So The Duke despised it (‘Whoever heard of a sheriff running around asking for help against a bunch of gunmen?’), Hawks hated it (not enough action to keep it going), and then there was all the ‘pro-Commie’, liberal belly-aching, anti-Carl Foreman thing; some even said it wasn’t a Western at all. But then Ike loved it and Clinton had it screened fifteen times (less surprising).
What does this mean? How can this movie not touch everyone? It says so much about human nature, about our desire to do the right thing but our essential weakness. And then there’s Coop, who is afraid, yes, but isn’t that the point? The important thing is he stays. That is where all the talk, all the drama, re-joins company with the expected generic action.
But the fun part is what goes before, and for that we owe Foreman, whose name Kramer had taken off the producer credit, and who had gone to work in Britain. Remember all those lines spoken by the likes of Katy Jurado, all the moral wrangling over whether to stay and fight, and Grace Kelly’s line about gun culture: ‘There has to be a better way for people to live.’ That’s the Foreman of The Guns of Navarone and The Bridge on the River Kwai: ‘How to die like a gentleman, how to die by the rules, when the only important thing is how to live like a human being!’
Yep, American cinema lost a treasure when it sent Carl packing. And the Wayne/Hawks axis is sour grapes over the fact they never made a tight little film of 85 minutes that said it all. And what about Rio Bravo, anyway? John T. had help, didn’t he?