Wednesday, January 30, 2019

When The West Was The Best- With Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe’s Film Adaptation of Arthur Miller’s “The Misfits” In Mind

When The West Was The Best- With Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe’s Film Adaptation of Arthur Miller’s “The Misfits” In Mind  

By Sam Lowell, retired film critic

[Before I do this retro-review I would like to put my two cents worth in about the recent storm (what I called and still call “a tempest in teapot”) at this site that Lance Lawrence, young Alden Riley and what used to be called Senior Film Critic but now just film critic Sandy Salmon have written about recently. And about my role, so-called role, in bringing in a change of regime on this site with the bringing in of Greg Green from American Film Gazette to be the administrator of the site. About my role as well in according to Lance helping purge Allan Jackson the long-time administrator or according to Sandy helping  to put him out to pasture. If you have been following along you already know the details of the recent dispute and its aftermath. For those not in the know quickly over the past several years Jackson  had been bringing younger writers aboard to assist and broaden the workload but mainly with the idea of continuing to emphasis and write with a tilt toward the turbulent 1960s in which most of the older writers came of age and which was the touchstone for lots of thing for their, for our, generation, what Allan dubbed the “Generation of ’68,” For a variety of reasons the younger writers almost all who were either in swaddling  clothes or not born bristled at  that arguing when the deal went down recently that the world has moved on and that they had been high influenced by other sensibilities.

Strangely and the reason for my calling the whole thing “a tempest in a teapot” this issue came to a head over two 1960s iconic figures Bob Dylan as king of the folk scene and Sean Connery as the quintessential cinematic fictional MI6 agent Bond, James Bond. I won’t go into the details since the others already have but a meeting was called by Allan essentially I think if I know him, and I have since back in high school days in North Adamsville in the early 1960s, to confirm his leadership and put the younger writers on notice of who was in charge of assignments and what they would cover. In that meeting to make a long story short after a few hours of arguments which I will not bore the reader with a vote of confidence was called and Jackson lost. Lost because I sided with the young writers for the simple reason once I reviewed the archives way too much time, energy and money had been spent on extolling the virtues of the 1960s against the broader American social, cultural and political history before and after. It was high time to go back to the original ideas which animated the blog, animated us back in the day when we wanted to turn the world upside down.

Did I participate willingly in a purge of Allan as Lance Lawrence one of the younger writers has alluded to? Frankly yes and while it may have destroyed my relationship with Allan I think it had to be done or else we would lose good writers and/or become something of an old white man’s sect babbling on about the 1960s like nothing else happened in the world good, bad or indifferent. Let’s not go crazy with analogies Allan will not be put in the position of his hero Trotsky, at least I don’t think so and will be able to write what he wants to write about and submit for approval like anybody else. Look in the transition to a more democratic and plebian mores here like in the old neighborhood days I have shed my official Film Critic Emeritus designation and am merely a retired film critic. That’s progress, right.    


For those who came to this post because they were interested in my take on The Misfits and not the internal workings of a group of writers fretting over their places in the sun here goes. I have actually done a review of this film, this cast benighted film (Gable, Monroe, Montgomery all died within a relatively short period after shooting was over) back in those 1960s when I first started writing film reviews for the now long gone East Bay Other out in California and was a free-lancer before finally getting a regular staff job before like the 1960s it chronicled the paper folded so I just want to make a few points  here about the West (“the West is the best’’ of Jim Morrison’s The End lyrics meaning the Coast not really what I have in mind here although that  is hardly the worst part of the West but rather the rugged West of hardship pioneer grit, savvy or just run out of luck in the East) and the place of transitional figures like cowboy Gay, Gable’s role and  Perce, Clift’s role, along with pioneer-ish type women like rock steady Isabelle Steers, played by Thelma Ritter. Hell even a wildcatter like Guido played by Eli Wallach figures in the mix.         

It may not seem like it today in places like Taos, Sedona, Reno, hell, half the formerly hard-bitten towns that dotted the Old West and survived unto the new one but those were not tourist traps or suburban oases. The ones where the cattle roamed free, the mines  were not depleted and the ranches were run by hard-headed survivors who employed the cowboys and the law such as it was, those who could not stomach staying in one place or running anything but a tab at the local saloon. As Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash would say the Running Kind. In that sense Gay and Perce seem to represent the last vestiges of that Old West, the last chance saloon rear-guard who could not or would not adjust to the new mores and the new money which was following westward.

I was looking over that initial 1960s review draft (written by hand on yellow-lined paper and transferred to typewritten final copy from-okay-a typewriter so this is ancient to anybody not even born then) and I was amazed at how hung-up I was on the surface story line about two cowpokes of unknown quality, a good pilot, a wacky Reno native and an alluring divorcee and whether things would work out between Gay and city girl Roslyn, the role played by Monroe and whether those restless and vanishing mustangs would survive the human onslaught. I guess it took my own hard knocks in life, losing out as technology has made a hard copy writer almost like a dinosaur to appreciate how some guys who grew up in the last days of the Old West got all balled up when the rugged individual values were discarded or thrown on the scrap heap. That I think was Miller’s deeper message beyond the messiness of modern living and modern relationships which don’t give a person time to absorb everything, or anything.  

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