Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Vincent Price in a western!

Vincent Price is generally known for all those horror movies he did starting more or less with House of Wax in 1953. Before that, he was a contract player at Fox for several years where he appeared in several pretty good dramas and noirs that I've mentioned before. It's a bit difficult to imagine him in a western, but then, he did make a movie that's more or less a western: The Jackals, which is airing tomorrow afternoon at 1:20 PM on the Fox Movie Channel.

The movie starts with Stretch (Robert Gunner) leading a group of bandits in late 19th century South Africa who rob a bank and escape through one of the more barren areas that, in theory, is impassable. The gang eventually makes it to the ghost town of Yellow Rock -- except that it's not a ghost town. The meet Wilhelmina (Diana Ivarson), nicknamed Willie who lives there with her "Oupa", or grandfather (Vincent Price), who's a prospector. Stretch knows this means there must be a lot of gold, and he and the gang want to get it, while everybody starts getting the hots for Willie. That's not much of a plot description, and there's a good reason I haven't felt the need to give much only a cursory plot description: the movie is a remake of Yellow Sky from about 20 years earlier.

In fact, The Jackals is a fairly close remake other than having moved the action from the American west to Boer South Africa. It's close enough that whoever had control of the decision decided to give a writing credit to Lamar Trotti. This is quite the feat considering that Trotti, who had written the screenplay to Yellow Sky died about 15 years before this movie was made! (It's understandable that WR Burnett, who wrote the original story that becamse Yellow Sky, gets a credit for the original story. Burnett was also still very much alive when The Jackals was made.) And, to be honest, The Jackals isn't quite as good as Yellow Sky -- and it's not just because of how close a remake it is.

I think there are a couple of reasons why Yellow Sky is rather better. First off is the presence of Gregory Peck as the leader of the gang. Peck was always extremely good at playing morally ambiguous characters, and far outshines any of the nondescript actors in the South African gang we see in The Jackals. Having Richard Widmark as the lieutenant is a big help too. The script of The Jackals doesn't seem to give as much to Vincent Price to do as he should have considering that he's the star. This is really a movie about Stretch, not the grandfather. The one bright spot in The Jackals is Diana Ivarson, who comes across as more believably Old West tough and mannish than Anne Baxter did in Yellow Sky.

The Jackals did get a low-budget DVD release at some point in the past, but I don't know if it's still in print. The print that the Fox Movie Channel aired the last time it was on was unsurprisingly panned-and-scanned.

1 comment:

livius1 said...

Interesting post Ted. I've never seen this movie but I have seen, and liked, Yellow Sky.

BTW, Vincent Price made a few proper westerns - The Baron of Arizona for Sam Fuller and More Dead Than Alive.

Colin