Modern Westerns—movies that use the tropes and traditions of the genre but are set in the present—have a noble history. Classics include Edgar G. Ulmer’s “Naked Dawn,” Alan Dwan’s “By the River,” Michael Cimino’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” and Clint Eastwood of “Mustang Billy.” Over the past decade, David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Chloé Zhao’s The Rider and, of course, Jordan “Nope” by Jordan Peele. Add one to this list: “Losers,” a 1963 film directed and co-written by Sam Peckinpah, one of the masters of the Western, best known for “The Wild One” Known for movies such as “The Wild Bunch” and “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” “Losers,” however, is little known and of unlikely origin: it was made for television as part of the drama and comedy anthology series The Dick Powell Show, which aired from 1961 to 1963 Two seasons; tons of episodes of the show are now streaming on YouTube. (Thanks to longtime Video Room fan Howard Salen for the heads-up.) This kind of show became popular in the mid-fifties as a Bringing Hollywood glamor (with the names of Hollywood stars on it. Titles) to the small screen is a way for Hollywood actors and directors to stay busy during a time when the film industry is in a slump under the onslaught of television. (The most famous of these shows are “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” which ran for ten years.)
Powell rose to stardom in film musicals in the thirties, transitioned into a film noir headliner in the mid-forties, and founded his own production company in the fifties. Another series at the time, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, had its eponymous star appear in every episode, while Powell only appeared in a few episodes of The Dick Powell Show. Mostly, he hosts them, introducing the camera. (After his death in January 1963, other stars took his place; The Losers was hosted by Robert Mitchum). Each episode lasts nearly fifty minutes, and the transitional design of commercial punctuation is obvious. Most of the episodes were directed by television professionals, but a few were tough, relatively low-budget films directed by well-known Hollywood figures (one by Samuel Fuller, one by Joseph H. Lewis directed), and one directed by a young Hollywood director in his credits. All the Way Up – Blake Edwards, who also started in television but has successfully made the leap to feature films.
As for Peckinpah, he’s a busy writer, producer and television show director. He had already created one series, The Westerner, honing his skills in the highly restrictive format of the twenty-five-minute-long drama. Set in the quintessential Wild West, the show centers on an itinerant cowboy gunslinger named Dave Blasingame, whose occasional sidekick in mischief is Burgundy Smith, a chatty gambler. In “Losers,” Peckinpah transfers the premise of the characters and their alliances to a contemporary setting—the Horse Dealers Convention in Hondo, Texas, where Dave is one of the horse dealers and Burgundy , and now even more arrogant, he is still a gambler. This picaresque tale of a pair of con men with balls of steel and hearts of gold who find themselves on a dizzying roller coaster of luck and misfortune begins at the conference headquarters, a hotel tackily decorated as a bar. There, in order to pursue two women, Dave accidentally got into a poker game and bumped into Burgundy who was already at the card table. The men’s pranks lead to serious conflicts with other players, and Dave and Burgundy make a hasty and circuitous trip out of town to save their lives. Once in the country, they get into other troubles.
When great filmmakers revisit their material, they often push it to bold expressive limits. That’s exactly what Peckinpah did in “Losers,” starting with the casting: For the role of Dave, he replaced the stoic Brian Keith with Hollywood villain and anti-hero Lee Marvin, A swaggering whirlwind of violent rage and cold passion; in “Burgundy,” the debonair Keenan Wynn takes over from character actor John Dehner. Best of all, Peckinpah (who co-wrote the screenplay with Bruce Geller) pulls the tone of “Westerners” wildly in different directions, mixing serious trouble and shocking violence with madcap comedy and hilarious drama. A combination of outrageous sentimental melodrama. The adventures are as thrilling as they are dizzying: some sly trickery involving Oscar-level extremes of pretense; energetically twisted performances that lead to some suggestive waist massages; cars veering in multiple directions on crowded downtown streets A chase, a hay-spraying farm jalopy and a boat-sized Lincoln Continental convertible provide comic contrast; a sequence of actions hinges on a successful bribery of the police; a slapstick Keystone Cos-like car disaster on the highway; singer Rosemary Clooney (Rosemary Clooney) plays a farmer’s daughter who sings with a blind traveling gospel singer (Adam Lazarre); an unfriendly approach to persuasion that wouldn’t be out of place at Guantánamo; the final scene ’s hectic, open ending suggests the reckless schemer has another wild adventure movie time ahead of him.
As a prime-time network television show, “Losers” is both shocking and luxurious. As befits the general excess, the dialogue is wild and baroque. “Gentlemen, poker is said to be a pastime of permutations,” Burgundy declares, to which another gambler (played by rugged, burly character actor and former wrestler Mike Mazurki) responds, “You have the guts of a stallion.” Bull. ” Despite its brevity, the film feels grand: its scope is vast, both geographically and emotionally; there are bold jumps in time, and to the calmness of the home screen, the chaos The action feels too loud. Peckinpah’s direction has nothing to do with the school of television directing rooted in theatrical, Actors Studio style (putting actors front and center to stand and act). His style is flamboyant, combative , full of energy, providing clear compositions and richly textured images, making The Losers a visual experience that rivals the best Hollywood feature films of its time – a film with boundless cinematic vitality. ❖