I remain blissfully up to my ears in Westerns, which is fortunate since I'm in the midst of showing a bunch of them on the big screen. The next film in my Western series, co-sponsored by the Dallas Film Society and the Dallas Morning News, is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. A mournful if lively John Ford/John Wayne drama that focuses on the death of sacred myths, Liberty will screen 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Angelika Dallas.
But wait, there's more. We've added a bonus screening of the original Magnificent Seven, which should provide plenty of opportunity for comparison to the new remake. The Seven will ride 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3, also at the Angelika Dallas. For information on how to attend both films, check dallasfilm.org during the week prior to each screening.
Some further Western doings for your perusal:
HBO is two episodes into its series adaptation of Westworld. Like the 1973 movie on which it is based, the new series takes place at a western theme park that proves deadly when a tech glitch fosters chaos. The series takes the original premise into our Artificial Intelligence/Virtual Reality present. I love the idea of the Western as imaginary terrain, because that's what the Western has long been: a simulacrum of frontier life that conjures the kinds of myths that fall under attack in Liberty Valance. The original movie, written and directed by blockbuster novelist Michael Crichton, is also worth revisiting, largely to see Yul Brynner riff off his Magnificent Seven performance.
On the homefront, the new Olive Signature label has released a pair of dandy Western Blu-rays. High Noon (1952) and Johnny Guitar (1954) are both wonderfully idiosyncratic entries in the genre, and they have something big in common: Both films were written by blacklisted screenwriters, and they convey themes that ruefully reflect the Communist witch hunts of the day.
Carl Foreman penned High Noon, in which a stoic sheriff (Gary Cooper) prepares to face down a vengeful gang as his town turns his back on him. A remake is in the works, because that's just what we need. You can see the original on the big screen 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tuesday at the Magnolia, which continues to do first-rate programming for its Big Movie series. Also, coming in February: Glenn Frankel's new book High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. Frankel previously wrote the excellent The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend. We'll have more on the new book as publication day nears.
Philip Yordan got screenwriting credit for Johnny Guitar, but he was in fact a front for the blacklisted Ben Maddow. The witch hunted in Johnny Guitar is none other than Joan Crawford, a saloon owner fighting to save her joint from an angry mob led by Mercedes McCambridge (who famously provided the voice of the devil in The Exorcist). The male lead, Sterling Hayden, named names as a friendly witness before HUAC, and was tormented by his decision for years afterward.