on May 25, 2004
Based on the western classic by Jack Schaefer, MONTE WALSH is a sad, poignant tale about Schaefer's view of a vanishing lifestyle and the last American Cowboy.
Now to the inevitable arguments and comparisons that have arisen, given the remake that was recently produced. This original 1970 version of the film, as opposed to the equally likeable and viewable new Tom Selleck version, brings with it some striking differences.
In the first place there's just no one else like Lee Marvin and his immortal portrayal of Monte Walsh. Yes, Selleck does a marvelous job in the remake but the hard, chiseled features that made Marvin a western legend are difficult to upstage. Marvin not only delivers the hard edge that all have come to expect from the cowboy stereotype, he also shows an amazingly soft side that comes through in spades throughout the film. And that voice!
Secondly, there's just no one else like Jack Palance. While I was 50-50 on the differences between Marvin and Selleck, I came away liking Palance's wonderful portrayal of Monte's trail partner, Chet, far better than that of Keith Carradine in the remake. Palance pulls off the likeable and agreeable Chet but maintains a tough side that is all his own. And like Marvin the striking silhouette and the gravelly voice create a believability that was lacking in the Carradine portrayal.
Next there's Martine. Jeanne Moreau portrays the perfect Martine with her infrequent but sad smile. It literally lights up the screen and then vanishes as Martine, a prairie prostitute, inevitably contemplates the harsh realities of her existence. The hollow, sad eyes are beautiful and yet leave you with a sense of pain that would surely have been characteristic. The sad chemistry that emerges between Moreau and Marvin is nothing short of magical, leaving the viewer to sense and weigh the pain and the fleeting happiness that exists between them. Isabella Rosellini's portrayal of Martine in the remake is just too perky.
The film also features a grainy, old-feeling, almost sepia patina that was characteristic of other western films of the time like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, BIG JAKE and MAN IN THE WILDERNESS. Add to that the wonderful soundtrack by John Barry (OUT OF AFRICA, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, CHAPLIN and THE LION IN WINTER) and the haunting strains of Mama Cass singing "The Good Times Are Comin'," the theme from Monte Walsh, and you have a western classic that has been much neglected and should not be missed.
As Monte rides off into the sunset, telling his horse a story about a wolf-wrastling compadre, one realizes that Chet's observation in the film that "nobody gets to be a cowboy forever..." is dead wrong--especially for Monte Walsh! Here's hoping he keeps riding forever.
I don't know who holds the rights to this one but let's hope they get there stuff together soon, especially given the success of Tom Selleck's remake, and get this fine film released in an appropriate widescreen version on DVD.
on May 9, 2004
MONTE WALSH is haunting and lyrical; a slow, dark, and melancholy poem on celluloid. It's Henry David Thoreau in a Stetson and down on his luck. -------- The episodic story revolves around two friends - older cowboys - who are trying to survive in the dying days of the big cattle ranches, as absentee eastern corporations buy up the Western landscape, altering the only lifestyle that these hard-working, free-spirited men know and embrace. -------- While many cowboys are sent packing as ranches are being dismantled or rendered inactive, Monte (Lee Marvin) and Chet (Jack Palance) are trying to remain on horseback doing the work that defines who they are and gives them a sense of accomplishment. But these are dead men riding in the dusk of their times; and what's worse, they know it. The serene pale pink and blue canopy of the fading daylight envelops these men and symbolically illustrates the sundown that lays heavily on their hearts. The truth dogs Chet until in a relaxed moment at the close of a day, he acknowledges what all of the ranchhands know but have avoided admitting. "Nobody gets to be a cowboy forever," he warns his friend. But Monte is incapable of adjusting, and he will remain astride this horse called Honor even if it takes him into the horizon of a sad and solitary existence. For Monte and Chet, some solace can be found in retaining their work ethic for the faceless employers and in the relationships that they clumsily but sweetly form with a prostitute (the "Countess") and a lonely widow - two women who can understand their pain and share in their growing sense of isolation. -------- This is a very special and beautiful movie that addresses the lonliness of those who feel distanced from their environment; caught up in forces that strip them of relevance in their times. This is NOT an action-packed, rip-roaring, shoot-em-up, and it will disappoint anyone who comes looking for exaggerated Hollywood gun duels. MONTE WALSH is a character study that takes a hard, and realistic look at Western men and women who cling to each other for support during the halcyon "hour" of soft, golden light and elongated shadows. -------- If what I have just written means something to you, then MONTE WALSH will find an honored place in your movie collection; if it doesn't, then I would recommend great, but more traditional and/or exciting Western Movies to you (i.e., Red River; Shane; Butch Cassidy, etc.) -------- There are so many subtle authentic touches to be discovered in this movie. For instance, in one scene Monte's shirt is ripped, but notice how it shows up later in the form of a bandana around his neck. True Western economy! -------- MONTE WALSH contains more honesty and realism than we are accustomed to finding in Westerns, and for these reasons, it may seem too sedate for most contemporary viewers, but the unique dignity of this film is summed-up perfectly when the nearly destitute and futureless Monte is offered a significant amount of money to act like a caricature of himself in a traveling Wild West Show, but he resolutely responds, "I ain't spittin' on my whole life." MONTE WALSH seems to have an indefinable spiritual quality to it that transforms it into a transcendental viewing experience for certain individuals. It's something like Blues Music: you either FEEL it or you don't, but words will never quite explain it.
on November 19, 2003
This is one of the most underated westerns ever made and it never seems to get the attention and respect it deserves. Whenever I see most of the "must see" lists, this movie rarely gets any mention and yet when I saw it, I immediately ranked it among my all time favorites. This movie will move you and stay in your memory as will the theme song. This is my first review ever on Amazon and I felt it needed to be done to give this truly great movie some much deserved attention.
on February 18, 2004
In my top 5 all time, captures a mood. Love the Mama Cass theme song, touched my emotions deeply, in perfect unison with the movie. Sad, uplifting, touching, meaningful, memorable, nostalgic. I love it.
on September 7, 2015
There have been lots of movies made about the closing of the west. The only one I can think of that is better than Monte Walsh is Ride the High Country. This is a very special movie: it is funny and sad at the same time but without being depressing. It is full of the small moments of daily cowboy life but is strangely epic at the same time. Lee Marvin is, as always, excellent but I was very impressed by Jack Palance as his partner. The only reason that I don't give it five stars is that there are a couple of scenes which do not ring true: Shorty would not rob and kill his friend and when Monte rides down a wild bronc and in the process destroys a good deal of the town nothing happens. In real life he would have been arrested or rode out of town on a rail. Other than that the movie is nearly perfect.