigated box office superstar of the 80s, and elder of the Hollywood senate he is now.
A politically significant, much-underwatched genre by young people, the western became a fascination of mine in my early 20s. I'd heard of the genre's classics by John Ford and Howard Hawks from my father. My father was an older Dad. He has a popcorn sensibility built on matinees.
My father's talk about "The Searchers," or "Rio Bravo," beautifully aged during the era of big budget box office explosions built like summer money-machines in the post-Lucas and Spielberg world, made me never whince at black and white or bold Technicolor, and to Ford and Hawks I would add Anthonny Mann (the triumvirate). This is mildly controversial. Many may might place Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, or Bud Boetticher ahead of Mann, but Mann's cycle of westerns, in which James Stewart played crazy, helped me to see film in a new way.
With archetypal western plots, simple and unadorned, the Hellman / Nicholson westerns in this set read like meditations on death and dying.
In "The Shooting" a complicated woman hires two hitmen to accompany her to a town lost miles across desert while a black clad gunsliger follows them like the spectre of death itself. Under Hellman's direction, the sense of place is real. The desert looks somehow more stark, empty, and alien than in even Leone's Man with No Name oaters. In "Ride in the Whirlwind" three cowboys attempt to get a night of much-deserved rest at an appropriately remote hideout -- that happens to belong to an outlaw gang.
By dawn, a group of vigilantes prepared to hang the westerners surround the hideout seeking frontier to enact "justice" on the wrong men.
Questions one might have are "How much have we lost now that most films are built like blockbusters, and TV has become home to more experiment?" and "Where is today's Corman, pressing the envelope in low budget genre films that have little in common with today's indies?"
These are not favorites, but it is nice that Criterion is willing to give me, and you, a better look at them.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2014
I hadn't seen either of these since around 1969, when I first encountered them on television. Definitely not the average shoot-'em up type of Western, these are more like the Italian westerns that were popular in the 1960's, but more existential than those usually were. I was surprised to find they were co-produced by Jack Nicholson and the director Monte Hellman, for Roger Corman of American International Pictures...there is a wealth of supplementary material included (a whole DVD worth of it) that consists of Monte Hellman interviewing people who were connected with the production of the films, plus an appreciation of actor Warren Oates by Kim Morgan which by itself was nearly worth the cost of this release.
All in all, 2 excellent movies with great supplemental material done in the usual fantastic Criterion style.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2015
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
"The Shooting" and "Ride in the Whirlwind" are two films directed by Monte Hellman in 1966 in and around the region that is now under water and is the manmade lake of Lake Powell, Utah. Both star Jack Nicholson and Millie Perkins, while Warren Oates appears in "The Shooting", and Harry Dean Stanton appears in "Ride in the Whirlwind". Both films have a European sensibility much like Michelangelo Antonioni's films, such as "The Passenger", or "L'Avventura". The films are sparse and Existential, particularly "The Shooting", with its enigmatic story of Perkins' search for an unknown man across the desert, and its staccato, filmic ending reminiscent of Hellman's ending for "Two-Lane Blacktop". A very pleasant surprise and two western gems.
on February 16, 2015
These two movies are gems. Most people that have watched them, outside of the handful that saw them years ago in theaters, have had to endure the terrible quality of old VHS tapes or their direct transfer to DVD. Using state of the art digital technology, overseen by director Monte Hellman himself, this newly enhanced version burned to Blue-ray adds an amazing level of definition considering they were filmed in the mid 60s, a great improvement.
The director Monte Hellman while not recognized by much of the public, today at 86 still possesses the same passion for the craft as he did in the 60s. Mr. Hellman has been responsible for a number of great films, among them; Two Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter, also under appreciated works.
In The Shooting the fledgling talent of Jack Nicholson stands out in the dismal setting of the desert in southern Utah. The very talented Warren Oates and Millie Perkins made them perfect for this tale of murder and obsession of revenge. Oates had the ability to play any part given to him. A very good film.
Ride the Whirlwind also features the abilities of Nicholson as well as Cameron Mitchell and once again Millie Perkins. This a more classic tale of western justice, or rather injustice. These cowpokes trying to exist in the wild west find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and suffer the consequences. A good film well worth the time for fans of classic westerns.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2014
I picked up these films because I liked Westerns and had never heard of them. I absolutely loved "Ride in the Whirlwind." It's a simple tale about a group of men who are mistaken for stagecoach robbers and tracked down by the law. It's filled to the brim with action and strong performances.
"The Shooting" I wasn't as fond of. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad movie. Jack Nicholson is brilliant in it as is Warren Oates, the main character who reluctantly agrees to help a mysterious woman track down an outlaw. It's just a slow movie and I didn't feel all of the acting was as good as what Oates and Nicholson were giving.
Overall, this is a must have for Criterion collectors who want to find overlooked gems.