IMDB #241: The Searchers

Hey, it’s our first foray into an all-American genre: The Western. The first of around twelve or so on the countdown (more if you count modern neo-westerns like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood) is 1956’s The Searchers.

The Key Players:

Adapted by Frank Nugent from Alan Le May’s novel of the same name, The Searchers is directed by the legendary John Ford, the all time record holder with four Best Director statuettes to his name (For The Informer, The Quiet Man, The Grapes Of Wrath, and How Green Was My Valley- none of which are Westerns, ironically). Ford directed some 140 films in his career, and defined the Western as we all know it.

And the lead role in this film was written for one man, and one man only- the star of 24 Ford films, John Wayne. We all know John Wayne, who took home one of just two Oscar nominations for True Grit, but remains an icon (just ask Paula Cole, who doesn't seem to realize that John Wayne would probably be a terrible boyfriend. But maybe not as bad as the Marlboro Man, who must not have any teeth by now).

There’s some other people in this cast, I guess, but nobody I recognize other than Natalie Wood in a brief part. Jeffrey Hunter costars as Wayne’s sidekick, essentially, but it’s largely a one-man show.

The Story:

1868, rural Texas: Wayne, a confederate veteran (who’s been up to God knows what for the last three years), finally comes back to visit his brother’s family. The reunion with the whole family goes swimmingly, except for some slightly racist things Wayne says to Hunter, the family's adopted son who happens to be one eigth Native American.

Then the local Ranger shows up to round up a posse to hunt some Comanche (which Wayne pronounces "co-MANTCH" for the whole film) sighted nearby causing trouble, and enlists Hunter and Wayne, despite the latter's dubious past.

Wayne shares some silent looks of longing with his brothers wife (!) and then they leave. But it turns out that it a was all a ruse, and the Comanche raid the farm while everyone's away- killing the brother, his wife, and their young son, and spiriting away their two daughters.

So Wayne, Hunter and company try and track them down, only to lose them after an initial skirmish. Our two hero's and the older daugher's fiancee proceed with the search alone, only to find the older daughter's body (whereupon the fiancee flips out and gets himself shot).

So then it's just a matter of a over five-year-long search for the younger daughter (played by Natalie Wood by the time they catch up with her), now living among the Comanche.

And this whole time Hunter has a girlfriend that may or may not marry some yokel dweeb if our heroes insist on traveling the country all the time.

The Artisticness:

It's a western. There's long, beatiful (if you like that sort of thing) shots of barren landscapes and windy desert. I can see the appeal, I suppose.

But the real appeal of The Searchers is its relative subversiveness- well before the murky, gritty Leone westerns of the 70's, this film doesn't present the frontier struggle with any sort of black and white, cowboys v. Indians cohesiveness.

Wayne is an antihero, a badass who knows a surprising amount about the Native American way of life but thinks of them as less than human nonetheless. He's cavalier with the lives of hostages, and takes extra shots when his enemy is in retreat

It's not your standard John Wayne character, anyway. Equally spiteful is the Comanche Chief ("Scar"), who kidnaps a white girls for each one of his dead sons. And the savagery of both sides of the central conflict are merely in the forefront of an entire landscape of treachery and self-serving malice. Half the people that Wayne and Hunter run into offer help with their search, and then try and kill them for their lunch money when they turn their backs.

The Searchers is a depature from your Gene Autry, Howdy Doody frontier types, to say the least, (in fact, the dweeby singing cowboy trying to woo Hunter's girl gets punched in the face at a point), and it paved the way for the genre to be less of a goofy talkie picture where guys wore bandanas or feathers and more of, you know, an art form.


So when they initially catch up to the Comanche, Wood remembers them but wants to stay with "my people" instead of come back. At this, Wayne tries to shoot her since being a Comanche chief's bride is "worse than death," but Hunter stands in his way and then Comanche shotguns start going off until they have to leave.

They head back to town (I'm not clear which town- have they been in Texas this whole time?), break up Hunter's flame's wedding to the dorky guy, round up a posse and march on the Indian camp- Hunter sneaks in for Wood before the raid starts (Wayne wanted to just march in, risking her swift execution by her captors, because he is not a nice guy).

End result- Hunter shoots Scar, Wood inexplicably changes her mind and wants to go with them, and Wayne nearly shoots her again but stops himself when it occurs to him he might be batshit crazy.

