Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Star in the Dust" and a taste of hope

Title: Star in the Dust
Released: 1956
Genre: Farmers versus cowmen conflict
Notable for: Clint Eastwood's first Western
Clint's subliminal message: "I think I enjoy swaggering in a hat."

Six weeks into the Clint Eastwood Project it is discouraging to think we still have five more weeks before we can watch an actual Clint Eastwood film. Where's the shooting? Where are the angry stares? Where is the I-don't-give-a-shit-what-you-think attitude?

"This movie gives me hope," Andrew says. "At least it's a western."

Normally we would give "Star in the Dust" about a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, but our standards have been so damaged by exposure to crap like "Francis in the Navy" that we elevate "Star in the Dust" to an 8.

Clint's role is again insignificant and uncredited. Five minutes into the film, he meets the sheriff in the street, says good morning and then foreshadows the entire plot by discussing the betting odds on whether the day's hanging will go off as scheduled.

Many moments in the film are stupid and laughable. A janitor-turned-deputy is shot and clutches an invisible wound. The condemned killer in his jail cell has notes in his pockets from the town's leading citizen, who implicates himself in murder. An annoying troubadour wanders the town singing about the condemned man, Sam Hall. This musical distraction is based on a very old folk song, and Johnny Cash later recorded a livelier version of "Sam Hall" that you can hear by clicking here. For the life of us, we cannot figure out why the movie is called "Star in the Dust." The opening credits roll over the image of a star-shaped sheriff's badge on the ground. We expected the sheriff would quit at the end and throw his badge into the dirt, ala "High Noon." But nothing of the sort happens. Any viewer with a brain must wonder if somewhere along the line the filmmakers changed the ending but neglected to change the title.

But who cares? The movie has gunfights, treachery, a hanging and three outstanding fistfights. The best fight was between two women who bashed each other bloody!

For the first time in the Eastwood library, the filmmakers made some evident effort to explore the question of what it means to be a man. The sheriff is a quiet guy with an explosive temper who lives in his father's shadow. He stands up to warring factions in town by showing sympathy to neither. When his girlfriend seems to side with his enemies, he snarls at her and tells a deputy to take her away because, "I'm through with her." The killer turns out to be not completely evil because he shows a little honor at the end and takes his hanging like a man. He refuses a blindfold so he can view his last sunset. The real bad guy turns out to be a powerful banker and cattleman who emasculates himself by, among other things, tricking women to do his dirty work.

All that stuff sounds like a real Clint Eastwood movie. It's nice to have hope.

Next up: "Away All Boats."

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