Monday, February 18, 2008

SHOWDOWN (1973)


It’s rare that the main word that comes to mind about a film is ‘tired’. But that is definitely what I felt about SHOWDOWN as it unspoOled before me. I’m major fan of Dean Martin both onscreen and off and the sight of him in this was depressing. He didn’t look bad- he just sounded old and tired. Very tired. His voice was thick and slow like he wasn’t feeling well with only his sly smile to give hope for what was to come. It was almost as if he knew this story was better suited for a younger man even if that younger man would and should have been him about 10 years previous. It’s a sad thing because the character Martin plays is a perfect fit for him. He’s a solid citizen pushed into a life of crime by circumstances and what he terms ‘bad luck’. Hell! It’s pretty close to his defining western role in the classic RIO BRAVO. And by casting another ageing matinee idol against him as his old friend and lawman rival the producers showed a sharp eye for complementary styles. Both Rock Hudson and Martin are so smooth on screen that picturing them as lifelong buddies is effortless.

But as tired as Martin looks and sounds the film’s story is even more worn-out. There is nothing original about this tale and I can’t imagine what audiences thought about this in 1973. By this time the Spaghetti Westerns had been a major force in cinema for years injecting hyper violence and a grittiness into the genre that American filmmakers tried to emulate. Those influences are here in the titular showdown at the end of the film with graphic bullet hits and the grisly death of a main character which is mercifully left off screen. But these elements bump against the laid back nature of the dialog scenes giving the whole film a slightly off feeling because of this tonal split.

The thing is- there are good things in SHOWDOWN. Hudson is very good and Martin gets better as the film goes on. In the later scenes when he’s playing against Hudson and the (wasted) female lead Susan Clark Martin’s charm comes out and it’s easy to like watching him act. He really was a natural.

But the film is a dud. I can respect its downbeat ending and the chase through a burning forest that leads up to it but there just isn’t much there. The ending and the fine cast offset the dullness of the story making it a zero sum game. And that’s just too bad.

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