POSSE: 50 Furious Westerns Series
Every now and then we at Furious Cinema turn to one of our favorite classic genres, the western. We’ve previously posted a list of 50 Furious Westerns, and to build on that, we’re launching a series of in-depth looks at some classics of the genre. No rules.
POSSE (1975) Directed by Kirk Douglas
U.S. Marshal Howard Nightingale (Kirk Douglas) is after notorious outlaw Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern) “The Most Dangerous Man in Texas” and his gang following a robbery of $40,000. When an undercover man informs Nightingale of Strawhorn’s whereabouts, he and his rangers (Bo Hopkins, Luke Askew, Gus Greymountain et al) descend on the hideout. They set it on fire, kill the men inside while Jack narrowly escapes. Nightingale is running for Senate and his latest victory is yet another bit of positive publicity for him, although he will need to get Strawhorn to actually win. The new railroad has even given him his own private car that he travels around in. It’s clear the organization will play a big part in his future.
Looking for revenge, Strawhorn shows up in the small town where Nightingale’s office is and kills the stoolie that gave up the gang the night of the raid. The Sheriff tries to stop him as he leaves but Strawhorn kills him as well after a fair warning. Strawhorn then flees to the mountains to see his old friend Peppe (The Wild Bunch’s Alfonso Arau). There he hires a new gang of thugs to help him take on Nightingale and the rangers who he knows are coming to get him. They get ready for a battle but Nightingale’s elite squad easily take them out like so many “cucarachas” as Strawhorn watches on in disgust with Peppe from a ridge. Nightingale swiftly gives chase and kills Peppe then arrests Strawhorn. He is triumphant once again thanks to his sharpened tactical expertise.
The townspeople cheer and greet Nightingale when he arrives with the evil Strawhorn in chains. The news photographer (Dick O’Neill) gleefully takes a great picture of the glamorous hero and his latest triumph. There is however one person that has his suspicions of Nightingale, the local newspaper man, Hellman (James Keach). He’s an ex-soldier who lost an arm and leg in battle. He has clearly seen a lot in life and seems to know what Nightingale is really about: ambition and not much else. As Nightingale continues to woo the public, basking in their adoration while accepting his nomination as Senator, Strawhorn uses his own guile to turn the tables on his holier than thou captor and disrupt the path to his glory.
What makes POSSE stand out from many films in the Western genre is how it portrays the “hero” and the “villain”. In Post Vietnam/Watergate fashion the movie has lots of gray areas and gives us time to study both men. Bruce Dern had starred in many Westerns and almost always played very ruthless characters. In this movie, Strawhorn comes across as someone you can almost admire in a rebellious, anti-authoritative way. He’s the type of outlaw that the younger generation in the 70s could easily identify with. He’s a bandit but one who tells it like it is and has dedication to his friends. On the other side, Nightingale represents the power hungry Nixon-esque politician who presents himself as someone with a heart of gold. He is highly skilled at his work and charming as hell but always hides his true intentions and has no qualms about stepping on people who get in his way. He could be seen as an early version of his son Michael’s Gordon Gekko character in Wall Street. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nightingale character somehow informed Gekko. They definitely share many of the same character traits.
POSSE was produced and directed by Kirk Douglas under his Bryna Production company which made such classic movies as Paths of Glory, Spartacus, The Last Sunset, Seven Days in May and Seconds. The crackling screenplay was written by William Roberts (The Magnificent Seven) and Christopher Knopf (Emperor of the North). If you’re looking for a Western with a different spin, you’ll really enjoy this one!