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  Ride in the Whirlwind The Fugitive Kind
Year: 1966
Director: Monte Hellman
Stars: Cameron Mitchell, Millie Perkins, Jack Nicholson, Katherine Squire, George Mitchell, Rupert Crosse, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hackett, Tom Filer, B.J. Merholz, Brandon Carroll, Peter Cannon, William A. Keller, Neil Summers, James Campbell, Walter Phelps
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Wild West, the middle of nowhere in a desert landscape, and a stagecoach riding through, but a gang of outlaws have their eyes on it and hiding in the rocks begin to shoot, then stop it in its tracks, fatally injuring one of the guards in the process. They rob the passengers and take off to their hideout in the hills, a small log cabin, then ponder their next move, but also in the vicinity are three wanderers headed to Waco who are riding in the same direction as the robbers. They inevitably meet, but not before they have noted a hanged man nearby: proof that vigilantes are operating in the area, yet what they do not know is those self-same vigilantes will be after them soon enough...

Not because the trio - Cameron Mitchell, Jack Nicholson and Tom Filer - have done anything wrong, but because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and this unfortunate situation is what fuels the plot of this existentialist Western from director Monte Hellman. He and screenwriter/star Nicholson had been given a small budget to make a couple of films by producer Roger Corman, and The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind were the results, two efforts that made next to no impact in their native United States, at least initially, but quickly turned into cult movies in Europe where they were more widely distributed, perhaps because they fit more snugly into the style of Western there.

Not that Hellman was aping the Spaghetti Westerns, it was a shade too early for that, but it was apparent there was something in the mood of the time that called for a more cynical approach to a genre that had for a long time been a staple of family entertainment, yet once directors like Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher had got their hands on it in the nineteen-fifties, it was inevitable a more psychological technique was going to be the prevailing tone. Here, the psychology was mainly that, in the Old West, it did not even matter if you were in fear of your life, for a lot of the time you were going to be bored out of your mind as most of your day was taken up with idly waiting around.

The script served up plenty of opportunities for the three innocents to mull over their predicament, even further when they were pared down to two by the vigilantes' bullets, of which they seem to have around a million judging by the hail of lead they rain down on both the cabin of the outlaws and the wrong place-wrong time bunch. If you were willing to overlook the overuse of gunfire and ricochet sound effects on the soundtrack, and those nevertheless made for a more dire situation, then the atmosphere of the pointlessness of the impending doom was very strong indeed, and the powerlessness of what passed for the heroes in this piece was a great leveller, since there was nobody who fitted the traditional hero role when Mitchell and Cameron were basically total losers, through no fault of their own.

Therefore your sympathies were with them, yet an absurdity in their predicament was never far away, not that there was one laugh in this when it was a matter of life and death situation for everyone except the posse. The two survivors of their initial attack (Harry Dean Stanton was the leader of the outlaws, and his reaction to being caught was almost haunting, or rather his non-reaction) stumble across a family out there, with the father obsessively axing away at a stump outside their home, and the mother and daughter (Millie Perkins, another cult performer in this) tending to chores. Their existence looks to be just as tedious as the other characters', gunshots notwithstanding, and the fact the innocent fugitives arrive gives them a jolt of adrenaline they would probably be better off without, no matter the daughter's prospects look next to nothing in this wilderness. But then, you could say that for them all, in one of the least romantic American Westerns of the sixties. Music by Robert Drasnin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Monte Hellman  (1932 - )

"Existential" is a word often used to describe the films of this American director, who after working for Roger Corman on Beast from Haunted Cave, Back Door to Hell and The Terror directed two cult westerns, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind. In the 1970s he continued his cult acclaim with Two Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter and China 9 Liberty 37, but come the 80s the directing work dried up, with only Iguana and Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 to his name. He also worked behind the scenes on The Wild Angels, Robocop and Reservoir Dogs, among others.

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