Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Winds of Autumn (1976)



          One of low-budget auteur Charles B. Pierce’s most frustrating movies, The Winds of Autumn demonstrates how Pierce was simultaneously his own secret weapon and his own worst enemy. A revenge-themed Western with an offbeat angle, inasmuch as the character seeking revenge is an 11-year-old boy from a Quaker community, the picture has Pierce’s usual slick widescreen look, and yet it also has Pierce’s usual enervated storyline. The movie begins when young Joel (played by the director’s son, Chuck Pierce Jr.) observes a band of thugs approaching his family’s homestead. Joel’s parents ignore the boy’s warnings, believing God will protect them. He doesn’t. After the inevitable massacre, Joel is offered refuge by neighbor Mr. Pepperdine (played by the film’s cowriter, Earl E. Smith). Hungry for vengeance, Joel steals guns from Mr. Pepperdine’s stash—turns out the fellow used to be a gunfighter—and starts tracking the thugs. Soon afterward, Mr. Pepperdine arms himself and pursues Joel, hoping to prevent further tragedy.
          Scenes of Joel trekking through the wilderness are picturesque but repetitive and sluggish, so the picture’s limited entertainment value stems from the presence of actors seasoned in playing rural varmints. Jack Elam plays the main heavy, and the always-colorful Dub Taylor plays a snake-oil salesman who is moderately important to the plot. Every scene follows predictable rhythms, from the friction between the villains to the incredible resolve of the virtuous characters. On the plus side, the movie has a couple of so-so shootouts, and there’s a whorehouse scene featuring several attractive starlets—however, because The Winds of Autumn is a family picture, neither of those scenes has much bite. Nor, in fact, does the movie overall. Getting back to the secret weapon/worst enemy notion, Pierce, a set dresser by trade, always makes his pictures look more expensive than they are, but he’s perpetually incapable of embellishing narrative concepts with similar flair.

The Winds of Autumn: LAME

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