Then everyone but Wayne goes back inside to continue there lives and be normal people, but he stays out in the wild because that's where borderline-pyschotic anti-heroes live, and the film ends with a great shot of a door closing on him and the sunset.

It's a good ending, in that it subverts your expectations for any kind of grand finale (the Comanche are better scalpers than marksmen, I guess) and makes the high tension about John Wayne, a beloved hero, chasing down a scampering Natalie Wood with death in his eyes. And of course he stops himself, but for a moment there you're like no way!


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Well, to be quite honest, I've seen some other random John Wayne movie where he has to protect a bunch of children or something maybe (actually The Cowboys- where he hires schoolboys to help herd cattle. I saw it in middle school) and none of the Leone westerns, so I'm not a great judge on where this ranks among the greatest westerns.

But it was a decent enough film, even though it dragged a bit with the years of searching, and 241 doesn't seem out of line. Plus, it's John Wayne! Come on!

The Legacy-

In addition to the stark depicition of racism and moral turptidue opening the door for countless great future Westerns, this film ranks as a classic influence on plenty of other filmmakers.

The discovery of the brother's burned farm is more or less directly referenced in Star Wars, when Luke realizes Uncle Owen won't ever ask him to run errands again. My other favorite tidbit is that Wayne's character's cynical refrain of "that'll be the day" from the film inspired the Buddy Holly song of the same name.

Also it was officially named the greatest Western ever by the American Film Institute on their 2008 lists by genre (which shafted Sergio Leone, probably for being Italian).

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Some YouTuber calls this "probably the best ending in the history of cinema." Yeah, I don't know about that, but it's a cool shot:

Leftover Thoughts:

A lot of people make a big deal about the secretly-in-love with the wife's brother thing in terms of Wayne's motivations, but I think that only comes out after multiple veiwings and thinking too much about it. Really not that played-up.

There's a remnant of an earlier kind of western when Hunter tries to bargain for a blanket with a different tribe, and ends up with a wife instead. Hilarity ensues, but then she gets killed by some U. S. Rangers- whoops.

Also, to try and convince Hunter that they should just barge into Scar's camp (and risk Wood's death) he tells him one of the scalps of hair Scar showed them to initimidate them was Hunter's mother's. This is never mentioned again.

I hope The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (another Ford/Wayne project) is significantly different, because it's coming up soon on the list.

‘The X-Files: I Want To Believe’ In A Nutshell

This is a movie parody, the idea for which was inspired by ripped off shamelessly lifted from a writer known as Cleolinda Jones. She did a whole bunch of them, called Movies In Fifteen Minutes.

She even published a book of them, which is only available on Amazon UK for some reason. So go check those out if you like this at all, or maybe thought the idea had potential but could've been funnier in execution. She's a pro.

For my part, I kept trying to write a review of The X-Files 2 and could only keep making fun of it. And this was the inevitable result.

Two notes: Can anyone think of a better indicator of the brevity of the parody than "In A Nutshell" (and "In Fifteen Minutes," obviously)? Or maybe it just strikes me as a dumb suffix this time because it sounds like someone wants to believe in a nutshell. Who doesn't believe in nutshells? Nuts have to come from somewhere.

Also I joked that not only did Amanda Peet bring her "acting face" for her FBI Agent role, she also sported her "FBI-Bangs." So that's where that name comes from... Enjoy!

‘The X-Files: I Want To Believe’ In A Nutshell

Night, Some Lady's House:

SOME LADY: Listen to the score of this film! It’s so ominous and creepy. I hope there are no creepy bald guys around.


SOME LADY: Aaah! Eat garden hoe!

RUSSIAN LEOBEN: I have something to tell you about the future. Also, YAA! (kidnapping ensues).

Some Snowy Field, later (but edited so you think it’s the same time what?):

RANDOM FBI AGENT: Why are we all following this old priest around and combing through this snowy field? And why are there so many of us for just this one field? Seriously- there’s like thirty of us out here, you guys.

AGENT FBI-BANGS (Amanda Peet): Quiet, he’s having a vision.

FATHER JOE (Billy Connolly): Here, it’s here!

RANDOM FBI AGENT: Where? It’s all just snow!

(some other random FBI agents dig to find a severed arm with some garden-hoe-like scratches on it)

RANDOM FBI AGENT: How did he know that was there?

AGENT FBI-BANGS: He’s psychic, you see.

RANDOM FBI AGENT: Oh. So he said he had a vision of a severed arm and you just took his word for it? You mobilized like fifty FBI agents on some nutjob’s whim?


