Fragmented Memories (Smack In The Middle)

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

3. Even Jack didn’t screw around with Alan Ladd

I get too deep into movies. I worry about the stars. It’s my nature. In the musical, Brigadoon, Gene Kelly and Van Johnson set off for Scotland to shoot pheasants, or peasants I forget which. In Scotland it’s hard to tell one from the other. You must have seen the movie; it’s been on TV hundreds of times. Now, just think about the plot for a minute. Two New Yorkers head into the glen with shotguns to go hunting and only one comes back. Don’t you think that might have been a good reason for Scotland Yard to hold some sort of investigation?

I can hear poor Van saying to the cops, “Well, Chief Inspector, my pal, Tommy Albright, walked across that bridge and the whole damn village up and disappeared. The last thing I remember was Cyd Charisse running across the square in her bare feet and a sheer night-gown. If I were you I’d be calling in the crew from CSI Glasgow.”

If there’s a sequel, Kelly and the folks from Brigadoon will reappear a hundred years later. Gene, who will be exactly one day older, picks up a copy of the National Enquirer and reads that his best friend, Van, who was finally sprung after 99 years in a Scottish gaol for murder, was arrested again. This time he was found naked in the glen fondling a bagpipe.

I loved cowboy movies when I was a kid. There wasn’t much sex in them but you weren’t considered a sissy if you took a few hours off from your sexual daydreams to watch Randolph Scott or Jimmy Stewart outdraw a few bad guys. Even then we had to be careful to check the billboards first to see who was in it. If Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, or anyone else with a guitar and a frilly shirt straight from the Grand Ole Opry was starring in it, we took off like a shot.

We liked the tough guys, guys like John Wayne. The Duke was a real cowboy. You never saw John kissing a woman. Unless of course she was a dance hall girl, then the Duke would have hustled her behind the Long Branch Saloon. But he sure as hell never whipped out a guitar and sang to her.

Roy may have called himself, the ‘King of the Cowboys’, but we all knew Dale wore the pants in that family. Instead of drinking all night with the Duke and the Cisco Kid, Dale would make Roy stay home to hold her wool while she rolled it up in a ball.

My favourite villain was Jack Palance. Jack was mean and ugly enough to put the fear of the Lord into us kids in the cheap seats. What’s more Jack wore a black hat. The only guy who could ever take him in a gunfight was Alan Ladd. Al was a little guy like me. (Actually we look a lot alike — him being dead and all) In the great western classic, Shane, Al shot Jack down in a saloon battle and three or four other guys too. It was one thing for a hired gunfighter to gun down a few settlers and some horse’s ass of a storekeeper, but even Jack didn’t screw around with Alan Ladd.

The black hat thing is important. A student of western movies in days of yore could pick out the bad guy the moment he rode his old cayuse into town. There was a dress code in the Wild West that had to be strictly adhered to by all cowboys, good or bad, if they wanted to get paid. The hero had to wear a white hat; the villain wore black — preferably with a black shirt, black snakeskin boots and silver spurs that stuck out a foot and a half behind to top off his ensemble. A properly dressed bad guy couldn’t walk down a flight of stairs without falling ass over teakettle but that didn’t matter. He wouldn’t live long enough to get to the first floor anyway.

There was one exception to the rule, Hopalong Cassidy. Hoppy dressed in black from the tippy-toes of his boots to his ten-gallon hat even though he was a hero. He was allowed to break the mandatory hat rule because of his age. The poor old fart must have been close to 90 when he made his last picture and the studios took pity on him. Since he was going to croak soon anyway, they didn’t insist he put out more of his pension money to buy a new Stetson.

I saw a movie last year on the Late Show. Sharon Stone was a gunfighter, if you can imagine. Now I love Sharon, although I wish she’d stop calling me, but Sharon would be blown away if she ever slapped leather with Alan Ladd or Jack Palance.

Leonardo DiCaprio was in that movie too. In the 50s, the producers never would have cast him in a western unless he was playing the part of the sissy who ran the Tombstone Beauty Salon.

The guy I worried about in the 80s was Clint Eastwood. When he played Dirty Harry, he carried a gun a foot and a half long. Even if it wasn’t loaded, there was a good chance he’d poke some guy’s eye out. Clint went on to star in a string of spaghetti westerns. He got a million bucks a picture. The other actors were so bad they split 35 bucks 65 ways. The sound dubbing wasn’t the best either. Sometimes Clint would still be talking and he and his horse were already starring in another picture.

I loved the movies when I was a kid but I’ve grown disenchanted with them now that I’m an old geezer. I don’t like movies that are supposedly based on true stories. By the time the screenwriters get through with them there is no connection to the original. I watch movies to be entertained. I don’t want to want to see some stalker glorified on TV by running his life story seven nights a week. If they have to show that trash, put it on at 4 in the morning with the guy sitting on an examination table worrying about penile dysfunction.

Next week: The serials

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