Monday, August 25, 2014

From Noon Till Three (1976)

          Mismarketed as a farce, presumably to ride on the success of Blazing Saddles (1974), this offbeat Charles Bronson picture is actually a clever satire about mythmaking in the Wild West. The piece doesn’t quite work, partially because the tone wobbles too often between serious and silly, and partially because leading lady Jill Ireland’s performance is so weak. Nonetheless, there’s much to admire in the conception of the story, and it’s fun to see Bronson dig into a lighthearted role, even though a natural-born wisecracker along the lines of James Garner would have been more suitable.
          Written and directed by the versatile Frank D. Gilroy, based on his novel of the same name, the picture begins with a wonderfully eerie dream sequence. Without giving away the particulars, the scene perfectly sets up the character of Graham Dorsey (Bronson), a member of the Buck Bowers gang. Whereas most of Buck’s people are crude and rough, Graham is slick and smart. When the Bowers gang arrives at the home of Amanda (Jill Ireland), a widow of some financial means, Graham persuades his fellow criminals that he should sit out their impending next robbery. This allows him to spend time with Amanda. The unlikely couple shares a romantic idyll until word arrives that the Bowers gang was captured. Then Graham leaves Amanda, ostensibly to rescue his compatriots. In reality, he plans to flee, even though he’s thoroughly persuaded Amanda that he’s a man of honor forced by hard times to commit robberies.
          Later, when Amanda is mistakenly informed that Graham was killed, she accepts the overture of a traveling writer, who hears about Amanda’s romantic adventure and thinks it would make a good yarn. The resulting novel is released, turning Amanda into a celebrity and Graham into a mythic figure. This creates unexpected problems for Graham, who is still very much alive but now must compete with an oversized legend that bears his name.
          Watching From Noon Till Three, it’s not difficult to see how minor changes could have improved the material. For example, Gilroy’s dialogue is mildly droll, but a true wit (Peter Stone comes to mind) could have maximized the potential of the premise with incisive one-liners. Similarly, Bronson’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach bludgeons subtleties, and Ireland is completely artificial. The movie also drags a bit, even though it’s only 99 minutes, suggesting that Gilroy would have been wise to shorten the first half of the movie and get to the good stuff faster.
          So, while it’s probably exaggerating to say that From Noon Till Three is ideal remake fodder—the story is so slight that the potential return isn’t worth the investment of labor—From Noon Till Three is enjoyable to watch as a near-miss. It helps, of course, that the movie was shot in a glossy style by the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard, and that the venerable Elmer Bernstein contributed the robust score. Having said that, good luck getting the chirpy theme song, “Hello and Goodbye,” out of your head.

From Noon Till Three: FUNKY


Booksteve said...

It's been years since I've seen it but I recall thinking it a near-miss all around but not being able to figure out exactly why it didn't work. I think you nailed it, though, and I'm surprised it had never occurred to me initially. As much fun as Charlie is here, Garner could conceivably have knocked the role out of the park without even trying.

Tommy Ross said...

Husband and wife acting combos on screen are a dicey thing at best but I liked some of the stuff Bronson and Ireland did together, you could really see the love they had for each other in their eyes, especially hers.

Guy Callaway said...

They made a much more effective Euro-western together 3 years earlier: The low-key, but intriguing 'Chino' aka 'The Valdez Horses'.