RANDOM FBI AGENT: I can see maybe if he’d had the arm already, but-

AGENT FBI-BANGS: Look I just don’t have much experience with this psychic stuff, okay? If only there was someone out there who did…

Christian Hospital Of Death:

SCULLY: And so, ladies, gentlemen, woman on the tv, I know none of the treatments for Little Johnny’s brain situation have worked so far, but I think we should pursue some experimental therapy because science is awesome- and I’m totally a doctor in case you forgot.

EVIL PRIEST BIG EARS: Well, the board feels that the boy is too cute to be in any more pain. Hospice, pronto!





(this is seriously how this subplot unfolds, for the whole film)

Later, in the Hallway:

AGENT XZIBIT: Dana Scully? Hi, I’m an FBI Agent, for real. We need you to contact Fox Mulder for us and tell him the FBI is willing to forgive everything that nobody remembers he did anyway if he’ll come help us with a case. For the FBI.

SCULLY: Wasn’t he sentenced to death or something like that?

AGENT XZIBIT: Yes, but we’ve got a missing FBI Agent/gardening enthusiast and we really need him to come in and disagree with everyone until the case is solved. Did I mention that I’m like a full FBI Agent? - I have a badge and everything.

SCULLY: Okay, Xzibit, I’ll tell him.

Scully’s House (Mulder’s house? Do they share it? I wasn’t clear):

MULDER: Did you see these newspaper clippings? I’m thinking of making a paper maché.

SCULLY: Mulder, I’m worried about your mental health- there are negative effects to long-term isolation, even though we may or may not share this house.

MULDER: I’m in perfect mental health! I keep my Unabomber beard neatly trimmed!

SCULLY: Yeah… Anyway, some rapper told me that the FBI would call off the manhunt and forget everything if you help them find some missing agent.

MULDER: Really? What if it’s a trap?

SCULLY: Sure, but what if it’s a plot device?

MULDER: I’ll do it. Are you going to be with me the whole way, or abruptly turn into a wet blanket when I get obsessed and take things too far?

SCULLY: No promises.

Washington, D. C.:

MULDER: Wow, it’s funny how we could get here in a helicopter from Alaska, or wherever it was so snowy.

(It was Somseret, West Virginia. Really?)

AGENT FBI-BANGS: So, Agent Foxy, I’ve read your files and I have to say you’re pretty boyishly handsome. What’s with the beard?


AGENT FBI-BANGS: Huh? Oh, anyway there’s these missing women, and the last victim was an FBI agent, and now there’s this priest dude who claims to have visions from god and he led us to a random severed arm.

MULDER: Psychic, you say? Well I may not be able to prove his visions are real, but I’ll defend to the death his right to have them.

SCULLY: I guess we can take a look…

AGENT FBI-BANGS: Also he’s a convicted pedophile.

SCULLY: WHAT!? Screw this noise!

Pederast Dorm:

FATHER JOE: That poor girl… I didn’t ask for these visions, just like I didn’t ask for little boys to be so-

AGENT FBI-BANGS: I’m gonna stop you right there. So Fox, what’s the S. O. P. in this situation? Little cards with lines and squiggles? Hypnosis? Any kind of Scientific Method?

MULDER: Well, mostly I just stubbornly refuse to doubt them until something randomly happens that backs me up, and then I solve the case somehow.

AGENT XZIBIT: That’s it? This FBI Agent is skeptical.

SCULLY: Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

AGENT FBI-BANGS: Do you know how many strings I had to pull to get you pardoned or whatever? That’s all you’ve got? At least shave your stupid beard, dammit!

FATHER JOE: Uh.. maybe I could go take a look at the house?

AGENT FBI-BANGS: Fine, whatever. Lead the way, Father Joe.

SCULLY: Why is everyone calling him “Father” Joe? Doesn’t that get revoked or something?

In The Car:

FATHER JOE: So who are you again? Didn’t I see you at the NAMBLA convention?

MULDER: No, no- it’s just the beard. I used to investigate paranormal phenomena for the FBI.

FATHER JOE: You believe in that stuff?

Me: Say “I Want To Believe”! Say it!

MULDER: Let’s just say I want to believe.

Me: Whoo! Nailed it!

Some Other Car:

SOME OTHER LADY: Nothing like driving down deserted roads after a good swim. Hey, that truck’s getting awful close…

RUSSIAN LEOBEN: In Russia, hay bales you! ::Knocks Some Other Lady’s Car Into Bale of Hay:: (kidnapping ensues)

Some Lady’s House:

FATHER JOE: Oh yes, the midi-chlorians are really high here..

