THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

FOURTH OF JULY AT THE DRIVE-IN, or How I Met Norwood and Monte

It was a hot, humid, sweltering Fourth of July in middle America as only Fourth of Julys in the middle of America can be.  The local drive-in theater was screening its usual double feature.  However, its biggest attraction of the evening was the fireworks display that would occur between features.  Two feature movies and a fireworks display, what else could one possibly want? -- especially since our home had no air conditioning.  Therefore, my wife and I loaded up our three children and headed down the road to enjoy the movies, the fireworks, and especially the cooler night air.

The first movie was NORWOOD (Paramount, 1970).  On paper, it didn’t look all that bad.  It was brought to us by the same people who a year earlier had brought us a big hit movie, TRUE GRIT (Paramount, 1969).  Once again, Marguerite Roberts wrote the screenplay and as before, her screenplay was based on an excellent (and very funny) Charles Portis novel.  Hal Wallis was again the producer.

Kim Darby (good) is again in the cast and so is Glen Campbell (uh oh).  He is Norwood.  And I guess John Wayne wasn’t available so we got Joe Willie Namath (yikes!) as the film’s third lead player.

I have to admit that I didn’t see the entire movie.  What I did see was gawd-awful.  The problem was not how it looked on paper, but how it looked on the screen.  It pretty well terminated the acting careers of the three principals and Hal Wallis never produced another movie at Paramount. I can see why.

The reason that I didn’t see the entire movie (although I did see more than I wanted to) is that about mid-way it began to rain – hard – and we had to roll up the windows which then became fogged and the vehicle took on the characteristics of a sauna.

At this point, I was more than ready to call it an evening – and so was my wife.  But not the kids, of course.  The fireworks, you know.  So we soldiered on.

The rain did let-up, but it never stopped, which certainly put a damper on the fireworks display.  I will admit that the folks responsible for the display gave it their best.  They kept lighting the damn things and when those fizzled they would light some more.  It turned out to be the longest and most unspectacular fireworks display I have ever attended.  However, it was better than NORWOOD.

It is now midnight and everybody in the car – except me – is ready to go home.  No, not me.  The second feature was a film that had surprisingly slipped below my radar.  I say this because it was a Western and it had a couple of big names in the cast. 

The rain never completely stopped that evening.  Everybody else in the car went to sleep, but I was now wide-awake.  There were only three vehicles left on the lot when the film ended – and that’s counting ours.  I don’t know how many people were awake in the other two, but as I said, I was the only one in ours.

The projectionist should have received some kind of award because he remained alert enough to screen the reels in their proper order.  That didn’t always happen at that particular drive-in.  I remember that it didn’t happen when I was watching THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (Columbia, 1978).  Poor Buddy died in the middle of the film and then came back alive and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Very confusing.  Dennis Weaver died in an excruciatingly gruesome and graphic fashion in the middle of DUEL AT DIABLO (UA, 1966) only to recover and return to his unforgiving, snarky, devious, obnoxious ways (his character’s, not his) for the remainder of the film.  I knew what was going to happen to Buddy (very sad), but finding out that James Garner and Sidney Poitier could not save Dennis ruined the rest of that film.  Nevertheless, it was a Western so I stayed with it to the end – or rather, I stayed with it to the middle.

But this Fourth of July evening the projectionist was awake and through the raindrops, I watched a movie that I would later return to many times.  It became one of my all-time favorites.  It was MONTE WALSH (NGP, 1970).

I like MONTE WALSH so well that I rank it number two on my list of “Top 21 Favorite Westerns.”  It will be the subject of my next post.  In the meantime, however, Colin has an excellent review of the film at Riding the High Country, and I recommend that you ride over there and read it by clicking HERE.  I agree with all his views regarding the movie and he states them so very well.

By the way, it’s difficult to believe, but for his role in NORWOOD, Joe Namath received a Golden Globe nomination for “Most Promising Newcomer.”  It’s almost as difficult to believe as the fact that a year earlier Glen Campbell was nominated for the same award.  


  1. That's really good of you to link in to my piece on Monte Walsh - I really appreciate that, and very much look forward to reading your own thoughts on that wonderful movie.

    BTW, I like what you're doing with this site. The western is such an important and rich cultural phenomenon and it both needs and deserves the attention of as many of us as possible. It is of course a uniquely American genre and, although I'm not American myself, I think it represents one of America's greatest exports. It is a genre that is widely appreciated in Europe and beyond, perhaps because it so frequently addresses universal themes. Anyway, keep up the good work.


  2. Colin,

    Thanks very much for the kind words. They mean a lot since they come from the person who is responsible for my favorite website. It has been a pleasure to browse and read what you have written.

    I have written articles about Westerns that have appeared in periodicals and magazines, but I am a novice when it comes to the blogosphere. I'm still feeling my way, but I am really enjoying the freedom and flexibility that the site allows me in writing about a movie genre that I dearly love.

    I knew that the Western had many fans in Europe, but I have been surprised and pleased at the number of visits to my site from that part of the world.

    I will try to add something to the discussion of "Monte Walsh," but you have set the bar very high. I should have linked to your piece and let it go at that (and I almost did). But it is my #2 favorite Western, so I guess I am obligated to add my two cents. (Next week it might be #1 or #5, who knows?)

    I have to confess that I am a bit upset with you. When I decided to create this site, I immediately knew the title that I was going to select: "Riding the High Country" -- only to find that it was already taken. In fact, I once wrote a magazine piece titled "Ridin' the High Country with Randolph Scott."

    I look forward to your next piece on "Riding the High Country."


  3. Apologies for pinching the title on you. It was my own high regard for Scott that drew me to it as well.

    One great thing about blogging is the way it allows us to share our varied takes on those subjects that interest us. As such, it will be a pleasure to read what you think about Monte Walsh.


    1. No apologies necessary for choosing the title. It is a great one and you have done it justice.