After their proposed film about abortion was turned down by the studio in 1965, Jack Nicholson combined with Monte Hellman as writer/director to produce two Westerns for producer Roger Corman, each shot in the space of eighteen days on a minimal budget. The two films, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind, were never released in American theaters but built an audience from television and European showings. Gradually developing a cult following, they have now been restored and released on DVD in North America. Though filmed in the Western genre, Ride in the Whirlwind might justifiably be called an anti-Western since there are no heroes or villains, no one to love or hate. There are just people going about their life trying to survive as best they can, operating on a rigid code of behavior that does not allow them much flexibility. After a stagecoach is held up by Blind Dick (Harry Dean Stanton) and his gang, the gunmen retreat to an isolated cabin to spend the night. Passing through are three cowboys Vern (Cameron Mitchell), Wes (Jack Nicholson), and Otis (Tom Filer) headed to Waco Texas after the rodeo they were to perform in is canceled. They pass a lynching victim strung up on a pole, and stop at the same cabin where the gang is holed up looking for some rest. Surprisingly, they are welcomed by Blind Dick, ostensibly the one responsible for the lynching but find that they soon have unwelcome visitors. The sheriff and his posse have surrounded the house and begin shooting at the occupants, wrongly assuming that the three travelers are also part of the gang. Inarticulate, the cowhands are unable or unwilling to try and explain to the lawmen the fact that they are innocent. After a protracted shootout, Otis is killed and the gang members are burned out of their cabin and hanged. Vern and Wes escape on foot but are followed and tracked by the lawmen, bound by their code of unthinking frontier justice. The two innocent men stumble upon a farmhouse that had already been visited by the posse and are looked after by a farmer Evan (George Mitchell) and his daughter Abigail (Millie Perkins). Eating and passing the time playing checkers, they know that sooner or later the posse will come back, if only to court Abigail. When they do return, Evan's inability to see that Vern and Wes have no choice but to steal two horses is very costly. In debunking the Western myth of good guys and bad guys, Hellman has directed a film in which the ordinariness of the life overshadows the mythos of the exciting frontier. Yet while Ride in the Whirlwind may be one of the most authentic and haunting Westerns ever made, it is also one of the saddest, a film in which the operative word is not justice or camaraderie but loneliness and lost opportunity.
Ride in the Whirlwind
Ride in the Whirlwind
Wes, Vern and Otis are three cowhands on the way to a cattle drive. Coming upon what is to be an omen of their future... an outlaw hung by a group of vigilantes...the trio finds shelter at a cabin, only to discover that their "hosts" are men who have robbed a stagecoach and killed the guard. When an avenging posse attacks the cabin, Wes and Vern escape, only to find that they have become branded as 'outlaws' by the posse, who relentlessly pursue them.
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