Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, August 1, 2021

An Old Favorite

"If God didn't want them sheared, he wouldn't have made them sheep!"

                        (The great Eli Wallach, as "Calverra.")

Although my local PBS station runs a movie every Saturday night, I rarely tune in.  The movies offered are seldom anything I want to see, and the few that are interesting have usually suffered the fate of airplane movies, neutered by the scissors of a blue-nosed censor to banish any hint of bared flesh or curse words.  I'm past the primal urge to view sex scenes on screen at this point in life, and have no particular desire to hear a torrent of foul language from any source, but there's no reason to watch any movie that's had its wings clipped to render it "safe" for all ages.

Fuck that shit.

Like so many people these days, most of my movie viewing is done at home. I'd go to a theater occasionally before the Covid shutdown, but living an hour's drive from the nearest movie palace meant it made more sense to invest in a decent flat screen with a sound bar, and once it became clear how dangerous this new virus was, going to a movie theater was out of the question. The cinematic selections on Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services allowed me to ignore most of the films shown on the local PBS outlet.  Still, every now and then they'll air a classic that was crafted before nudity, sex, and rough language became de rigueur in movies, and galvanized the censors to take action -- so whenever an old favorite like High Noon, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Ride the High Country, Treasure of the Sierra Madre or Casablanca is broadcast, I tune in. As far as this aging ex-juicer is concerned, those classics never lose their appeal.

Most of those are westerns, which were to my demographic what space dramas like Star Wars and Star Trek would become for later generations. Westerns dominated television while I was growing up -- shows like Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Sugarfoot, The Rebel, Rawhide, Wagon Train, MaverickThe Rifleman, and Wanted Dead or Alive, among others -- and I watched them all.* Living out in the sticks where we had three aging horses, three cows, half a dozen goats, and a coop full of chickens, the lost world of the Old West made a lot of sense to me, and I enjoyed a freedom back then that was beyond the wildest dreams of my schoolyard friends. While they took the bus back to their suburban homes every day after school, I could grab my .22 single-shot rifle and wander the neighboring five hundred acres of rolling hills whenever I wanted. That all seemed normal at the time, but it's only looking back now over the decades that I fully appreciate just how special this was.

So it came as a pleasant surprise that a recent Saturday night offering would be The Magnificent Seven, a movie I first saw as a young boy on my family's black and white cathode ray gun many decades ago -- and being a decidedly unworldly, goat-milking lad at the time, I assumed the movie was filmed in black and white. Imagine my surprise a few years later when I saw it again on a more modern TV, in full glorious color.  I've seen it many times since, but not for quite a while, so it was with a pleasant sense of familiarity that I settled in to watch again -- like a cat curling up in front of a warm fire -- and it didn't disappoint.** I suppose we each have our own cinematic touchstones, movies seen when we were young that made a big enough impression to stick over the ensuing decades, and that we can return to time and again.  The Magnificent Seven is one of mine, re-telling a classic story with style -- and some beautifully subtle camera moves that told me that the director, camera, and grips really knew what they were doing.

There are other old favorites on that list -- Bullitt and Dirty Harry, along with more modern classics such as The Wild BunchBladerunner, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Chinatown -- but those will never be aired on a broadcast network without the censors doing their dirty work, so when I want to revisit them it's always on disc or streaming.

If you're interested in how The Magnificent Seven came together, this offers some insight, and here's the original review from the Hollywood Reporter, which offers a mixed (if not entirely inaccurate) opinion, although at one point it refers to director John Sturges as "Robert Sturges."  Oops -- it would be one thing for an East Coast publication to make such an unforced error, but the Hollywood Reporter?  Yikes. For another perspective, this is an interesting take on the original, its source material, and the many sequels.

It was good to see The Magnificent Seven again, and I suspect it won't be the last time.  

* Before Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel made it to television, both were radio dramas that I listened to on Saturday mornings.

** Granted, there's a fair share of clich├ęd hokum in this one, burdened as it is with many of the ingrained cultural assumptions of the late 1950s, but those come with the turf of many older films, which have to be viewed and appreciated on their own terms, not through the modern lens of political correctitude.