At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE (KINO Lorber)

By • Jan 31st, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

After he retired, Clint Walker could easily have had a comfortable second career teaching transcendental meditation. This is in no way a criticism of his acting ability, which filled a narrow spectrum and was effective therein. It’s that he exudes a strong Zen-like vibe, which probably informs his entire film output, and certainly dominates this unusual feature.

In his recent ten-minute supplemental interview (aged 88) featured on the BluRay, Walker expresses confusion about the film’s title – and I have to tell you, it isn’t age-related bewilderment. I don’t get the significance of the title either.

The narrative begins with a violent, pre-WILD-BUNCH (by five months) bloody action scene that bodes poorly for the remainder of the film to come. Helmed by Robert Sparr, a TV director who Walker had worked with on CHEYENNE, it feels like an early TV movie save for the squibs, and even they aren’t first rate – though they might have seemed more effective in their time. The lighting is disappointingly TV-ish, casting a neutral veil over the visuals no matter what the screenplay tries to do with them.

However, once the story levels off and focuses on Walker as ‘Killer Cane’, seventeen years a convict, now trying to go straight after his parole, and who won’t handle guns even though they seem determined to make their way into his hands, we are treated to an exceedingly low-key, slowly-paced, and at times gratifyingly realistic depiction of a man trying unsuccessfully to rise above his past sins.

Walker is quietly excellent. Even the neurotic hysterics of Paul Hampton as a young show-off clearly exhibiting his inner-killer-yearning-to-be-free, and who resents playing second fiddle to Kane in a small travelling Side-Show, fails to dislodge the calm core of the narrative established by the towering (six foot six) star.

Vincent Price acquits himself nicely as the owner of the modest Western travelling show, lending a modicum of professional gravitas to the proceedings.

The relationship between Walker and Anne Francis is the most fascinating in the film. She’s a beautiful, stand-offish woman of means, who has come west by herself to paint landscapes and sketch faces. We learn very little of her back-story. She and Cane, essentially two loners, cross paths a few times, but for literally a few minutes of screen time in each instance. It isn’t until act three that they finally connect emotionally. Until then, easily riled, she seems as ready to chase him off as to take him to dinner, and there’s never any talk or hint of romance in the first two acts. I don’t quite know what to make of it, except that it was quirky and I genuinely liked it. Much of the film attempts to establish its own, unique personality, and it deserves kudos for the effort.

The top half of the BluRay box cover is awash in gold brushstrokes, highlighting a collage of the characters from the film, the closest two reaching for a gun, which lies, prominent, in the foreground. It’s quite elegant, but feels more like the poster for an Italian Western then it does for the intentionally meandering drama we’re presented with. Outside of the elderly Walker’s on-camera interview (which is pleasant to watch, and clearly establishes that he had final say over the content in his films – no gratuitous sex, etc.), there are no additional supplementals of importance. He felt fortunate to have worked with the likes of Vincent Price and Anne Francis, and they indeed elevate the level of the movie by performing alongside him.

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