(director: Martin Ritt; screenwriters: Michael Kanin/based on stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa/the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon and the play of the same name by Michael and Fay Kanin; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Frank Santillo; music: Alex North; cast: Paul Newman (Juan Carrasco), Laurence Harvey (Husband), Claire Bloom (Wife), Edward G. Robinson (Con Man), William Shatner (Preacher), Howard Da Silva (Prospector), Paul Fix (Indian), Albert Salmi (Sheriff), Thomas Chalmers (Judge); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: A. Ronald Lubin; MGM; 1964)
“Remake of Rashomon with a Western setting.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A miscast Paul Newman as a smarmy loudmouth 19th century Mexican bandit is the real outage in Martin Ritt’s (“Hombre”/”Hud”/”The Long, Hot Summer”) tiresome remake of Rashomon with a Western setting. The weak screenplay by Michael Kanin has the notorious Mexican bandit Juan Carrasco (Paul Newman) executed for murder and rape, but leaves in doubt if the verdict was a just one. The film is told in flashback at a dusty southwestern town’s railway station, as a disillusioned preacher (William Shatner), a grizzled prospector (Howard Da Silva), and a cynical con man (Edward G. Robinson) accidentally meet. The prospector and the preacher tell the hustler what led to the hanging of the Mexican bandit. Ritt dilutes the edge Kurosawa gave Rashomon and instead seem satisfied in just telling the search for justice in four versions, with each witness giving their different version of the truth.
Laurence Harvey is the southern husband slain, Claire Bloom is his beautiful bride who is raped on the trail. Bloom reprises her role in the 1959 stage version. One account has it that the notorious bandit entices the Confederate colonel into a forest glade with the bargain offer of a valuable jeweled dagger. The bandit then tied the vic to a tree, raped his wife and then murdered him. At the trial, the bandit claims the man’s wife provoked the fight and he killed the husband fairly. The wife’s testimony is that her hubby berated her for the rape and she fainted, and, on awakening, she found him stabbed. The husband’s variation, revealed by an old Indian (Paul Fix) who by happenstance came upon the dying man, is that he was forced into a duel with the outlaw and accidentally fell on the dagger.
The ineffective, laborious, overwrought and pretentious b/w film has the talented cast overacting, reduces the dramatic story to banality and offers little visual satisfaction that this is a Western set in the Old West. I quickly lost interest and was hoping only that I misread the cast and that this was a Three Stooge’s film and they would somehow pop up to save this dud with some much needed comical antics.
REVIEWED ON 9/2/2009 GRADE: C-