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June 18, 2009

The Good Guys

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Young Billy Young
Burt Kennedy - 1969
MGM Region 1 DVD

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The Good Guys and the Bad Guys
Burt Kennedy - 1969
Warner Brother Region 1 DVD

The revived interest in Budd Boetticher has in turn inspired me to watch, or in some cases, watch again the films by Burt Kennedy. Kennedy wrote the screenplays for what are probably the better of the Randolph Scott westerns directed by Boetticher, including the first, Seven Men from Now, and the last, Comanche Station. The eventual disappearance of westerns as a Hollywood staple was one of the causes for Kennedy's career to turn from theatrical films to television assignments. While I never saw Kennedy's films as consistently as I might have, those I did see usually offered a certain amount of pleasure. At his peak, Kennedy enjoyed working with bigger budgets and longer running times than allowed Budd Boetticher, yet Kennedy's film usually lack the vividness and punch Boetticher seemed to achieve with a few broad strokes. Still, what I like best about Burt Kennedy was that even though by choice or by circumstance, he was primarily involved with westerns, and he seemed to always look for some way to tweak the genre.

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Kennedy also worked with some of the same actors in different films, and in keeping with his affinity for westerns worked with stars who were primarily associated with the genre, twice with John Wayne, a mentor early in Kennedy's career, and James Garner. One of the more curious collaborations is that 1969 saw the release of two films Kennedy filmed back-to-back with both Robert Mitchum and David Carradine. It isn't that surprising that neither Young Billy Young nor The Good Guys and the Bad Guys rated any discussions of Carradine's past film roles, these are supporting roles with not a lot of screen time. Reflecting on the films Kennedy wrote for Boetticher, I tried to imagine Carradine in Lee Marvin's role in Seven Men from Now, or taking the place of James Coburn in Ride Lonesome.

By extension, this means imagining Robert Mitchum instead of Randolph Scott. Both of Kennedy's films introduce Mitchum crouched down by a campfire, drinking coffee, the type of scene that would appear in Boetticher's films with Scott. The thematic concerns continue, primarily that of youth versus maturity, and the usually surrogate relationships between fathers and sons. Curiously, both Young Billy Young and The Good Guys and the Bad Guys begin with shots of old steam locomotives, as well as vocal versions of the title songs. As much as I usually like Robert Mitchum, he never had much of a singing voice, and what was passable for Thunder Road is painfully thin almost ten years later. The Good Guys and the Bad Guys boasts the then popular Glenn Yarbrough, a real singer, although for this kind of film, I would have preferred Frankie Laine. Young Billy Young, with a screenplay by Kennedy is more similar to the Scott-Boetticher films. Kennedy recycles the last name of one of Ride Lonesome's characters, Boone, as the family name for Carradine and John Anderson. Mitchum's character is named Ben Kane, possibly a combination taken from Will Kane of High Noon and Scott's Ben Brigade in Ride Lonesome.

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Young Billy Young claims a book titled Who Rides with Wyatt? as its basis, but there is nothing in the film that resembles even a highly fictionalized version of the story of Wyatt Earp. Instead, two young outlaws, David Carradine and Robert Walker, Jr. sneak onto the train seen in the opening credits, shoot a Mexican officer and ride off, with Carradine soon abandoning the horseless Walker. Roping a jackass found on the trail, Walker comes across Mitchum, sitting alone, drinking coffee by a stream. Mitchum's past catches up to him in the Arizona town where he acts as lawman, with Carridine as the son of the man who killed Mitchum's son. Mitchum also clashes with Jack Kelly, the man who virtually owns the town, with Angie Dickinson caught between them. Unlike the Boetticher films written by Kennedy that take place in isolated outposts, Kennedy prefers more populated settings for his own films. Still the relationships between Mitchum and Walker, as well as Walker with Carradine, share common ground with such films as the aforementioned Ride Lonesome and The Tall T.

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Thematic concerns are less to the point for The Good Guys and the Bad Guys. The film starts off as a seemingly traditional western with Mitchum riding foothills of New Mexico, and stopping off to make small talk with curmudgeonly, civilization hating, Douglas Fowley. The cut to Model Ts upsets any previous expectations, with much of the film taking place in the early 20th Century in a town pointed called Progress. The screenplay is credited to Dennis Shryack and Ronald Cohen, but there seem to be a few moments that indicate Kennedy's hand. Carradine's cigar chomping outlaw leader has more screen time. Like many westerns of the time, it is an elegy to the end of the west, although more comic in tone with Martin Balsam's pompous mayor leading the charge towards the future. Seen almost thirty years later, there is a sense of nostalgia not so much for changing times, as much as the pleasure of seeing Robert Mitchum square off against George Kennedy, John Carradine making a brief appearance as a train conductor, and perennial bad girl Marie Windsor as a bar hostess. It seems quite possible that unlike his heroes who have supposedly outlived their usefulness, Kennedy knew that his time as a genre specialist was limited.

Burt Kennedy conducted an interview with Sean Axmaker, primarily discussing his work with Budd Boetticher.

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Posted by peter at June 18, 2009 12:06 AM