SCULLY: What?! I’ve had enough of this charlatan.

MULDER: If he’s faking, how did he find the arm?

SCULLY: He’s clearly involved in whatever went down!

AGENT XZIBIT: Maybe he has a really good sense of smell?


AGENT XZIBIT: Hey, uh, I’m totally in the-

MULDER: FBI, we get it. You’re very believable. Scully, how many ridiculous things do you need to witness before you start to believe?

SCULLY: Always one more, crackpot.

FATHER JOE: The visions! So portentous yet vague! ::CRIES BLOOD::


The Next Morning, At Scully’s (Mulder’s?) House:

SCULLY: So there’s this little boy with a brain thing...

MULDER: What’s his name?

SCULLY: Uh.. Little Johnny? No wait, it’s Christian. Isn’t that weird that that’s his name and I’m having a crisis of faith about his treatment?

MULDER: That’s pretty contrived, yeah. Maybe stem cells?

SCULLY: Go on…

MULDER: I was just throwing it out there- I don’t know anything about them. But maybe you could google “stem cell therapy,” learn all about it, get approval, funding, and the parents to agree all in a day and perform the procedure tomorrow?

SCULLY: Come on, there’s no way that would be possible- not even here in British Columbia or maybe Virginia. By the by, you know what’s weird? That severed arm had a horse tranquilizer in it, but we all just sort of shrugged and moved on.

MULDER: What the what!? ::Shaves Beard:: It’s time for some serious obsessiveness.

SCULLY: I’ll catch up with you later. ::Googles “stem cell therapy”:: (this seriously happens!)

Local FBI Headquarters:

MULDER: Horse tranquilizers!

AGENT FBI-BANGS: Another swimming missing woman!

FATHER JOE: Visions!


The Woods:

SCULLY: Mulder, there’s nothing out here. Also your sister is dead already, just move on!

MULDER: Wow, that was uncalled for. I know that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look for Samantha- I mean, Some Lady.

FATHER JOE: The visions, they’re hazy and unclear. I’m not sure if- no, it’s down there actually.

RANDOM FBI AGENT: This is like the coldest West Virginia winter ever, people. ::Digging:: What’s down here, anyway?


MULDER: Ha! See?

SCULLY: This doesn’t prove anything.

FATHER JOE: Hey Scully: "swing away."


FATHER JOE: I mean: "don’t give up."

SCULLY: You mean on my patient? Should I use these cell stems I’ve been reading about?

FATHER JOE: ::Shrugs::

Some Other Lady’s Wrecked Car:

MULDER: Looks like another abduction victim. Father Joe?

FATHER JOE: I got nothing. A hay-monster?

MULDER: Oh-kay… maybe this medical bracelet and swimsuit will tell us something- to the pool!

Christian Hospital Of Death:

EVIL PRIEST BIG EARS: So we’re transferring Christian to a hospice where God doesn’t have to think about him and feel guilty.

SCULLY: But what about the experimental-

EVIL PRIEST BIG EARS: God doesn’t experiment! It was six days and then “hey, that looks good to me”! No meddling!

SCULLY: But the parents-

EVIL PRIEST BIG EARS: The parents saw it my way after three hours of cajoling. Now clearly the catholic church always has the best interests of children in mind. Good day!

The Pool:

POOL ATTENDANT: Yep, both missing ladies are here in the log. Funny how they always wore bracelets with their blood type on them. They had a whole little “AB Negative” club that met on Thursdays.

MULDER: Clearly they were targeting people with that blood type! Maybe they put out a craigslist ad or something. What do you think, Agent FBI-Bangs?

AGENT FBI-BANGS: Hey! My name is Dakota Whitney.

MULDER: Yeah, that sounds like a name someone would have.

Some Other Hospital:

RANDOM COP: Excuse me sir, are you a licensed organ transporter person?


Pederast Dorm:

FATHER JOE: Agent Scully? Wha?

SCULLY: Why did you say “Don’t give up” to me?

FATHER JOE: I’m just a vessel.

SCULLY: Why would God reward you with psychic visions after what you’ve done? Plus, why are they more cryptic than the first season of Lost?

FATHER JOE: Proverbs 25:2- “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.”

SCULLY: So… I should do the stem cells?

