Firecreek (1968)

  • Directed by Vincent McEveety.

(Who?)

  • Do not like the fat, yellow, all-caps, angular serif font used for the opening credits. At the same time, though, I’d expect nothing less from a Western from the late sixties.
  • A gang of 5 outlaws, led by a pre-wounded Henry Fonda, rides into a sleepy little town called Firecreek.
  • There, a man named Johnny (James Stewart) is the sheriff. (He gets $2 a month or something for being that, in addition to being a farmer.)
  • Henry Fonda has been appropriately dirtied up for this part – he looks believably rough & grimy, which is great. (Sometimes, in these Westerns, the stars look a little too clean & pristine – but that’s certainly not the case here.)
  • The members of Larkin (Fonda)’s gang have no respect for women – to a dangerous degree. Half an hour in, they’ve already had questionable encounters with Leah (Brooke Bundy) & Meli (Barbara Luna) – and I’m betting those won’t be the last.
  • Meanwhile, Sheriff Johnny the Farmer’s wife is pregnant, & has just gone into labor. Dulcie (Louise Latham) is serving as her midwife, in the likely event the county doctor doesn’t arrive in Firecreek on schedule.
  • The worst of the outlaws (the baddest egg of them all) is Earl (played by Gary Lockwood).
  • Lockwood does an excellent job in a scene in which the outlaws (minus H. Fonda, who’s in bed because of his wounds) interrupt a church service (which is held in the main room of the town supply store) to grab (& drink) some whiskey. The preacher (played by Ed Begley) starts yell-preaching directly at Earl, and this gets under Earl’s skin…and Lockwood does a great job portraying this, which adds a lot to the tension of the scene.
  • Fonda & Inger Stevens (who plays Evelyn, the grown-up granddaughter of the town innkeeper) have some great acting chemistry. Their line exchanges, through several scenes while Larkin is in bed with his injuries & Evelyn is attending to him, have a great rhythm to them.
  • I knew the outlaws interactions with women were bound to get worse – after a night of drinking, one of them (Drew, played by James Best) forces himself on Meli, an act upon which the slow-witted stable boy Arthur (Robert Porter) stumbles. Arthur winds up shooting the outlaw after a brief altercation – not really meaning to – but just trying to protect Meli.
  • This is getting weird as hell. In response to Drew’s death – the gang, who outvotes Larkin on their next course of action, decides to throw a “wake,” in the street, in the dead of night, with all the townsfolk in attendance. They drag them all out of their houses & make them sit around a fire, where they have also positioned the body of Drew, propped up in a rocking chair.

(…I told you this shit was getting weird.)

  • There’s a real interesting scene during The Wake, between Johnny & Mr. Whittier (Dean Jagger), the shopkeeper. Johnny is wondering aloud about what he ought to do about the outlaws’ disturbance, & Mr. Whittier tells him not to do anything. “See, I’m old enough to have learned, Johnny, that nothing ever stands still. You grow, or you die. And a town that collects losers will exist for their lifetimes – no more.”

“Losers?” says James Stewart.

“Losers,” says Mr. Whittier. “Yes, Johnny. Take Arthur – the poor simpleton that he is. Six years ago, he drifted in here, not even knowing what his last name was. But he still had the mental capacity to recognize a town that he wouldn’t have to compete in.”

  • It’s a pretty fabulous scene, on both the actors’ parts – played mostly in the darkness – the only light coming from one side – provided by the flickering of The Wake’s fire.
  • This scene is called to an abrupt end when a messenger rides up to the store front, yelling for Johnny, saying that Henrietta (Johnny’s wife) is not in good shape.
  • (Johnny exiting town, leaving Arthur – who has been stashed in the one-room jail for his own protection – seemingly at the mercy of the gang that definitely wants him dead, does not leave me feeling encouraged. This could get real bad, real quick.)
  • When Earl starts a two-way flirtation with Leah (who is Dulcie’s daughter, by the way), the stare that H. Fonda gives him is classic. It’s shot so that Fonda’s face takes up the entire screen, and in its rigidness, you can read his concern & disapproval.
  • I wish the scene that follows this, in which Larkin visits Evelyn and discusses his reluctance to intervene in his men’s actions, had been written with more subtlety. Fonda just lays out, verbatim, what he’s thinking and how it corresponds to Stewart’s character’s frame of mind. There has to be a more veiled way of doing this.
  • I’ve also noticed that there are a number of unnatural pauses that happen mid-sentence while the actors are delivering their lines. It happened with Jagger in his scene with Stewart, and it happens in the aforementioned scene with Fonda & Stevens. Can’t help but guess this was a directed action by McEveety. Poor choice. It makes the lines feel over-rehearsed & un-genuine.
  • Larkin – now is not the time to get all makey-outy with Evelyn, man! Your heathens are running a drunken wake, involving fire, in the town square! You gotta pay attention, brother!
  • Not a fan of the Henrietta (Jacqueline Scott)’s Bedside scene – her fevered rant about how they shouldn’t have settled for less than they really wanted – making their house in Firecreek & not in Oregon, the land of plenty – is a little much.
  • At dawn, Johnny (I wish his name was something else, or that the other characters didn’t repeat his name while talking to him as much as they do, because after awhile, it just sounds silly) rides back into town…to find poor Arthur hanging from the barn rafters – as we all, unfortunately, suspected he would be.
  • (Boy, when TCM Tiffany told us it was kinda like HIGH NOON (1952), except way darker – she wasn’t kidding, was she? Illegitimate children (Meli has one), race issues (Meli has those, too), hangings…indeed, this movie’s got it all!)
  • How could you let it happen?!” FarmerSheriff Johnny bellows at the town from the deserted street.
  • James Stewart, you guys – I love him. His scenes, post Arthur’s death, are phenomenal in their intensity. His “GIVE ME THE GUN” speech to Mr. Whittier? Exceptional.
  • If the lead roles in this were given to people other than Fonda & Stewart, the movie would come across way cheesier & way worse than it is as it stands. This is a great example of actors elevating a movie to a higher level than maybe the script & the direction provides.
  • The music is nicely done in this, all the way through – I’ve noticed that in quite a few moments. It’s not overly done – it’s very subtle & fits really well as a backdrop.
  • Johnny Cobb? Cobb is James Stewart’s last name??? His name is even dumber than I expected!
  • JESUS Christ. Stewart just impaled Outlaw Norman (Jack Elam) with a goddamn pitchfork!
  • (Oh – we just found out in a side comment that the father of Meli’s illegitimate child is Johnny’s deceased brother. ??? Weird. Okay, though. Whatever.)
  • I really like the shot of Stewart limping through the dust-blown streets, looking for Larkin – the way his figure is shadowed – almost like a silhouette – is a really great visual.
  • Oh. Now I know where the HIGH NOON comparison begins. While Larkin & Cobb are battling it out in the street, and Cobb looks like a goner – Evelyn shoots Larkin from a window above. Wonder where they got the idea for that? (Eye roll.)
  • All in all, a pretty good film – again, I think greatly elevated by Stewart & Fonda (and, though her role was significantly smaller, Stevens).

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