Another long time Outposter has decided he wants to share something with us all. Wrenage makes his Last Movie Outpost debut with a Retro Review of a movie very close to hgis heart. Firecreek.
Fire It Up For Firecreek
The year is 1968…
Dr. Christian Barnard performs the first successful heart transplant, paving the way for the artificial heart to be scaled up and implanted in King Kong in 1986.
The first Big Mac goes on sale, and good-time-fun-ruiner Morgan Spurlock would try to make us feel bad for eating them in 2004.
The first Boeing 747 took to the skies, and Charlton Heston would be lowered, via helicopter, into the cockpit of one in 1975.
1968 also gave us Firecreek.
Many people have not heard of Firecreek. I likely would not have heard of Firecreek, but my dad gave me an appreciation for it, along with my ruddy good looks and propensity toward high cholesterol (shut your cakehole, Spurlock!).
I have no idea why Firecreek made a big enough impression on my father for him to pass it on to me, but we all have particular movies that push our buttons in the right way.
For example, Young Sherlock Holmes came directly from my id: detectives, conspiracy, cults, murders, monsters, a Carmina Burana O’Fortuna knock-off, sword fights, blowguns, stop-motion, pyramids, a flying machine, tragedy, mystery and, perhaps, my favorite post-credits stinger of all time.
Heck yeah! The only thing Young Sherlock Holmes lacks is a machine gun and a werewolf.
Casting And Directing
But I digress, despite being little known, Firecreek had a heavyweight cast. It starred James Stewart and Henry Fonda. If I had to name one all-time great actor, I’d probably name James Stewart (with Arnold Schwarzenegger as runner up).
James Stewart makes Tom Hank’s every-man persona look like a nobody persona. James Stewart was so every-man he was the spokesperson for soup. If you don’t love James Stewart’s grandfatherly stutter, you are likely a killer of kittens.
James Stewart can read a poem about a dog that has highly questionable rhythm and meter, starts out amusing, becomes meandering, and just when you begin to think someone should put this poor senile man down for a nap, he pulls off a finish that makes you feel like crying.
But you’re not going to cry because that would be weak and beggarly…
Henry Fonda plays the villain in Firecreek. Henry Fonda is great, but the problem with Henry Fonda is that before you can appreciate how great he was, you start thinking about Jane Fonda, and that’s a shame.
Fonda does not have a lot to do in Firecreek. He mainly plays grizzled and weary. His character has the thankless task of wrangling his crew, even as he doesn’t particularly like them.
Firecreek also has a solid troop of supporting actors. We got Jack Elam of the Googly-Eyed Hall of Fame. You remember in Cannonball Run when Elam played that crazy doctor and shot that syringe in his mouth? That was awesome! You also got James Best of Dukes of Hazzard fame — Roscoe Peekotrain himself!
Note: I just found out that character’s official name is Roscoe P. Coletrane…
I like my version of that name better. It’s like when you sing your own lyrics to a song for years, and then you find out the actual lyrics, and the song becomes less to you. Case in point, I used to think Til Tuesday sang “this is scary” during the refrain of Voices Carry.
But I digress yet again; the secret sauce of Firecreek is Gary Lockwood.
Lockwood did Firecreek the same year as 2001, so it was his peak year. Looking at his filmography, I was surprised by its sparseness. Dude, should have been bigger, methinks.
Despite Firecreek’s heavyweight casting, Gary Lockwood steals the show playing the douchebag villain. Lockwood’s combination of good looks and slime is magnetic onscreen. You hate him, but you kind of like him because he’s that good looking.
Some Other Fun Casting
Robert Porter could have had a career as a James Dean impersonator.
Inger Stevens was the lady in that Twilight Zone episode who got followed by the hitchhiker who turned out to be death. (Actually, wasn’t that basically every Twilight Zone episode?). Dean Jagger won an Academy Award for his role in Twelve ‘O’ Clock High and was also in Alligator. Jay Flippen is one of those guys you’ve seen before.
Barbara Luna did Star Trek stuff. Ed Begley Jr.’s father is in Firecreek. Morgan Woodward was Mirrored-Sunglasses Guy in Cool Hand Luke.
Brooke Bundy played the mom of the Patricia Arquette character in Nightmare On Elm Street III.
Firecreek was directed by Vincent McEveety. It was his feature film debut, I believe. He later went on to direct a lot of Disney films including portions of the cult film Watcher In The Woods, plus a Wonder Woman TV movie and various TV shows.
Firecreek is lensed in workmanlike fashion, which works fine. Plus, the film stock of that era has a special tone to me, like it genuinely captured people’s souls in the celluloid.
At the end of the day, Firecreek is basically High Noon. Stewart plays the “sheraf” of the small town of Firecreek. One day Henry Fonda and his crew show up and do bad-people stuff. The story is simple. It is formula all day long, but that is all it needs to be.
Despite the legendary status of High Noon, I prefer Firecreek. Firecreek gives the villains more to do than stand around the train depot. Firecreek also has a smidge more going on than the main character asking other characters for help, who then wimp out.
A lot of that is due to runtime. High Noon comes in at a sparse 85 minutes. Firecreek had 105 minutes to work with. The other part is that Firecreek came out at a time when westerns were starting to lose their innocence. Roy Rogers was fading away and The Wild Bunch was coming with a vengeance a year later. Firecreek does not achieve the mayhem of The Wild Bunch (man, what a movie!), but it is definitely more nuanced than sequin-shirt westerns.
The colors, costumes, set and settings of Firecreek capture an underlying feeling of quiet destitution. The characters know they are settling. Nevertheless, James Stewart takes enough pride in his small piece of the pie to risk his life for it. The moment that finally breaks his hesitancy to act particularly sticks out. In close up, Stewart simply gives a heart-wrenching whimper.
Beyond that, I’m not going to go into spoilers. As I said earlier, Firecreek is formula. You can probably guess how it goes, but it is a decent riff on the genre conventions nevertheless. At the end of the day, it has certain qualities that come out of the screen, reach into your chest and pull something out.
If a movie can do that, it has succeeded.
Check It Out
You can get a taste of Firecreek in this YouTube clip.
If you watch Firecreek and like it, pass it on to others. Keep movies like Firecreek alive.
And thanks for passing it on to me, dad…
And thanks for sharing Wrenage. If any other Outposters have anything they want to share and see it published on the site, drop us a line at [email protected]