FATHER JOE: ::Seizures::

Creepy Russian Lab:

SOME OTHER LADY: They left this cage open! Maybe if I crawl away very loudly I can-


Christian Hospital Of Death:

SOME RANDOM NURSE: Here’s your giant needle of stem cells, doctor.

SCULLY: Take that, religion!

SOME RANDOM NURSE: I can’t believe we just had those laying around for this.

Downtown Richmond:

AGENT FBI-BANGS: We’ve tracked Russian Leoben to this organ facility. Turns out he was married to some Creepy Bald Guy that Father Joe molested when he was little! Xzibit, you lead the raid up there- I’ll wait in the street with Foxy Clean-Shaven.

AGENT XZIBIT: Xzibit? My name is Mosley Drummy… what is with the names in this movie? ::leaves::

AGENT FBI-BANGS: So, Mulder, there’s another case I need you to take a look at, but we’ll have to go back to my apartment to-

MULDER: There he is!

RUSSIAN LEOBEN: ::Drops Cooler, Runs::

MULDER: ::Runs::

AGENT FBI-BANGS: (running) Wait! How are you so much faster than I am? Aren’t you nearing fifty?

(they chase Russian Leoben into a building under construction, but lose him- Mulder ends up two floors above Agent FBI-Bangs)

MULDER: (calling down) I lost him!

AGENT FBI-BANGS: Mulder! Have you seen him? I didn’t see him anywhere, so it’s probably safe to lean precariously on this railing to shout up at you.


MULDER: Oklahoma Brittany! Wait, that's not right. South Dakota Slim? I mean, FBI-Bangs!

AGENT FBI-BANGS: ::Impales::

Back On The Street:

AGENT XZIBIT: Well, nothing fishy going on up there. Hey, I wonder what’s in this cooler?


Christian Hospital Of Death:

SCULLY: Mulder, where have you been? I totally did the stem cell thing, without any training even! Also it turns out Father Joe has lung cancer.

MULDER: Father Joe, do you recognize this Creepy Bald Guy’s picture?

FATHER JOE: Not really. Is that Gollum?

MULDER: It’s one of your victims!


SCULLY: Just for the record, is the original Some Lady still alive?

FATHER JOE: The visions say… yes, she is.

SCULLY: Owned. They just found her head in a box! Enjoy your cancer, faker.

MULDER: Nice burn. Anyway, there’s still another victim to rescue, so-

SCULLY: I can’t look into the darkness with you anymore, Mulder.

MULDER: Wait- wasn’t my involvement in this all your idea?

SCULLY: Nevermind that now! The point is, if you go any further with this I’m not coming home tonight.

MULDER: So we were living together!

SCULLY: Also you’re out of Orange Juice.

Nutter’s House of Feed and Tranquilizer:

MULDER: Anyone buy this sort of horse tranquilizer from like an hour ago?

CLERK: Hell, son, we give that stuff away with every six pack! That Russian guy coming in is our biggest customer.

MULDER: Russian guy? ::Hides::

RUSSIAN LEOBEN: Yes, can I refill this prescription?

CLERK: That’ll be a forty-five minute wait.

Another Snowy Road:

MULDER: This Russian guy is so dense he doesn’t notice me following him, when I’m the only other car on the-


SCULLY’S CAR: ::Tumbles::

Christian Hospital Of Death:

CHRISTIAN’S DAD: We’re having some doubts about this procedure- isn’t it pretty painful?

SCULLY: You know what else is painful? A red-ass beatdown. We’re doing this thing.

CHRISTIAN’S MOM: If you were a mother you’d understand.

SCULLY: First of all, I’m pretty sure I am (sort of?), and secondly WHAT DID I JUST SAY!?

A Snowbank:

MULDER: Ugh.. should I go for help? Find my cell phone? NO TIME! We’re doing the rest of this on foot, head-trauma style!

MULDER: … I hope Scully’s not mad about her car.

Scully’s House:

SCULLY: Good old google- I'd never pull off half that "doctor" stuff without it. I wonder if there’s anything else about stem cells on here…

GOOGLE: Stem cells totally kept this severed dog’s head alive! (Are you feeling lucky?)

SCULLY: I should call Mulder about this, even though I was pretty final back there…

SCULLY: ::Dials::…. these voice-mail menus take forever.

Local FBI Headquarters:

SCULLY: Mulder’s missing! He won’t answer his phone!


SCULLY: And we need to find him!

