Monday, December 07, 2015

The Deadly Companions

Directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by A.S. Fleischman from his novel, The Deadly Companions is the story of an ex-army colonel who accompanies a woman through the dangerous Indian territory to bury her son whom he accidentally killed. The film revolves into a journey of two people brought together by tragedy as they try to find redemption and forgiveness in their journey. Starring Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, Steve Cochran, and Chill Wills. The Deadly Companions is a rapturous and touching film from Sam Peckinpah.

Following a shootout where a young boy is accidentally killed by an ex-army colonel with a bad arm, the man decides to accompany the boy’s mother to take his body into an old town through the dangerous territory run by the Apache. It’s a film where a man tries to make amends for what he did where he’s joined by two other men to accompany this woman to the abandoned town of Siringo despite the fact that the woman Kit (Maureen O’Hara) refuses help but reluctantly allows Yellowleg (Brian Keith) to aid her. While Billy Keplinger (Steve Cochran) and an old man named Turk (Chill Wills) join them, the two have a much bigger motive to accompany them where things become troubling forcing Yellowleg and Kit to work together in dealing with the Apache.

The film’s script doesn’t must play into Yellowleg’s need to do something right as he feels responsible for the death of a young boy. It’s also about a man who is carrying the weight of torment as he always wears a cowboy hat revealing that he had been scalped during the Civil War as he refuses to take it off. The wounds that he carries that includes a bad shooting arm that hurts whenever he tries to aim high is also a problem which is why he wants to accompany Kit in burying her son. Kit prefers to do it by herself as she is by many in the town she lives as an outsider as well as a woman who doesn’t fit with the moral standards because she works part time as a prostitute. Though Kit doesn’t want anything to do with Yellowleg, she realizes that she needs him to trek through the dangerous Indian territory while Yellowleg needs her to deal with the demons he has been facing for years.

Sam Peckinpah’s direction is very engaging for not just the drama that plays out but also in playing to the world of the West. Shot entirely on location in Arizona including the town of old Tucson, Peckinpah takes great advantage of shooting in the desert with its gorgeous locations where he captures with a lot of wide and medium shots. Even with compositions in how he would put the actors in a frame against the backdrop of the Arizona skylines and in scenes which play into the drama that involves Billy and Turk. Peckinpah’s approach to close-ups and medium shot not only help build the relationship between Yellowleg and Kit but also in what they face such as the Apache. Most notably a sequence in a cave where Kit and Yellowleg deal with an Apache who had been stalking them as it shows what they need to do. Even as it relates to the film’s climax where Yellowleg has to deal with his own issues and those that had scarred him in his attempt to find peace and redemption. Overall, Peckinpah crafts an exhilarating yet gripping film about a man accompanying woman to bury the child he accidentally killed.

Cinematographer William H. Clothier does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography with its naturalistic yet beautiful look of the exterior scenes set in the daytime to the low-key usage of light and shadows for the scenes set at night including the chilling scene in the cave. Editor Stanley E. Rabjohn does excellent work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward with some transitional dissolves and rhythmic cuts to play into the action. The costumes of Frank Beetson Jr. and Sheila O’Brien are nice to not only play into the period of the West but also to establish the personality of its main characters. The sound recording of Robert J. Callen does terrific work with the sound to play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as the sound effects involving guns. The film’s music by Marlin Skiles is amazing for its mixture of orchestral music and folk to play into the world of the West as it includes an original song sung by Maureen O’Hara.

The film’s superb cast include some notable small performances from Billy Vaughn as Kit’s son Mead, Peter O’Crotty as the town’s mayor who offers to help, Will Wright as the town’s physician Dr. Acton who knows Yellowleg, Jim O’Hara as the general store manager who builds the boy’s coffin, and Strother Martin as the pastor who holds a church at the town’s saloon. Chill Wills is fantastic as the old drunk Turk as a man who often rambles but also is quite cunning in what he does as he joins Kit and Yellowleg for his own reasons. Steve Cochran is excellent as Billy Keplinger as a gunslinger who joins Kit and Yellowleg into the journey though he has ulterior motives as it relates to Kit whom he wants to seduce as she refuses to reciprocate his advances.

Brian Keith is amazing as Yellowleg as a former army colonel with a bad arm and lots of demons who arrive into town only to get himself into trouble where he tries to do right for Kit after accidentally killing her son as he also copes with the severity of his actions. Finally, there’s Maureen O’Hara in a phenomenal performance as Kit as this woman who is seen as an outsider in the town as she is determined to make the journey to an abandoned town to bury her son as she copes with loss but also loneliness where she reluctantly accepts Yellowleg’s help as it’s one of O’Hara’s finest performances.

The Deadly Companions is a marvelous film from Sam Peckinpah that features great performances from Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara. Not only is it an engaging feature-film debut feature from Peckinpah but also a western that manages to be filled with adventure as well as drama that plays into the myth of the American West. In the end, The Deadly Companions is a remarkable film from Sam Peckinpah.

Sam Peckinpah Films: Ride the High Country - Major Dundee - Noon Wine - The Wild Bunch - The Ballad of Cable Hogue - Straw Dogs - Junior Bonner - The Getaway - Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid - Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - The Killer Elite - Cross of Iron - Convoy - The Osterman Weekend - The Auteurs #62: Sam Peckinpah

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