Ride in the Whirlwind (1965)

5 10 2008

I ended up liking this a bit more than Hellman’s The Shooting but that’s probably because I knew nothing at all about westerns when I first saw that. About a year ago, I was just really interested in Hellman as a director and I proceeded in watching the atrocious R1 DVD of the aforementioned film. Obviously, the circumstances for this viewing were a lot better, but I still can’t say I was exactly blown away. Looking at Hellman’s career, it seems to be a case where the public actually got it right. I’m not saying he’s really famous (though he does have a cult following it seems) but his best-known film is also his best film by a pretty large margin. In all honesty, I’d say that both this and The Shooting are warm-ups to Hellman’s masterpiece, Two-Lane Blacktop.

This film does have some noticeable charm of its own, however. The lack of Warren Oates definitely doesn’t work in favor of the film but there are a large number of familiar faces to at least somewhat make up for him. Jack Nicholson, like in The Shooting, is pretty amazing here. It’s all the more amazing that only a couple years later he would be doing that shtick that plagued the rest of his career. In one of the most bizarre transitions in the universe of acting, Nicholson went from a Bresson-level passive actor to one of Hollywood’s most “charismatic” (or theatrical) actors.

There’s some other familiar and nice to-see faces in the mix as well. Rupert Crosse, perhaps more well-known as the character in John Cassavetes’ Shadows with the same name. His appearance is quick and not all that amazing, but like Ben Carruther’s cameo in Lilith, there is something odd about seeing him in another movie. Millie Perkins, accounted for in Hellman’s The Shooting, is also here though her character seems to have been added in at the last minute. Hellman and Nicholson probably wanted a pretty girl amidst all the gritty masculinity. Even though she feels like an afterthought, she is involved in most of the film’s best moments.

I guess that’s part of the charm of this movie. It’s very obviously attempting to be arty, but it also maintains that low-budget quick production sensibility from many of Roger Corman’s productions in the 50s and 60s. I guess this sounds potentially unwatchable, but it all, for lack of a better word, works. It helps a great deal that Hellman, as always, ends his film in the most open-ended way possible. Even though this is far from a masterpiece, it is fascinating to watch one of the would-be great directors at work.

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