AGENT XZIBIT: I think you need another branch for that. You, see, I’m in the-

SCULLY: Saying it all the time won’t make it plausible! Why are you here, anyway!? Do you at least have a song on the soundtrack?

AGENT XZIBIT: Actually, I-


Creepy Russian Lab:

MULDER: Wow, this place is creepy. At least I have the element of-


A Snowbank:

SCULLY: My car!

SKINNER: He must have gone further down this road on foot.

SCULLY: Thanks for your help. Hey, how’d you get here so quickly?

SKINNER: They just leave those helicopters laying around everywhere.

Creepy Russian Lab:

RUSSIAN LEOBEN: Don’t worry, my Creepy Bald Love, soon you’ll have a fresh, young woman’s body and you’ll be… well, even more creepy, but alive.

MULDER: Not on my watch! Unhook that machine! Turn this process around! Hit Ctrl + Z!

RUSSIAN DOCTORS: (confused yelling)

RUSSIAN LEOBEN: Hey, you know what helps with head-wounds? Horse tranquilizer.

MULDER: Yeah, let’s give that a shot. ::Falls Down::

Some Snowy Road:

SKINNER: Look how snowy it is here! We’ll never figure out where he went.

SCULLY: Stop- let’s go back to those mailboxes.

SKINNER: This is no time for identity theft!

SCULLY: No, look, mailbox 252 has a medical company address in it! We’re close!

SKINNER: Why mailbox 252?

SCULLY: It’s the same number as a biblical verse some possibly psychic pedophiliac priest mentioned before!

SKINNER: Uh, isn’t that kind of ridic-


Creepy Russian Shed:

RUSSIAN LEOBEN: I'm here to prepare you to pass through the next door, to discover what lies in the space between life and death.


RUSSIAN LEOBEN: I mean, Ax-Time!

SCULLY: Thwack!

MULDER: Scully, you came back! Funny how you always give me some sort of ultimatum and then cave.

SCULLY: This is the last time I swear.

Creepy Russian Lab:

RANDOM FBI AGENT: Hands up, Russians! Uh, can we just unplug this stufff, or…

SCULLY: Stand back- I’ve got some doctoring to do! ::Saves Some Other Lady::

CREEPY BALD GUY’S SEVERED HEAD: Hey, don’t pull that tube out of- ::Dies::

SKINNER: ‘Sup, Mulder. You still crazy?

MULDER: I dunno, are you still bald?

Scully And Mulder’s House:

MULDER: So not only did Father Joe die, he’s suspected of collaborating with the crazy Russian Dr. Frankensteins!


MULDER: How can you say that?

SCULLY: Eight-year-olds, dude.

MULDER: Whatever. What’s on for today, more stem cells?

SCULLY: I don’t know, everyone seems to be against me on that. Plus I’m not clear if it’s even legal to begin with.

MULDER: But didn’t Father Joe say “Don’t give up”?

SCULLY: He could have been talking about anything! Like “Don’t give up on The Wire after one episode!”

MULDER: Scully…

SCULLY: Fine, I’ll do it! Can’t you ever use my first name? We sort of (maybe?) have a kid together for Chrissakes.

Christian Hospital Of Death:




SCULLY: Damn straight.

SOME RANDOM NURSE: Are you ready to begin, Dr. Scully?

SCULLY: (pause) Yes- yes I am. Let’s stem up some cells or whatever!

SOME RANDOM NURSE: I don’t think that even makes any-



IMDB #242: Once

Editorial note: This was originally supposed to be about A Christmas Story, but not only has it since fallen out of the top 250, I have no desire to write about it. At all. Seriously- we've all seen it- it's like beige wallpaper at this point. I'm sure there's a long discussion about American consumerism and the corruption of the Holiday spirit in there somewhere, but again- not a single word is coming to me.

So new rule: when the above two conditions happen (off the list, I couldn't give a rat's ass), I get to replace it with something that has since appeared on the list. This way, hopefully, these entries are more engaging are thoughtful. Today's replacement entry? Once.

The Key Players:

John Carney, an independent Irish film and TV director, had the idea for a musical film (not a musical per se, but a film with lots of songs in) following the life of a busker, a street musician.

Carney was a member of the band The Frames in the early 90s, so he turned to Frames frontman Glen Hansard to write songs for the film, and provide notes about the life of a busker, which Hansard had been years before. After Cillian Murphy dropped out of the project, the decision was made to have Hansard star (he'd had a minor role in The Commitments in 1992).

