Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman, Roger Corman (executive) for Proteus Films, Santa Clara Productions
directed by Monte Hellman
starring Warren Oates, Will Hutchins, Millie Perkins, Jack Nicholson, Charles Eastman, Guy El Tsosie, Brandon Carroll, B.J. Merholz, Wally Moon, William Mackleprang, James Campbell
written by Adrien Joyce (= Carole Eastman), music by Richard Markowitz
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When prospector Willett (Warren Oates) returns to the mine in the
middle of nowhere he and his friends run, he finds one dead and buried,
one, Coley (Will Hutchins), frightened out of his mind, and one, Leland
(B.J. Merholz), has apparently gone on the run after having run over and
probably killed a child by accident, and he's now fearing somebody will
come after him.
Willett and Coley are soon joined by a mysterious woman
(Millie Perkins) who never gives them her name but wants Willett, a former
bounty hunter, to track someone. Willett doesn't trust the woman one bit -
Coley falls head over heels in love with her - but as she offers a large
sum of money, he can't really refuse. So the three of them go on a hunt,
and it soon becomes obvious the woman's the boss, whether the men like it
or not, and she seems in a hurry. Also she often acts weird, like firing
her gun every few hours or so - and it eventually becomes apparent why,
she hasn't come on her own but has brought a hired gun, Billy (Jack
Nicholson), with her whom she has apparently hired to kill whoever they're
tracking. Eventually Billy catches up with them, and he doesn't seem to be
too nice a man.
Coley's horse breaks down in the middle of the desert,
and for a while he's doubling up with Willett, but as that's hampering
Willett's track-reading efforts, the woman and Billy soon decide to just
leave him behind. Willett doesn't like this much, but as he figures
whatever lies ahead of them might be even more dangerous than walking the
desert on one's own, he agrees to ditch Billy, of course promising to pick
him up again on the way back.
The further the trail goes, the more on
edge everybody gets, and hostilities soon come to the fore. In the
meantime, Coley has found a horse against all odds, and he decides to
catch up with Willett and the others, but Billy isn't happy about that one
bit, so he provokes Coley to pull his gun on him, upon which he, a quick
draw if you ever saw one, shoots him dead "in self defense" -
and this is where Willett really loses it ...
Legend has it
that Roger Corman financed this film, along with Ride
in the Whirlwind, as a
favour for his frequent collaborators Jack Nicholson and Monte Hellman,
but after a Cannes premiere, both films failed to make much waves, and
actually failed to find a US distributor. It wasn't until decades later
that the films were rediscovered and given their proper place in cinema
Taken by its own merits, The Shooting is quite
probably the most anti-utopian western of them all, here everything's
dirty, there are no heroes, a moral compass counts little, and only
selfishness will get you anywhere. The whole thing is bleak, fatalistic,
nihilistic ... and quite simply wonderful. It's really a rare gem in the
western genre, one that does away with all the glamour of classic western
cinema as well as the more operatic approach of the then emerging
spaghetti western and paints a grim picture, which Monte Hellman's very
restrained directorial effort only adding to the atmosphere of constant
gloom. And quite apart from that, casting Millie Perkins as the unlikely
villainess of the piece is really a stroke of genius, and she totally
lives up to the task.
A masterpiece for sure!