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Trailheads Revisited – Westerns Go for Sequel Gold

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blog_silva.jpgWith the summer movie season in full swing, sequels seem to be coming as fast and furious as, well, sequels to The Fast and the Furious. (Sorry.) From Terminator Salvation to Crank: High Voltage it seems like nearly every movie out these days is either X Part X or an aspiring franchise. Of course, the latest deluge of cinematic postscripts doesn’t mean that the sequel trend started yesterday. Even the Western, that traditionalist haven, has spawned its share of sequels. Sure, most of them would have been better kept in the corral, but a few of them equaled or even improved on the original. So mosey on up, and get a gander at these Western sequels, which range from wild misfires to unexpected bulls-eyes.

Return of the Seven
Except it’s actually only the Return of the Yul — Brynner being the only original cast member to saddle up for this pedestrian retread of the The Magnificent Seven. While Julian Mateos is a reasonable substitution in the role of Chico, Robert Fuller doesn’t exactly match Steve McQueen for charisma. To avoid being accused of false advertising, the pair recruit four
more gunfighters to once again defend imperiled farmers. Though a case of sequel-lacking-its-original-cast is usually fatal, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, the third film in the series, fared slightly better without Brynner at all. Nevertheless, Return can lay claim to a great score provided by Elmer Bernstein, who earned an Oscar nomination for his troubles.

Young Guns II
With most of its original lineup of baby-faced Brat Packers returning, casting difficulties didn’t hobble Young Guns II. And with pseudo-history providing the storyline — the final act of Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez) — it had a natural place to go. Unfortunately, the sequel’s biggest claim to fame was its double-platinum soundtrack, featuring Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory,” a faux-country power-ballad whose twanging Jew’s harps eventually give way to Bon Jovi’s overwrought vocals. Oscar voters, being shrewd judges of musical quality, nominated it for an Academy Award.

High Noon Part 2
Gary Cooper is…Lee Majors? That’s right: The Six Million Dollar Man
himself filled out the Cooper’s role as Marshal Will Kane in this
sequel that aired in that most prestigious of  formats, the made-for-TV
movie. This eighties appendix to the bona fide 1952 classic High Noon
sends the bracingly more gun-happy Kane back to the town of Hadleyville
for a showdown with the town’s corrupt lawmen. Casting David Carradine
as a wrongfully accused man was a nice touch, as was hiring the great
Elmore Leonard as screenwriter. Alas, it didn’t add up to much.

For a Few Dollars More
A lot of people saw For a Few Dollars More before they even knew the original existed. That first film was, of course, A Fistful of Dollars, the
Spaghetti Western that introduced Clint Eastwood as the Man with No
Name. That it didn’t matter much is a good sign that a sequel can stand
up on its own — a fact made more impressive by the fact that the sequel
was rushed into production after the success of the first film in
Italy. But of course the best was yet to come: Director Sergio Leone
tempted fate and completed the hat-trick with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly just one year later.

Son of Paleface
What really helped the comic successor to the original The Paleface
was that its onetime animator Frank Tashlin returned to write and
also directed. But what makes it more ironic was that none of the
returning cast played the same characters. Of course, Bob Hope was
still the shakiest gun in the west, but this time as the heir of the
original Paleface, treading West to pick up his father’s inheritance
and getting caught in some cow-town imbroglio. Meanwhile, Jane Russell
also has a second coming as a comely saloon girl. Despite this mild
reshuffling, the comic slapstick is spot-on, and more than a few critics consider it superior to its forbear. A sequel success!

The Return of Frank James
A sequel to Jesse James
might have been a disaster — it weren’t for a couple of factors. One was the story itself,
the legend surrounding the death of Jesse James. The second was that The Return of Frank James
had one of the greatest film directors ever pulling the strings: Fritz Lang.
Lang was one of the chief practitioners of Expressionism, which might
make him seem an odd choice to lens gunfighters. But on the other hand,
it helped him reinvigorate a genre that can feel pretty stale. This was
Lang’s first Western and his skill only increased with those that followed,
especially Rancho Notorious.

Click here for a complete schedule of The Return of Frank James on AMC.
Click here for a complete schedule of Jesse James on AMC.

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