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August 11, 2005

The Deadly Companions

Sam Peckinpah - 1961
Platinum Disc DVD

One of the blogs I've been reading regularly is titled Self Styled Siren. Around the time that I started checking in, the Siren was posting articles on Maureen O'Hara. I was never really a fan of hers although I like some of the films she was in like The Quiet Man and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Siren's report on Ms. O'Hara's autobiography indicates that she has had some serious issues with various men in her life. My hope for Maureen O'Hara is that she is remembered for more than playing John Candy's mom in Only the Lonely.

The Siren inspired my to play with my Netflix queue and see the one film I had starring O'Hara, The Deadly Companions. My main reason for seeing it is that it is Sam Peckinpah's first feature. I still have a couple of films to see, but as mediocre as the DVD is, I'm glad I saw this film. I don't know if a good print of this film is available, but it should be noted that the DVD is standard screen format of a Panavision film.

Looking at The Deadly Companions in terms of a career retrospective, the film is something of a sketchbook of ideas and images that Peckinpah would rework or amplify in later films. Children playing at swordfighting would later become children playing with the scorpion in The Wild Bunch. Steve Cochran flanked by two prostitutes would be redone and doubled with Tector and Lyle Gorch. A key scene involves a bank robbery gone awry. O'Hara's character of the fallen woman would be reworked to better effect by Stella Stevens in the far superior Ballad of Cable Hogue. Peckinpah was dismissive of The Deadly Companions because he was essentially a hired hand on behalf of O'Hara who produced the film. Still there are moments of visual audacity including Steve Cochran manically shooting at his mirror image, and fur coated Chill Wills draped lengthwise on a branch like a large Chesire cat. Maybe I was looking too hard, but I saw bits and pieces that anticipate the films more characteristic of the director.

In some ways, the narrative reminded me more of Budd Boetticher's films. Three former Civil War soldiers, one Yankee, and two Rebels, escort a dance hall hostess across Apache territory. The woman is taking the coffin of her young son to be buried in another town, in the graveyard where the son's father is buried. The son has been accidentally been shot by the Yankee. With the majority of the film following four characters through a desolate stretch of Arizona, The Deadly Companions resembles the films Boetticher made with Randolph Scott as described by Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema.
While The Deadly Companions involves characters who call each other's bluff until the end, Peckinpah's Odyssey is less allegorical and more psychological.

One aspect of O'Hara's performance that I did not anticipate is that she seemed set on reminding the audience, and probably Hollywood, that at the age of 40 she still had a great body. Previously appearing as Lady Godiva, Maureen O'Hara was clearly not shy about hinting at nudity. With two scenes in The Deadly Companions, O'Hara was probably making sure people knew she was as attractive as Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. As it turned out, O'Hara and co-star Brian Keith worked together again in 1961 in The Parent Trap. As far as Hollywood was concerned, Maureen O'Hara was from then on trapped in the roles of wives and mothers.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 11, 2005 04:50 PM