Then they needed a Eastern European female piano player for the costarring role: Hansard just happened to have recorded an album with the daughter of a friend, Marketa Irglova (whose name has two accents, but Blogger is not being helpful to me in making that happen).

The Story:

Very simple. In Dublin, a busker meets an immigrant pianist. They play some music, share their respective heartbreak, and then she helps him record some songs before he leaves for London, but will they find comfort in each other? Carney says you can write the plot "on the back of postage stamp."

The Artisticness:

Wes Anderson, a very music centric filmmaker, draws inspiration from music before even writing a screenplay. Apparently he had the idea of someone getting off a bus, set to Nico's "These Days," and then just wrote The Royal Tenenbaums around that scene.

And although this film existed in some form before the music of Hansard and Irglova was incorporated, the songs are clearly the central nervous system- not only of story, but the characters as well.

The gravity of the songwriting doubles for acting as well. There's an early scene where Hansard is called upon to tell Irglova about his ex-girlfriend- apparently he stumbled over the lines so much that they made the decision to have his character take out his guitar and sing a goofy little song instead about getting cheated on. It's a great moment that seems natural for the character.

And the songs themselves are incredible. I may be cynical (too cynical to want to write about Christmas, anyway). But I will always, always be moved by music, especially set to film. The way the songs are worked into the setting is brilliant- as it's about musicians, it's not distracting when people burst into song. The only movie magic is perhaps in the way they always nail the first take, although there are a few parts emulating the creative process as we see songs being written.

The decision to use actual musicians was important for the naturalistic feel to the songwriting. And it probably helped that it was the musicians that wrote the songs. And that knew each other (more on this later). The featurette on the DVD (yeah, I watched all of the features, and the commentary. Boo-yah.) makes it clear that Carney changed dialogue and character history in the middle of filming scenes, from take to take, making it more of an off the cuff situation than a studio production.

That said, there's nothing visually remarkable achieved the $160,000 budget, but I'm not complaining. Apparently a bunch of people thought it was a documentary (really? In the words of Jack Nicholson: This ain't reality TV!).

Artistic decisions I loved: the two characters are nameless the entire film, just because it never comes up. And the film has no score beyond the songs, which bleed from one scene to the next, lending weight to montages more than some random violins.


So basically, they record some of the busker's songs, come close to making something happen, but ultimately he goes to London to win back his ex and her estranged husband (and baby daddy) comes over the channel to try and work things out. But he buys her a piano, and the music plays us off. Sigh.

Of course in real life, Hansard and Irglova actually got together either during or just after filming, and are now touring, winning Oscars for "Falling Slowly" from this movie, and living in house with a whole bunch of animals outside of Dublin. And despite an age difference comparable to the one I said was creepy in Roman Holiday, it's adorable because every other word Hansard says in the movie is "cool" like a little kid anyway.


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Can I tell you how much higher I think this should be than hovering right around 250 (currently somewhere below it)? It may well be in my top five of all time if I didn't get all High Fidelity nutso when trying to rank things as such.

So higher, clearly.

The Legacy:

Like I mentioned, after a brief controversy about when precisely it was written, the song "Falling Slowly" took home the Best Original Song Oscar in February in the highlight of the ceremony. And it won the Grammy equivalent of that, although I didn't know that until I read it just now (why is the "oh- a Grammy" clip from the Simpsons not on YouTube? Come on, internet, you can do better).

They've also since signed to Warner/Chappell records and have sold-out a US tour (or at least sold out their show in Milwaukee in two seconds).

Carney, for his part, is using his new higher profile to reshoot an abandoned project called Zonad. Kudos to that.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

All about the high note. If that note doesn't move you, your heart is made of stone and you probably hate things like puppies and sunshine.

Leftover Thoughts:

  • An underlying theme to this film that gets to me is the motivation that it takes to achieve something beautiful, something worthwhile. The struggle of the main character to get off his arse, as it were and put his music out there is as important as the relationship angle. The title apparently is a reference to this- although there's a song over the credits that's all "once I knew how to talk to you, but not anymore" Carney said in interviews that it's a reference to artists that say they'll make a serious go of it "once" they get this or that sorted out. Things I plan on doing once I sort my life out- writing a novel, becoming a standup comedian or a professional film critic, and maybe doing my dishes.

IMDB #243: Roman Holiday

So I missed some time. Maybe I just wanted to roll over in bed and petulantly shirk away my duties like some sort of princess or something. You can all have your money back, I promise. Anyway, let’s get to 1953’s Roman Holiday.

