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Universal's TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE (1969) recommended


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#1 of 15 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted February 14 2010 - 11:34 PM


Quote:
In the summer of 1909
a member of the oldest American minority,
a Paiute Indian named Willie Boy,
became the center of an extraordinary
historical event.

This is what happened in the
deserts of California.


Universal's burn-on-demand DVD of TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE (released in cinemas December 1969) is a clean, sharp transfer, superior in quality to the laser disc, with excellent color balance and saturation, and bright punchy sound. The opening titles are windowboxed, but the film unfolds widescreen and anamorphic. The burnished landscape and stoic portraiture is by photographer Conrad Hall, who carved out a signature style on THE PROFESSIONALS(1966), HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1967), and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969). Shooting desert landscapes in morning light and at the golden hour, Hall manipulated exposure to tone down the intensity of dye-transfer Technicolor to an earthy, realistic pallet. Those films deserved all the accolades they received, but his work here on the high deserts of inland California surpasses prior achievements, and that's saying a lot. TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE is one of the best-photographed westerns you'll ever see. The film is written and directed with diamond-hard brilliance by Abraham Polonsky, the auteur who was blacklisted after making the film noir classic FORCE OF EVIL twenty-two years earlier. He must have had a lot to say in those lost years when he was denied work, because he packs it all in here. Tragically this was only his second film, but the same preoccupation with injustice -- one might say the same force of evil -- is still at work, with a vengeance.

This is a confrontational western. Polonsky is fearless in raising controversy and provoking audience reaction. Willie Boy and Lola want to be together, but the Superintendent of the Morongo Indian Reservation objects, and her family refuses at the point of a gun. Forced to kill in self-defense, Willie Boy and Lola run off with the law on their heels. This premises enables Polonsky to depict the transitional west of 1909 as a place where prejudice and discrimination are everywhere and in everyone, between the races, within the races, among the sexes, and especially in the well-intentioned. No character is all evil. The most racist Anglo and the most racist Indian has a decent side even as they compound hypocrisy upon hypocrisy like a desert variation of INHERIT THE WIND. Hypocrisy manifests in ways that are obvious and subtle -- note Susan Clark's self-loathing social worker who thinks she has the right to protect "my Indians" from themselves. Every order she gives to control the situation only serves to escalate the violence out of control. A young Robert Blake portrays Willie Boy with physical agility and a deeply felt sense of futility. We feel his despair. Blake's performance is one of the most under-rated in the history of movies. So is Robert Redford's performance as an ambivalent Sheriff. He is not a noble Will Kane or Matt Dillon type, but he is not corrupt either. He is the only character aware of his own hypocrisy. He doesn't want to step into the role that others have put him in, but in the end, he is unable to avoid it. All these characters are sons and daughters of an earlier generation of pioneers who fought Indians and sacrificed for their children. In case they forget, oldtimer Barry Sullivan is around to remind them. He brags about the violent past while lamenting its passing in the same breath. All the actors are fearless in playing up the contradictions of their richly complex characters.
A hunter throws himself down to the ground to drink from a stream, his hand slipping into the handprint of his prey who had been there and done the same. Later, the Sheriff cleans blood off his hands by rubbing them in the soil. The camera pushes in on a funeral pyre as scavengers try to pull the body out for souvenirs. Rich in visual metaphor, TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE is that rarity among Hollywood studio westerns -- it is historically intelligent and historically well-informed, faithful to the actual circumstances and events it depicts. Perhaps the best testament to its authenticity is the fact that several tribes cooperated in making the film; they are identified during the opening titles. The film is based on the biography of Willie Boy written by Harry Lawton, which Polonsky obviously read and understood. He doesn't try to schmaltz it up or tack on a happy ending. The only other western that compares to it, that I can think of, is the independently made THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ (1983). But you don't need to know the history to enjoy the high-calibre drama and suspenseful action on display. Structured on the chase formula, TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE is a manhunt thriller without peer. Expect a standard of craftsmanship in story telling and in technical execution that you just don't see anymore.

Studio and network execs winnow out this level of sophistication today. They stop it before it starts. TELL THEM WILLIE IS HERE could only have been made in the 1960s. I consider it one of the great cinematic achievements of that decade and one of the all-time great westerns. Perhaps this remarkable western will become better known and appreciated, and more widely discussed, now that it is finally available on DVD.

Don't hesitate.
Buy It Now.

www.amazon.com/Tell-Them-Willie-Amazon-com-Exclusive/dp/B0033PSHA4/ref=pd_bxgy_d_img_a



#2 of 15 OFFLINE   Simon Howson

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Posted February 15 2010 - 12:13 AM

It's a great film, I'm glad it was released as a pressed DVD in Australia.


#3 of 15 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted February 15 2010 - 04:00 AM

Simon, was the Australian DVD widescreen and anamorphic?
Do you know if the transfer is the same as the laser disc?
I almost bought it a couple of times, but I wasn't sure if it wasn't full screen pan & scan and some films are hurt by the 4% speed-up.


Richard


#4 of 15 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted February 15 2010 - 04:05 AM

I think dvds released in Australia are NTSC not PAL.

