The Rare Review

Movies, books, music and TV

Wastrels In The Western: “Dirty Little Billy”

The 1972 film Dirty Little Billy tries to be honest about the Old West and about life.  Here, Billy the Kid (Michael J. Pollard) is mistreated by certain people, such as his tyrannical stepfather, before he ever becomes a violent ne’er-do-well.  Several wastrels, primarily a prostitute (Lee Purcell) and her beau (Richard Evans), accept him, however, and force him to engage in gunfire against scurvy adversaries.  No small amount of loss and debacle breaks out for the drifting boy.

The movie was made by two ad men, Stan Dragoti (who directed) and Charles Moss, and although it is plainly a fledgling’s achievement, it can be gripping and even fascinating.  The writing is sometimes a letdown, but very little of  the drama is predictable: the violent reactions, for example.  And there is a nice touch whereby an American flag waving over Billy and the dingy new town he walks through bespeaks something about the country’s future: that many ignorant young ne’er-do-wells will be a fixture in the U.S. population.

(Available on YouTube)

Dirty Little Billy

Dirty Little Billy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Trashiness of “M*A*S*H” the Movie

A 1970 Robert Altman film, M*A*S*H is a war comedy too desultory and frivolous, not to mention unrevealing about character.  We learn very little, really, about Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and nothing about Trapper John (Elliott Gould).  It has some of the most casually presented material I’ve seen in a movie.

Further, the film is mockingly sacrilegious and—any feminists who dislike it are right to do so—flatly degrading of women.  Sally Kellerman’s Hot Lips doesn’t stand a chance.

As far as I’m concerned, no one should give this movie a chance.

Cover of "M*A*S*H (Widescreen Edition)"

Cover of M*A*S*H (Widescreen Edition)

Pachyderms Surviving: The Doc

“The Elephant Whisperers” (2022), on Netflix, won an Oscar for best documentary short (sometimes the best kind of documentary), and indeed it is a beautiful little film about the caretaking of two orphaned elephants in South India. Director Kartiki Gonsalves observes precisely the goings-on of animals and humans in an appealing, not unpleasant rural area. Elephants enrich the landscape; nothing upstages them. The orphans here have a nobility that somehow leaves us unsurprised that they manage to thrive after being released into the wild.

The Old Folks’ Marriage: “45 Years”

Forty-five years, in Andrew Haigh‘s 45 Years (2015), is how long Geoff and Kate Mercer, of the U.K., have been married. Tom Courtenay plays Geoff, an aging retiree and liberal fool who begins to distress his wife. Courtenay overdoes Geoff’s doddering and uncertainty, while Charlotte Rampling is true and likable as Kate.

This is a small but meaningful film which presents marriage as a sad cheat. An hour and thirty minutes long, it ends before running out of steam. I said Rampling is likable—so is the film, even if the elderly couple’s lovemaking in bed is rather hard to watch.

“Idiots First” And A Desperate Old Man

Mendel, an old man in Bernard Malamud‘s story “Idiots First,” is about to die. But he must find the entire sum of money with which to send his adult son Isaac, who today would be considered “mentally challenged,” to live with Isaac’s elderly uncle before Mendel does die. The money is infernally difficult to obtain.

In this last period of his life, Mendel’s burden is not really Isaac but Ginzburg, the grim reaper and a creature of “awful wrath.” To this supernatural follower-of-a-cosmic-law Mendel must succumb. The letter kills. But Ginzburg can be cast to the side. And, not a mere “idiot,” Isaac can be rescued for a time.

Malamud’s tale is a provocative jewel wherein a hard life is, alas, followed by desperation. And the tale is edifying.

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