Ride in the Whirlwind Screen 7 articles

Ride in the Whirlwind

1966

Ride in the Whirlwind Poster
  • Many of the scenes in this slow chase story (about three cowpokes mistaken for bandits) raptly observe actions left out of other Westerns: men saddling their horses, building a campfire, etc. Yet as in Andy Warhol's films, these banal activities are rendered strange by seeming to exist in isolation.

  • Their long, tense interactions and existential situations refine the stripped-down westerns that Budd Boetticher made in the late 1950s. In their despair of meaning and noncomic absurdity, they seem a cornfed equivalent to the modernist cinema of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman. (Akira Kurosawa is an influence as well.) You might even term them neorealist westerns.

  • Filmed in dusty, banal exteriors in the Utah desert and almost perversely devoid of action, the film turns a slight plot (three innocent men are mistaken for notorious outlaws) into a study of space, silence, and passing time.

  • Hellman’s De Chirico–like compositions, unorthodox framing, abrupt contrasts between pregnant close-ups and vast, patient long shots sans dialogue (the thieves’ struggling capture and lynching in Whirlwind are virtually silent), the tactile relationship the characters have to the ominous topography around them—all told, it’s a visionary strategy, and it’s where the antiwestern, as a modernist commentary on and inversion of this most simplistic of all-American genres, was truly born.

  • Ride in the Whirlwind is unquestionably a great movie, with its direct performances, gorgeous imagery, literate, densely jargoned dialogue, and inventively bifurcated duel-siege structure.

  • The film becomes a working metaphor for our lives, which play out under a death sentence whose date is never clear. As such, it pares away narrative until all that’s left is a pair of men sitting quietly in a room in the middle of nowhere, the better to put the emphasis on our onerous stall before the creep of twilight.

  • The western in film was a laboratory for advances in film editing. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery contains some of cinema’s first uses of parallel editing. Hellman, an editor himself, seems to consciously create a film which works against this tradition, instead of cutting to action, he allows us to to see what happens in between the bursts of gunfire and wild chases. Within the film’s first five minutes this alternative vision of the west becomes clear.

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