Friday, November 14, 2008

Appaloosa (Rhoades)

‘Appaloosa’ Gallops Into the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Being that I’m a big fan of writer Robert B. Parker, one year my wife scoured scores of used book dealers and presented me with a full set of first editions of all his books. Many were signed, but some weren’t. So when we heard that Parker was making an appearance at New York’s Mysterious Bookshop we showed up with a shopping bag of unsigned books in hand.
A big mustachioed man with a few too many pounds around his middle, he eyed my stack of books and whispered, “I’m only supposed to autograph my new mystery, but if we hurry maybe the store won’t notice.”

He signed them all.

Parker is best known for his Boston-based Spencer private eye novels. He sees himself as carrying on the tradition of Raymond Chandler. I even have a copy of Parker’s college dissertation – “The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage and Urban Reality,” an examination of the writings of Raymond Chandler. And he was chosen by the author’s estate to complete “Poodle Springs,” an unfinished Chandler novel.

Surprisingly enough, Robert B. Parker has also written a handful of light Westerns. Filled with sparse Hemingwayesque dialogue, short in length, but capturing a certain essence of the Old West, they’re good reads.

One of them – “Appaloosa” – caught the imagination of actor Ed Harris. He liked the book because “it was constructed like a classic Western, but included crime themes still relevant to contemporary society.” No Clint Eastwood revisionist Westerns for Harris, he liked those old classics like “My Darling Clementine” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

He passed the book to Viggo Mortensen, whom he’d enjoyed starring with in “History of Violence,” and asked him to play the buddy role. Mortensen liked the “relationship dynamic between the two characters” and said yes.

Harris decided to direct, his second time at a film’s helm (first being his award-winning “Pollock”). He assembled a strong cast that included Lance Hendrickson and Diane Lane. But the production stalled when studios checked the numbers, citing few Western hits in recent years.

The success of HBO’s “Deadwood” series and the remake of “3:10 to Yuma” turned things around, but by then Diane Lane had dropped out and Renée Zellweger had signed on.
A classic story, “Appaloosa” tells about two friends who hire on as lawmen committed to taming an unruly 1880s cowboy town. The murderous bad guy is played by Jeremy Irons.
Harris gives a good Gary Cooper-ish performance, Mortensen is super cool, and Henriksen (to quote one reviewer) is a “god amongst men.”

This is a traditional Western, a satisfying return to yesteryear for those of us who grew up on such movies as “High Noon” and “Rio Bravo” and the original “3:10 to Yuma.”

Yes, for an eastern tenderfoot, Robert B. Parker spins a pretty good Western yarn.
[from Solares Hill]

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