Treading Water in a Desert: “The Train Robbers” (1973)

000trainrobbers     If one considers the staggering volume of western stories related on both the big screen and  television (this latter sausage grinder of ideas devoured such an incomprehensible amount of scripts that even the occasional trace of originality would be almost instantaneously relegated to the realm of redundancy by the flurry of grateful copycats) one might easily extend a sigh of sympathy toward those filmmakers who continued to  plug away with a devotional dedication in a genre which inspired them despite a national critical consensus that rather arrogantly proclaimed the western as weathered and obsolete as an abandoned ghost town. The western entered a phase in which the classical aesthetic conflicted with that which accompanied the contextual expressions of an emerging revisionism movement and the visual vocabulary by which the Italian “spaghetti” western asserted its identity-  a reverence toward the same classical aesthetic within a form of deliberate but controlled exaggeration  -creating a problematic creative atmosphere (as well as an excitingly fertile field) to those filmmakers whose instincts were nurtured within the more traditional range of the western form (regardless of their individual abilities to stretch that form into more refined regions).

     Certainly the skilled scenarist Burt Kennedy was among those individuals, as well as those favored by more translucently renegade sensibilities such as Sam Peckinpah, whose oeuvre capitalizes on a sentimental attachment to extremely traditional western values (almost wholly supported by his almost total capitulation to romanticism with the Mexican peasant class which might be justifiably regarded as saccharine were it not for its lone, desperate tenancy as the sole source of primal decency in a West completely corrupted by business interests [the railroads certainly prefigure within this slanted moral dynamic], cluelessly inept government agents and a foolhardy populace) while circling this hapless moral center with a sharp editorial stick. While Peckinpah’s temperamental conceptual daring (his obsessive, often unsavory, observance of the psychic warts and scars of his “heroes” certainly contributed to his almost mythic confrontations with the studios} may have led to at least one masterwork as well as several extremely interesting genre creations of variable success, the most more formally traditionalist Kennedy seemed stuck in a creative mire with the moral pendulum always within the grasp of even his most flawed characters; thus the thematically essential original apocalyptic betrayal and unraveling of personal and societal codes inherent in E.L. Doctorow’s debut novel Welcome to Hard Times is given a hypoallergenic cleansing in Kennedy’s 1967 filmization, by a typical whitewashing of a narrative that despite the intended design of events, is reconfigured with the forced dexterity of an arthritic contortionist to bend an otherwise highly pessimistic (to the point of nihilism) literary vision to the more comforting climes of as happy and ending as possible. (One might only mentally savor the film Peckinpah might have drawn from the same rich vein of raw material.)

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About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
This entry was posted in Film Reviews, John Wayne, movie reviews, Movies, Sam Peckinpah, westerns, writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Treading Water in a Desert: “The Train Robbers” (1973)

  1. beetleypete says:

    As much as I have great respect for Ben Johnson (and share his surname) as an actor, and an admiration for the looks of Ms Ann-Margaret (especially later in her life, in ‘Tommy’, and ‘Magic’) I don’t have much time for this film. With that in mind, I think your review is correct in most of its conclusions.
    Best wishes from England, Pete.

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