Label: Twilight Time
Released: September 13, 2017
Genre: Black Comedy / Western
Synopsis: During an impromptu furlough in which a bank robber falls for a widow, he becomes a mythic figure after a presumptive death, only to find confusion, rejection, and cruel irony in this strange fable-western.
Special Features: Isolated Stereo Music Track with some Sound Effects / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.
Frank Gilroy’s novel may have flowed from comedy to romance, black comedy to semi-tragedy with an absurdist finale, but his own adaptation and direction resulted in a most peculiar western which remains a tough sell.
Even if half of the original trailer is viewed, it’s clear United Artists struggled to create an ad that warned / educated Charles Bronson fans of the film’s uncharacteristic use of the muscular, stone-faced actors better known for action and revenge films. Clearly, the prolific actor wanted to branch out – From Noon till Three came 2 years after Death Wish – and his comfort zone was teflon-shielded with the casting of wife Jill Ireland as the widow with whom a bank robber shacks up for three hours, and becomes a legend when he leaves to supposedly free his incarcerated colleagues on what’s a suicide mission.
Bronson plays Graham, a ‘two-bit’ thief who makes an excuse to break off from a band of outlaws because of an ominous, Caesarian nightmare and dangerous portent of doom. As his buddies ride off to town to rob the bank the the next morning, Graham is supposed to wait at an isolated estate for three hours, guarding widow Amanda (Ireland) until the group return and maybe offer him some pity money, having lost his horse en route and his take of the loot.
Three hours evolve at lightning speed, moving from a house search to a kind of sexual assault to a sudden intense romance, and when a local kid tells Amanda of the gang’s arrest and imminent lynching, she urges Graham to save his compatriots, but being an utterly selfish cad, he feigns a rescue but waits out their execution, only to become a victim of his disguise and setting off a crazy legend which Amanda cultivates with rabid fidelity for the next decade.
The problem for Bronson’s fans wasn’t seeing their hero get romantic in a swimming and ballroom dancing scene nor speaking lightly prosaic dialogue, but the strange tonal shifts that no one could quite smoothen, and Graham’s dislikeable self.
From the onset Graham has little regard for any life except his own, and several acts of self-preservation make him largely unsympathetic: he shoots his own horse to play hooky from bank robbery, feigns bravery but allows his buddies to die, and forces an itinerant crooked dentist to swap places knowing an innocent man will be shot by the posse sent from town.
The poetic comeuppance stems from Amanda’s pre-existing obsession with her prior dead husband: Graham finds her suited to the neck in black, mourning for her long-dead, much older hubby. For three hours she ‘lives again’ with Graham, but is pushed into a state of delusion after he’s mistakenly thought dead. Amanda’s romantic notions of her preposterous romance go into full gear when a compassionate writer helps pen a tell-all saga, and her memoir becomes a commercial hit, spawning a play, a musical, and transforming her hometown into a tourist attraction with everyone hawking trinkets to get a piece of the Amanda-Graham pie.
When the mistakenly jailed Graham is released, no one – including Amanda – believes he’s the real Graham, and Gilroy’s story quite literally turns into that 1961 episode of The Flintstones (“The Rock Quarry Story”) in which Rock Quarry, a Rock Hudson caricature, spends most of the episode’s second half running away from laughter, physical abuse, and humiliation, as no one believes he’s the real McCoy. Graham’s also rejected by an Amanda who’s convinced herself that the real Graham, as penned in her memoir, was taller, handsome, and heroic. When her memory clicks and she finally realizes Graham survived, there is no joy – just a rejection of his existence and a need to preserve the myth adored by millions around the world.
It almost works on film, and probably worked well in print, but once Amanda offs herself, Gilroy’s saga turns into a weird tragedy with the aforementioned Flintstonian parallels until Graham ends up in the only place he can find peace – a loony bin, with smiling, semi-cultish inmates accepting him for who he is. It is a poetic end to a cruel fate for a mean cad, but it also ensures From Noon Till Three is a picture that might not click with western, comedy, nor Bronson fans.
END OF SPOILERS
Part vanity project, career risk, image makeover, professional gamble, genre oddity, and a dud ripe for reappraisal and modest appreciation, the real treat – and probably lead draw for fans – is seeing Bronson in a lighter role, laughing, snickering, and being charming with his wife, and generating the chemistry that typified their successful marriage. It’s a film that brings out a much lighter side of the actor, but where Bronson worked hard to create a likeable cad, Gilroy’s cruelties remind us of Graham’s ruthlessness, which isn’t capped with a reunion, but a satirical slide to a deserved hell for the selfish thief.
Most of the cast are relative unknowns, but recognizable is a young Anne Ramsay (Throw Momma from the Train); and in cute cameos, the film’s composer Elmer Bernstein appears as a pianist for a lyricist (Alan Bergman, also doing a cameo) as they play a music team offering a sampling of their Amanda-Graham parlour tune.
Lucien Ballard’s cinematography makes striking use of the desolate colours and bulging hills of the dry landscape, and Robert Clatworthy’s production design is gorgeous: Amanda’s Giant-esque estate is a pristine museum to her prior marriage, and every wood-paneled room is packed with elegant nick-knacks and furniture.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a stereo isolated music track with some cues culled from the surviving mono music & effects track, and Bernstein’s thematic material when Amanda gives Graham a ‘tour’ of her home is some of his most delicate, matching the emerging charm between the couple before their politically incorrect union and spastic devotion.
Julie Kirgo’s essay celebrates the film’s inherent oddness and attraction, and rightly regards Gilroy’s tale as a myth, if not a myth with a cautionary lesson when mythic facts are treated as truth, propagated, and become Disneyfied history.
Frank D. Gilroy’s writing background harkens back to TV westerns (include episodes of Disneyland), and his film scripts include adaptations of his plays The Subject Was Roses (1968) and the equally odd (and George Stevens’ swan son) The Only Game in Town (1970), and under a pseudonym Don Siegel’s last film, the disastrous Jinxed! (1982).
© 2017 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review