Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rustlers' Hideout, Sam Newfield, 1945

Four films in, and these Newfield-directed western programmers already feel like home. All of them just short of one hour, they feature the for all his physical prowess always slightly lethargic Buster Crabbe and his eternal sidekick Al St. John / Fuzzy Knight, who might just be one of the great underrated screen comedians. At the very least, in 1945 he would've been the last silent comedian still in full bloom.

Crabbe and St. John fight gang after gang of mustached bad guys, who reside in houses surrounded by white garden fences. And they are after the land, money, happiness and sometimes also daughters of good guys, who are mostly ranchers, also residing in houses surrounded by white garden fences.

(It's still surprising to me, that b-western deal much more openly with the material power relations of the west than the more prestigious films in the genre. The Newfield films are even more open about this as the Joseph Kane / Audie Murphy / John Wayne ones. They always deal almost exclusively with the distribution of land, water, cattle... "Horse opera" is a completely misleading name for these films.)

Aside from the outdoor action,which is a little bit more varied, the films consist of people arriving at and departing from these (and a few other, slightly more urban looking) houses, and of the talks / fights with the house owners in between arriving and departing. Most of this is framed in long shots, especially the fights, which are defined by a certain seriousness - no cheating allowed, you really have to go all in.

I'm pretty sure I've seen the exact same shot of Crabbe leaving a house, untying his beautiful white horse, and riding away into the background in every film at least once. In terms of production, these are clearly filler shots, but they don't feel that way, as they contribute to the calm rhythm of the films. Especially, as there are no atmospheric landscape shots, cutaways to animals etc at all in these films. It's all about the distribution of people in space (microstructure), and of power in society (macrostructure).

Does it even make sense to distinguish one of these films from the others? Sure it does... (and in order to really do this, I hope to see at least a few of them someday in better versions - for now, Youtube must do). Rustler's Hideout has a rather convoluted script, but a few strange, unusual shots in the outdoor scenes. Crabbe hat to deal with a rather psychotic gambler, and he even gets knocked out... I can't wait to see the next one. According to imdb, Newfield and St. john made 73 films together...

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