Shooting, The (1966): Monte Hellman’s Powerful Western, Starring Jack Nicholson and Warren Oates

One of Monte Hellman’s best films, the Western The Shooting was penned by Carole Eastman (Adrien Joyce is a pseudonym), starring Warren Oates, Jack Nicholson (before he became a star), and Millie Perkins.

The Shooting
ShootingHellman.jpg

In 1964, Hellman and Nicholson made two films back to back in the Philippines, Back Door to Hell and Flight to Fury, produced by Roger Corman After completing the films, the director and actor wrote a screenplay called Epitaph and presented it to Corman. Corman didn’t care for the script but offered the duo to make two westerns.

Best known for playing the title role in the 1959 The Diary of Anne Frank, Perkins was Hellman’s next-door neighbor when she was cast as the enigmatic, unnamed woman who leads the search party to their doom. The Shooting was her only fifth film, followed by another starring role in Hellman’s companion Western, Ride in the Whirlwind.

The Western’s budget was extremely low, only $75,000.

Shot in 1965 in the Utah desert, back-to-back with another Hellman western, Ride in the Whirlwind, which also starred Nicholson and Perkins.

Walter Reade, who purchased the movie right, decided to bypass a theatrical release, and the two titles were sold directly to TV, where over the years they have developed a small cult following.

Warren Oates plays Willet Gashade, a former bounty hunter who returns to his mining camp after a lengthy absence, only to find his slow-witted friend Coley (Will Hutchins) scared and fearful.

Their partner, Leland Drum (B. J. Merholz), had been shot to death by unseen assassin, in revenge for the accidental trampling death of “a little person” in town, which may have been caused by Gashade’s brother, Coin.   When Coley becomes paranoid, Gashade takes his friend’s gun away.

When a young woman (Perkins) shoots her horse outside of the camp, the gunshot scares Coley, who goes into hiding. The woman said its leg was broken, and offers Gashade money to lead her to a Kingsley. He grudgingly accepts the offer, and Coley, smitten by her, joins them.

Intimate in scale, the film is well written and well-acted by the central quartet.  The Shooting does not follow the standards conventions of the Western genre in narrative, climax and resolution.  It has an unexpected, even puzzling climax, and truly surprising and atypical ending.

Visually too, Hellman shows eccentricity, with several disorientating close-ups and strange angles, and ominous music, all reinforcing the tale’s grim and fatalistic nature.

This was Jack Nicholson’s 13th film, and his fourth with director Hellman. By the time Warren Oates starred in The Shooting, he had become a veteran western actor, having appeared since 1957 in dozens of Western films and TV series.

Millie Perkins, best known for playing the title role in the 1959 Oscar nominee The Diary of Anne Frank, gives a powerful performance as the enigmatic, unnamed woman who leads the search party to their doom. The Shooting was her fifth film, followed by another starring role in Hellman’s companion western, Ride in the Whirlwind.

In 1967, both films were shown out-of-competition at the Cannes Film Fest. A younger generation of auteurist critics reevaluated the film, stressing its existential issues and elevating its stature as a significant indie feature contribution to the Western movie genre.

In 2000, The Shooting was released on DVD by VCI Entertainment, and included commentary by director Hellman and actress Perkins. The DVD helped bring this obscure title to the attention of a much wider audience. Later on, it was released by the Criterion Collection on Blu-ray and DVD with Ride in the Whirlwind.

Credits:

Directed by Monte Hellman
Produced by Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman
Written by Adrien Joyce
Music by Richard Markowitz
Cinematography Gregory Sandor
Edited by Monte Hellman
Production company: Proteus Films
Santa Clara Productions
Distributed by Jack H. Harris Enterprises Favorite Films
Release date: October 23, 1966
Running time 82 minutes

Note:

TCM is sowing this Western at least twice a year.