The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Can't Win 'Em All

Because I'm not the laziest guy around, I'm not going to write the same exact intro for a review...even though I definitely could here.  The transition from the 1960s to the 1970s hit some actors harder than others, and talented individuals found themselves in a situation where they had to reinvent themselves.  I've covered the topic before with Rock Hudson and Audie Murphy among others, but the common denominator seemed to be to go to Europe or television to find work.  Add recently passed Tony Curtis to the list. 

Now I don't know how much Curtis' drinking and drug problems had to do with the detour his career went through in the late 1960s, but something certainly changed for the actor.  Solid, worthwhile roles don't just dry up for no reason at all.  So in the 1960s, Curtis tried both of the previously mentioned alternatives; he tried some TV work including working with Roger Moore in The Persuaders while also going to Europe for some roles, including 1970's underrated and forgotten You Can't Win 'Em All. I watched this a couple years ago and caught up with it this week as part of TCM's tribute to Curtis.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but I really like the movie.  It's a little different, a little weird, but always entertaining.

It's 1922 in Turkey and American Adam Dyer (Curtis) is rescued from his tiny, sinking fishing boat in the Mediterranean Sea by Jeff Corey (Charles Bronson), a fellow American with eyes on riches. The two like-minded individuals team up, and with Corey's crew of mercenaries (mostly WWI vets looking for $) get caught up in the Turkish Civil War. Adam and Jeff aren't picky about ideals or principles, just who's willing to pay more.  They side with the Sultan of Turkey, undertaking a mission to transport some very important people out of the country before it can destabilize any more.  The mercenaries will be well paid for their talents, but something just doesn't add up.  The odds are stacked against them, and it seems that more is going on than meets the eye.  Caught up in a bloody revolution though, can Adam, Jeff and Co. escape unscathed and with money and riches to boot?

Having watched this flick twice now, I couldn't explain why the story seemed so familiar.  Well, reading some reviews over at IMDB helped that out like a train running me over.  Directed by Peter Collinson, 'Win 'Em All' is basically a straight remake of  1954's Vera Cruz starring Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster.  Instead of post-Civil War Mexico, we're treated to post WWI Turkey with basically the same story, plot elements and characters.  No complaints from me because I'm a big fan of Vera Cruz, but just enough is handled differently to set it apart that it an exciting, action-paced comedy buddy pic.  It's not as dark as VC and knows it, reveling in the double crosses and backstabbings.

Working together for the first and only time unfortunately, Curtis and Bronson seem like an unlikely pair to cast as mercenaries ready to turn on the other at the drop of a hat.  Their acting styles don't compare much, but somehow and some way it works.  You know from the moment they're introduced that they may be partners, but they won't be very trusting partners.  Each uses the other to their benefit, and they seem to know the arrangement.  Adam and Jeff are always attempting to one-up the other right up until the very end, and thankfully 'Win 'Em All' doesn't go down the dark road Vera Cruz did in dealing with this rivalry.  Their dialogue is great with plenty of snappy back and forths with some great one-liners, and the chemistry works perfectly.  An unlikely pair, yes, but sometimes the unexpected produces the best results.

Having watched enough European-made movies, you see similar locations pop up in Italy, Spain, France and any number of other countries.  And even in the fullscreen format TCM aired the movie in, you get a great sense of the beauty of Turkey where all of the movie was filmed.  It's a funny thing, but you know what Turkey actually looks like? Turkey.  This isn't an attempt to make the American west look like 1920s Turkey.  The whole movie was filmed in country, and the locations are beyond gorgeous.  Whether it is riding through a rocky, mountainous desert area or resting in a tiny village, this was a great visual movie.  The endless scenes of a column of horsemen riding across the country could have been tedious, but there's enough to look at to keep you interested.

Now on to the fun stuff, the action, and there's plenty.  For a lower budget movie, no expense was spared when the action hits the screen.  Adam and Jeff's crew are outfitted with machine guns (always a good start) so as they traverse their way through the revolution they leave a trail of bodies in their wake.  The requisite barroom brawl kicks things off, and then you can add an assault on an armored train, an artillery barrage on a besieged town, and a doozy of a finale on a boat about to be overwhelmed by the Turkish army.  It's a good jumping off point for an action comedy that has that right tongue in cheek tone without overdoing it and with a solid cast to boot.  Very hard to find, but keep your eye out for it on TCM from time to time.  Can't wait that long?  Start with Part 1 of 11 courtesy of Youtube with a similar looking print to the one I watched. 

You Can't Win 'Em All (1970): ***/****

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