The Shooting (1966)
May 5, 2024 11:21 PM - Subscribe

A mysterious woman persuades two cowboys to help her in a revenge scheme.

In the American West, Willet Gashade (Warren Oates), a former bounty hunter, and Coley Boyard (Will Hutchins), his dimwitted partner, are approached by a secretive young woman (Millie Perkins) who offers them money to guide her through the desert but refuses to discuss why she is traveling. The group embarks on the journey and is eventually joined by Billy Spear (Jack Nicholson), a volatile gunslinger the woman has also hired. The only question is why.

Meredith Taylor: A historically important film since it marked the beginning of the collaboration between Monte Hellman and Warren Oates that eventually came to full fruition with ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’.

For Jack Nicholson, who co.produced with Hellman and plays yet another in a long line of leering malcontents it represented yet another frustration before he finally arrived with ‘Easy Rider’.

Assisted by the minimal score by Richard Markowitz the predominantly horizontal visuals created by cinematographer Gregor Sandor dispenses with the usual visual attraction associated with the genre concentrating instead upon character interaction; while as the shady lady – like Nicholson wearing a striking wide-brimmed hat – the freckles on Milly Perkins’ face shows she had spent far more time exposed to the sun than poor Anne Frank had.

Anand Sudha: From one angle, as Phillip Strick’s Sight and Sound1 review pointed out, The Shooting (Monte Hellman,1966) can be viewed as a classic revenge Western with the gender roles reversed. A woman, angered by the possibly accidental death of a (her?) child, enlists the help of the presumed murderer’s brother who unknowingly tracks his escape route, culminating in a classic showdown that results in death. The plot is replete with Western archetypes of vengeance, triumphant heroism and greed; which when sprinkled with camaraderie, romance and sun-kissed splendour, has all the ingredients for a successful Western. It’s just that Monte Hellman is interested in none of those things.

For one, the classic narrative is deliberately skewered by shifting the lens to the brother, Willett Gashade (Warren Oates). The woman’s (Millie Perkins) name is never revealed, her casual cruelty and chilling presence rendering her an agent of death. She approaches Willett with cash to track someone, but refuses to divulge any information. Willett accepts, but only on the condition that his garrulously simple-minded friend, Coley (Will Hutchins), can come along with them. As they travel along sparsely-populated landscapes, scouring it for horse tracks, the woman cunningly fires shots in the air to indicate their presence to her hired killer, Billy Spear (Jack Nicholson), whose menacing presence is felt throughout the narrative before he is finally revealed. Hellman retains the mystery of the woman’s purpose until the end, and even the ending doesn’t clarify the mystifying peculiarities of the sinister narrative. The film doesn’t exactly eschew Western tropes – it retains their presence only to show their pointlessness in the face of an unforgiving landscape that vapourises all myths before they crystallise.

Margaret Hinxman: In the modern sense, it concentrates on mood rather than on plot, which is, to say the least ambigous. A bounty hunter (Warren Oates) and a gauche side-kick (Will Hutchins) are coerced into chaperoning an imperious lady (Millie Perkins) across the desert in pursuit of the former's outlaw brother. They are joined by the woman's hired gun (Nicholson).

The mechanics of who-why-and-how? are ignored. What remains is a pervading air of menace. Every rock, scrawny shrub and sunset seems to disguise a new terror, a new shock. I found myself genuinely wanting to know what would happen, for none of the Wester cliches fitted the occasion. The build-up is so astute that the climax must inevitably be a letdown.
posted by Carillon (1 comment total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What a crazy movie. I've heard it described as the Western Waiting for Godot, and I hear what people mean. It's so hostile and focused. The water, or lack thereof is strongly felt. You really can piece together a plot, but you never know if it is the one that's meant to be. Really interesting watch, would recommend an interesting early Nicholson performance.
posted by Carillon at 11:25 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]

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