The Key Players:

Our director: William Wyler, thrice an Oscar winner and helmer of similar romantic classics like Funny Girl and How To Steal A Million, and then also Ben-Hur. What?

Our screenwriter- Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood ten blacklisted for supposed communists sympathies. This screenplay actually won an Oscar, but Trumbo’s widow didn’t get it on his behalf until 1993. Good thing Hollywood is completely devoid of prejudice these days, right?

And of course this is Audrey Hepburn’s big coming out party. Do I need to write some sentences about who Audrey Hepburn is? Or Gregory Peck, for that matter? I say no, no I don’t.

A supporting role for the city of Rome in this one- allegedly the decision to shoot in black and white was made so the stars weren’t overshadowed by the background vistas.

The Story:

Pretty simple: Hepburn is a princess (of somewhere that isn’t Italy) visiting Rome, Peck is an American journalist (like all the real journalists are).

Hepburn, weary of her life of constant public appearances and functions and royal oppression, has a pseudo-panic attack, and so her handlers give her a shot and put her to bed. Then she decides to escape for a night on the town, only to start falling asleep on the sidewalk from the drugs.

Enter reluctant savior Peck, who eventually realizes who she is, and that a story about her highness with her feathers down would sell some newspapers- hence a plan is born.

But wait- what’s that in the air? Is it love? Is it pizza? Nope, probably love.

The Artisticness:

For a Hollywood just emerging from the studio system, I imagine the great appeal of Roman Holiday was the novelty of location shooting- who wouldn’t prefer the palaces and alleyways of Rome to the same fake snow and dance halls that you saw in the last twenty Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies?

And to Wyler’s credit, he uses the location well- letting the first third of the film unfold slowly as Hepburn sleepily makes her escape.

Hepburn and Peck don’t overplay the romance either, at least not until late in the game. But even then, the plot doesn’t approach anything ridiculous or contrived.


So I think the best part of the movie, and maybe it’s just from the fifties, is that Hepburn and Peck don’t have a torrid affair or anything, they just realize they really care for each other after only a couple of days, and then get sad when she has to return to her princessy duties. And it's not to be chaste or anything, just that anything more would be ridiculous for the time frame (but you can fall in love with Natalie Portman in four days. Just getting that straight).

So there is a tearful goodbye, but otherwise it’s light on melodrama, which is nice. In fact, it’s kind of amazing to me that a film this laid back in scope could be nominated for so many Academy awards and win three of them (Hepburn, screenplay, and… costume design? Okay…).

No romantic comedy about a little two day jaunt through Italy would ever get a Best Picture nomination these days, which is a shame.


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Man, I’m really blowing though this entry, aren’t I? They won’t all be 1400+ words, I guess. But really, I liked this film, and I’m glad I finally saw it for historical purposes, but I don’t see a particular need to see it again.

So let’s say 243 is just right, who knows? Maybe I’d watch it if I felt like going to Rome.

The Legacy

Clearly, Hepburn went on to a long and storied career, mostly as a princess-like character in other things. She never did win another little golden statue, though, not even for acting like a blind person.

Peck was actually top-billed for this film but has been overshadowed by his costar in hindsight, and is mostly remembered for being semi-creepily sixteen years older than Hepburn’s 22 years when this was filmed. He won an Oscar much later for killing a mockingbird, or something.

Roman Holiday, for it’s part, has become one of the many films selected for the US National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." But I won’t be buying a copy. Maybe as a gift…

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Gregory Peck with the good old Ancient-Statue-Bites-Off-Hand bit. And I know this is because I’m familiar with Peck’s later work as a wise older gentleman and not his early work taking roles Cary Grant turned down (as this role was), but it’s scenes like this that get a little too “kindly old grandpa” to overcome the age difference.

Leftover Thoughts:

  • Eddie Albert does have some fun slapstick scenes where Peck spills things on him to keep him quiet. There’s some other fun screwball moments, but not enough to watch this again.
  • I thought I missed the country Hepburn’s “Princess Ann” is from in the opening newsreel, but it’s actually never named, and not really important. The point is in her country no one has any fun, which is why she needs an American journalist to show her how.
  • This was however, a huge step up from Network. Gah.
  • The trailer up there informs us that "all the things happen to them that you'd always hope for on the happiest day of your life!" So don't feel bad about your miserable existence, John Q. Moviegoer, just escape to Rome and forget it.

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