Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Legend of Earl Durand (1974)

          This low-budget rural adventure is based upon a real-life 1930s fugitive named Earl Durand, a mountain man who was arrested for poaching, made a brazen escape from jail, and led authorities on a manhunt lasting nearly two weeks. Before committing suicide, Durand killed four law-enforcement officers. The Legend of Earl Durand portrays the title character as a backwoods Robin Hood who kills government elk to help feed local poor people, so his reason for evading capture is, theoretically, continuing his good deeds. Since the filmmakers never quite figure how to express that concept, The Legend of Earl Durand churns and spins through a painfully overlong 110-minute running time. One wishes for the brisk fable this could and should have been. Still, even with its considerable flaws, not least of which is an ugly visual style—flat lighting and haphazard angles—The Legend of Earl Durand is watchable more often than it isn’t. The presence of Slim Pickens, Albert Salmi, Martin Sheen, and Keenan Wynn in supporting roles helps a lot. As for fair-haired leading man Peter Haskell, he comes across as a shabby substitute for Robert Redford, clearly the sort of image the filmmakers were after.
          Awkwardly framed with cutesy spoken/sung narration, the movie gives Durand a sympathetic origin story by way of a prologue depicting his youth, then cuts to the protagonist in full robbing-from-the-rich mode. His main adversary, manhunter Jack McQueen (Salmi), is portrayed as a sadist with political ambitions, so the thematic deck is unfairly stacked. In early scenes, Durand romances a pretty librarian and occasionally brings her little brother along during adventures; throughout the first half of the picture, Durand is as menacing as Sheriff Andy Taylor. Things get a bit tougher once the manhunt begins—for instance, Wynn plays a retired Army officer who zooms over the Grand Tetons in a biplane, then commands a posse armed with primitive rocket launchers. Wynn blusters well, Pickens reliably essays a likeable idiot, and Sheen supercharges the scenes in which he plays a simple-minded Durand accomplice. So while there’s a lot to dislike here, there’s also a fair amount to appreciate.

The Legend of Earl Durand: FUNKY

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