What is the Corral about?

Well, simply, it is a place to round-up ideas, thoughts, comments and anything else you may like to hear about. My original intention was to have a forum but the time to manage such a gathering is really beyond me at this stage. But via email I can gather up your input and get it into the Corral.

So, would you like to make comment?

What is your favorite western story, either as a book or a movie?

Want to tell us why?

What are you currently reading, watching or listening to (regardless if it is a Western or not)?

What do you want to see in future Western stories (grit or romance, maybe both, gunplay or justice, grim reality or happy endings)?

Anything you would like to see in one of my stories?



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September 2013

Whenever I go back to revise my list of favourite Western movies, I still find that High Noon (1952) always seems to come out on top. To me, it is near perfect storytelling that grabs immediate attention and hangs on, to entertain through drama and suspense to the very end. At the helm of High Noon was director Fred Zinnemann, who was to go on and make other classics such as From Here to Eternity (1953), The Nun’s Story (1959) and The Day of the Jackal (1973). A most versatile storyteller, he also made the musical Oklahoma (1955), which may seem a little left of field, although that too has a dark side in-between the magnificent music of Rogers and Hammerstein. He also made a movie in Australia called The Sundowners (1960) that was adapted to the screen from the novel of the same name by Jon Cleary that was first published in 1952. It is a forgotten film now days, yet it was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try as I think it has some endearing and enduring features. I have heard that it is sometimes cited to film students for its ability to show emotion with sparse dialogue.

The story of High Noon is based on the John W. Cunningham short story called The Tin Star, which appeared in Colliers Magazine in 1947. Carl Foreman then worked it in to the screenplay and did so bringing great tension to the screen. An interesting point is the title, as a movie titled The Tin Star (1957) turned up five years later under the pen of three authors, one of which was Dudley Nichols who wrote one of the most famous of all Western scripts, that of Stagecoach (1939) that took John Wayne to fame. I guess that title, Tin Star, was just too good not to use. Must be a reoccurring icon used by many, because I wrote a Western novel titled Bent Tin, being the bent tin of a sheriff’s star, but that story remains unpublished and now languishes in a computer file. I wonder if it is maturing like a fine old wine or just going sour?

The number two movie that has also remained static on my all time favourite list over the last forty or more years is the movie Will Penny (1968). I know that I’ve banged on about this film in the past, but I have a little something to add. Something that I only found out recently.

Will Penny was written and directed by Tom Gries who learnt his trade working in TV in the 1950s. His credits included such series as Bronco (1958-62), The Rifleman (1958-63), Route 66 (1960-64) and Mission Impossible (1966-73 then 1988-90). Another series he wrote and directed for was The Westerner (1960), which was created and produced by Sam Peckinpah of The Wild Bunch fame (1969). Only 13 episodes were made and starred Brian Keith, who has a long list of credits include Young Guns (1988). He was to tragically take is own life in 1997, two months after his daughter Daisy committed suicide.

One of The Westerner episodes was called Line Camp and went to air on 9 December 1960. It was written and directed by Gries and in a supporting role to Brian Keith was Slim Pickens, another wonderful actor with his own amazing list of credits. I loved him as Major ‘King’ Kong in Dr. Strangelove (1964) and as Taggart in Blazing Saddles (1974).

The Line Camp episode was to become the basis for Will Penny. And, when reading about this genesis I had the thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if it was possible to see that episode’, and guess what? It’s on YouTube. The print is certainly showing its age, maybe along with the then limited budget, especially in regards to lighting, which results in the studio shots being dark and unclear. The single-camera setup is also a little restrictive, but all of this does not detract from the story. Amazingly, the credits at the end show that the Director of Photography was Lucien Ballard who was the man behind the wonderful cinema photography of the Budd Boetticher’s Ranown Cycle of Westerns that starred Randolph Scott. 

Scenes in The Line Camp are easily recognizable to Will Penny, as is the stoic and detached nature of the two lead characters. Lucien Ballard was to go on and work on Will Penny and unfortunately the prints of that movie that I have seen are suffering a little too, by what seems to be nothing more than time. It would be interesting to know if the original master still exist. A recent release of the Ranown Cycle from the studio masters, show them to be crystal clear. Also on YouTube is a five-minute slide-show showing stills from the movie to the music from the soundtrack, composed by David Raksin. It is well worth a watch as the images and music are brilliant. It can be found at    
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pJyRz3tZzo and I must say thanks to Jose Gimiro for producing and posting this wonderful little homage.

Will Penny is one of those Westerns that showed the protagonist to be a sort of anti-hero. You know, the tough, conflicted character who is at his core a good man at war with his inner-demons. Jimmy Steward played such a character in The Naked Spur (1953), which is another one of the movies that is firmly planted near the top of my favourites. I guess there is no getting away from it; I like my Western heroes to be gritty as the world they walk in is harsh, dirty and unjust. It just seems to make the story all the more interesting, and I don’t seem to be on my own with this opinion. US film critic Leonard Maltin calls The Naked Spur one of the best Westerns ever made, and says of Will Penny that it is one of the finest films on the cowboy/loner ever to come out of Hollywood. What was to follow in the footsteps of these fine films was Unforgiven (1992). And that movie sits firmly at number 3 on my list.

Lee Clinton
October 2013




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