Rock Hudson and Dean Martin Have it out in Late era Western
DIRECTED BY GEORGE SEATON/1973
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: MARCH 23, 2021/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Rock Hudson and Dean Martin, best friends forever? Maybe once upon a time, but sadly, no longer. Their idyllic boyhood friendship that gave way to co-ownership of a picturesque ranch has officially gone south. And now, it looks like they might have to kill each other.
Such is the case in director George Seaton’s satisfying 1973 Western throwback, Showdown. (And thankfully, not at all in real life). In the era of the genre-reconfiguring Revisionist Western (ala Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kidd; Penn’s Little Big Man), something as traditionally structured as Showdown feels almost anachronistic. Yet here it is- the hand-picked project of director Seaton, who was flying high off of the unexpected mega-smash, Airport (1970; also starring Martin).
Showdown isn’t particularly showy, nor is it looking to spur the form into cynicism or any new ways of thinking. Which is fine; not every film need aspire to change and formal adaptation. With this modest yet accomplished two-hander (actually a three-hander if Susan Clark as Hudson’s feisty wife is rightly included), we have a pretty familiar story of friends forced into ideological conflict, briskly told.
Dean Martin plays the charming roustabout Billy Massey, who opens the film with his first major crime. The local sheriff, Chuck Jarvis (Rock Hudson), he is distraught when word gets back to him. He quickly comes to understand that he is duty-bound to hunt down his former best friend.
We know that Massey and Jarvis were indeed best friends thanks to the film’s over-abundance of flashback scenes: jumping off piers into the lake as carefree boys; suffering together through yet another meal of rabbit as broke young men; Chuck’s wedding to Kate (Susan Clark), and Billy’s eventual decision to hit the trail alone. Although the many flashbacks do graft a certain personal contextualization onto the story, it does feel like padding after a while.
Flashback padding may, however, be Showdown’s only narrative sin. (Although the movie is in large part carefree and light, there is an emerging darkness that may leave some taken aback). Showdown delivers much of what anyone would want from a stripped-down Western such as this: sharpshooting, a train robbery, horses on rough terrain, rugged attire, good cowpoke banter, and a resonant (if conflict-ridden) ethical core.
Taking place circa 1900, Showdown also dabbles in newfangled contraptions such as the barrel/crank “washing machine”. Its time stamp also means that its aged characters would’ve been in their youthful heyday smack dab in the high point of American Western mythology, roughly 1860 to 1880.
In such, Rock and Dino are perfectly ideal. Even as neither is particularly stretching their established persona by any means, their chemistry is terrific. It’s never unbelievable that these two men, now rugged and worn, share a long history. Martin’s airy magnetism goes a long way in rendering Billy as more of a misguided rascal than an outlaw proper, forging a necessary audience affinity for his character. Likewise, Hudson’s longstanding ability to play honor-driven characters leaves little question that he’ll do what he must regardless of personal feelings.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ recent Blu-ray edition of Showdown is a pleasingly cinematic affair. Although not showy in terms of its Western terrain and patina, the disc delivers a fine transportive image. The film’s unusual early-1970s musical score by David Shire comes through loud and clear. The new optional audio commentary track by Film Historians Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell goes well above and beyond the expected scope of such a thing. For this alone, fans of Showdown should consider an upgrade to this Blu-ray.