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#5 of 15 OFFLINE   ahollis

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Posted February 15 2010 - 04:16 AM

Richard, I concur with you on your assessment on TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE.  I had read some people were complaining that the color was subdued, but that is the original cinematography that Conrad Hall filmed and it gives it a great mood.  Glad to know there are others out there that enjoy this film and do believe in it.

It is well worth having.
"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That`s how the best pictures get made" - William "Wild Bill" Wellman


#6 of 15 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted February 15 2010 - 05:10 AM

ahollis, I understand Conrad Hall overexposed the film by as much 2 or 3 stops, especially in the desert scenes, then correcting in the lab. He also liked a hard backlight that he bounced and reflected into the front. This has the effect of taking the intensity out of Technicolor while keeping the color realistic. Hall took this technique a lot further on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There is an interview on file at the AFI in which Hall talks about his lighting techniques. The DVD captures this aesthetic very well, not as well as on the big screen under optimal 35mm projection conditions, but well enough.

Compare Hall's 1960s westerns to Roger Deacon's work in No Country For Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford. Not exactly the same, but Hall's aesthetic is alive and well in those films.

Glad I'm not the only one here who appreciates this film.


#7 of 15 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted February 15 2010 - 05:30 AM

I viewed this release on January 25th and except for the opening credits being letterbox, I thought the video presentation was really good.  I always liked film and remember my theatrical viewing of it quite vividly during the winter of 1970 with a couple of buddies of mine.  I always thought it was an underrated western with an outstanding cast.





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#8 of 15 OFFLINE   Jon Hertzberg

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Posted February 17 2010 - 07:31 AM

Thanks for the report, Richrd--W.  This has been one of my most wanted DVDs since I bought a player.  I've held off thus far on the Universal's MOD disc.  Has anyone done a side-by-side comparison with the widescreen laserdisc (which I own), non-Region 1 pressed DVD(s), and the UNI DVD-R?  

#9 of 15 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted February 18 2010 - 08:33 AM

I own the laser disc.
It's nice, but not as clean, clear and sharp as Universal's new MOD.
The MOD blows away the laser disc.

I can't address the region 2 DVD.
It will have the 4% PAL speed-up, however.
This film has to be seen at the proper pitch.
So the region 2 is not an option for me now that an excellent region 1 DVD is available.

Don't hesitate.
Buy It Now:
http://www.amazon.com/Tell-Them-Willie-Amazon-com-Exclusive/dp/B0033PSHA4/ref=pd_bxgy_d_img_a


#10 of 15 OFFLINE   gruagach

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Posted May 14 2010 - 04:53 AM

I received "Willie Boy" the other day, but haven't watched it, just sampling the picture quality. I was wondering about the window box in the beginning. Was that how it was in theatrical release? Or is it a transfer glitch?




#11 of 15 OFFLINE   ahollis

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Posted May 14 2010 - 05:46 AM




Originally Posted by gruagach 

I received "Willie Boy" the other day, but haven't watched it, just sampling the picture quality. I was wondering about the window box in the beginning. Was that how it was in theatrical release? Or is it a transfer glitch?


It is to prevent over-scan of the opening so the titles will be visible to all on their monitor.  Not in the theatrical release and not a glitch.  It is a decent transfer with the muted colors that I remember from the theatrical release years back.



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#12 of 15 OFFLINE   Livius

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Posted May 14 2010 - 07:05 AM

There's no windowboxing/letterboxing of the credits on the Australian disc.



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#13 of 15 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted May 14 2010 - 11:01 AM

Universal window-boxed the opening titles on the American laser-disc as well. They did so on a number of releases. Why? Who knows? Window-boxing isn't necessary, but it isn't  a defect or a flaw, either. The entire and correct aspect ratio is present. Nothing is missing. It expands to anamorphic within about four minutes, when the titles are over. I've given up trying to understand why Universal Home Entertainment does the things that it does.


The movie is worth it, in any case.



#14 of 15 OFFLINE   gruagach

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Posted May 14 2010 - 11:23 AM

Thanks. I can live with that. The image quality is really great overall. Good sound, too.


Though when I first tested the disque on my Mac, the first chapter wouldn't play. I had to jump to the next chapter, but I could reverse into Chapter 1 - who knows. Luckily, it plays fine on my DVD player.



#15 of 15 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted May 14 2010 - 11:41 AM

I would try the region 2 (thanks for the capture Livius) if I lived in region 2 (I buy a lot of region 2's if they are titles not available in the states or if they are better quality) but since I live in region 1, and it's available in region 1, I'd just as soon not experience the PAL speed-up.


All the characters in this film are extremely well-thought out, but I find the Superintended of the Reservation particularly interesting. She is a feminist before the word is coined, loathing herself for wanting sexual experience before it is permissable by her Victorian standards, required to manipulate men through her sexuality rather than by her professionalism to get things done. There are very few intelligently written women characters in westerns. You can count them all on one hand. Maybe two hands. Next to Conchata Farrell in Heartland (1978) and Renee Zellwegger in Appaloosa (2008), Susan Clark plays the most complex woman character ever realized in a western. I'm surprised there isn't more written about this exceptional film.