Monday, June 29, 2015

Rio Conchos (2015 digital restoration, Twentieth Century Fox)

Rio Conchos. Jim Brown, Wende Wagner, Tony Franciosa, Richard Boone, Stuart Whitman. Click to enlarge.
Rio Conchos / Rio Conchos. US © 1964 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. D: Gordon Douglas. Based on the novel Guns of Rio Conchos by Clair Huffaker. SC: Joseph Landon, Clair Huffaker. DP: Joseph MacDonald. ED: Joseph Silver. AD: Jack Martin Smith, William Creber. M: Jerry Goldsmith. C: Richard Boone (Lassiter), Stuart Whitman (capitano Haven), Tony Franciosa (Rodriguez), Wende Wagner (Sally), Warner Anderson (colonnello Wagner), Jim Brown (sergente Ben Franklyn), Edmond O’Brien (colonnello Pardee), Rodolfo Acosta (Bloodshirt), Vito Scotti (bandito messicano), Kevin Hagen (Blondebeard). P: David Weisbart per Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. DCP. 107’. Col. From: Twentieth Century Fox.
    Restored in 2015 from the 35 mm original color negative (CinemaScope) at the Sony DADC, Modern VideoFilm and Audio Mechanics laboratories.
    Viewed at Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Ritrovati e restaurati) with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra, 29 June 2015.

Jean-Pierre Coursodon: "Rio Conchos, adapted from a novel by Clair Huffaker, co-author of the screenplay, is Douglas’ most complex and ambitious Western. A plot layered with surprises, ironies and paradoxes; the complexity and variety of the characters; a trail leading them through a thousand obstacles from Texas to New Mexico and on to the Mexican border (with exteriors wonderfully photographed in CinemaScope by Joseph MacDonald), all contribute to give life to this clever tale. A disparate group of four men – Lassiter, an ex-Confederate officer-come-adventurer (strongly interpreted by Richard Boone), a cavalry captain, a black sergeant and a womanising, unscrupulous Mexican bandit – sets out in search of a load of 2,000 rifles stolen from a military convoy by Apache. With a wagonload of gunpowder as bait, the four protagonists hope to find the mysterious ‘Pardee’, who, according to Lassiter, possesses or knows where to find the rifles. As we will later discover, Pardee is a Confederate colonel who, two years after the end of the civil war, still wants to fight the ‘enemy’ and dreams of leading an army of Apache against the Yankees. In addition to the antagonism between the four main characters, all of whom are rightfully wary of each other, there is a series of violent clashes with Mexican bandits and especially the warmongering “Red Skins” that allows Douglas to further indulge his taste for spectacular violence (particularly the scene in which the Indians drag three prisoners with horses). The violence culminates in the apocalyptic finale, in which the explosion of the gunpowder barrels sets fire to the Indian camp and the extravagant Southern mansion that Pardee is building in the middle of the desert." (Jean-Pierre Coursodon: Douglas redux: sur quelques films de Gordon Douglas, “Positif ”, n. 587, January 2010) (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website).

AA: There is little to add to Jean-Pierre Coursodon's excellent review above. Rio Conchos belongs to the contemporary cycle of the anti-heroic Western, a milestone of which had been Vera Cruz ten years earlier. The anti-heroic trend was almost as old as the Western genre itself in the cinema (Harry Carey, William S. Hart), but there was a new blend of desillusion after WWII, with affinities with film noir, existentialism, and the theatre of the absurd. Yet Rio Conchos does not belong to the cynical current of the meta-Western with the contemporary Italians.

Most Westerns take place during three decades after the American Civil War. Rio Conchos is a post-Civil War epic with points of contact to The Great Escape and even James Bond adventures (the trajectory towards the supervillain's lair which needs to be spectacularly exploded in the finale). The Civil War trauma is dramatized in an extreme way. There is a super-entertainment aspect in the thrilling story, but the execution is grim and gritty. There is a current of desperation in the mission of the four men: Captain Haven and Sgt. Ben Franklin reluctantly in the company of the totally unpredictable Lassiter and Rodriguez. Among the themes of the movie is brutalization, both of "them" and "us". Ultimately the film is about the morass of humanity after war.

Jerry Goldsmith has composed an exciting score with sometimes experimental ideas.

The cinematography of Joseph MacDonald is superb as Coursodon states above.

The digital presentation: a fine visual quality in a movie that must have been difficult to restore.

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