Forgotten Films: Monte Walsh (1970)

One of the many forgotten films from the year 1970 remains MONTE WALSH, starring Lee Marvin, Jack Palance and Jeanne Moreau. This little-seen western directed by the brilliant cinematographer William A. Fraker is one of the handful of elegiac cine-odes to the dying days of the cowboy. A typically 70’s character study punctuated by violence, MONTE WALSH tells the story of a pair of ranch pardners, Lee and Palance, as they find themselves at the end of the century and the beginning of a new one. “I wish I knew more than cowboyin'” one character says after finding himself out of a ranch job. That line fairly sums up the film’s theme.

Buttressed by one of John Barry’s most beautiful scores, with an ironic theme song called “The Good Times Are Comin'” by, yes, Mama Cass, the film isn’t the typical 1970 tonal downer as reflective of the era. There’s sadness and longing, but there’s a little hope and humor by the finale. Lee Marvin is fantastic, one of his best movie characters, and Jack Palance has never been more appealing in a nice guy role. And I defy you not to shed a tear when Marvin takes a long stroll through a dying western town soundtracked by Barry’s bittersweet music. Sadly, the lush widescreen photography has been reduced to a half-image on Fox’s piss-poor VHS release with no DVD in sight (happily rectified with a recent Paramount widescreen release). As Palance says, “You can’t be a cowboy forever…”

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13 Responses to “Forgotten Films: Monte Walsh (1970)”

  1. Wow, i’ve never heard of this movie. Of course, leave it up to you to already know every movie created and dig up the great ones for us.

    I remember back in ’78 when my dad picked me up at the airport and said he saw Lee Marvin in there while he was waiting for me. “Who’s that?”, I said.

    LOL.

  2. christian Says:

    If I woulda been in that car I would have jumped back into the airport…

    you can get a copy of MONTE WALSH on dvd-r on ioffer.com, my new rare film resource….

  3. Caught a small portion of Monte Walsh on TCM last night. A great movie about an end of an era. In hindsight, it also could have been a metaphor for Lee and his life. He was like the last of a breed. Watching the movie brought back memories of living in Tucson in ’75 and ’76. Ten years before Lee’s death, and I was fortunate enough to have known him. RIP Lee

  4. christian Says:

    Wow. On TCM? Talk about synchronicity….Thanks for letting us know.

    MONTE WALSH really is a metaphor for Lee, especially in the aforementioned scene where he wanders the dead western town. It’s an epochal film moment. And yes, he was the last of his kind.

    Please share your memory of knowing Mr. Lee Marvin! You must!

  5. Christian: I just skipped overe here a few minutes ago after watching my DVD copy of Monte Walsh from last night’s airing of it on TCM.

    I’ve got to say, I was remarkably impressed by it. Such a ’70s film. I love the wandering nature of it, and how funny it is at times and then how Fraker swings wrecking balls in the direction of the mythology while giving it plentiful nods at the same time.

    John Barry’s theme is glorious, and I love how Bondian it becomes when Marvin is tracking down his enemy towards the end.

    Lee Marvin, Jeanne Moreau and Jack Palance are all fantastic!

  6. In late ’74 – early ’75 I met Pam’s daughter Wendy who wsa living in Austin at that time. We started dating and moved in together. Wendy’s brother Rod returned to Austin, where he had attended UT, after being in south Africa where Lee was filming Shout at the Devil. Rod was moving to Tucson to be near the family and in Dec. ’75 Wendy and I followed them to Tucson. We lived in the guest house for a while and then Lee and Pam bought a house and six acres on River Road where Wendy could keep her horse and her younger sister’s horse. That’s just background. Lee was an interesting person, very generous, and I enjoyed being around him. After the purchase of the house ohn River Road I did a lot of painting inside, made some furniture for the gameroom and hauled off a lot of junk to the landfill. One day I was using Lee’s pick-up, very basic, no radio and a floor shift, to haul some trash. He decided to ride with me, and bring along an six-pack. On the way to the dump we lost some trash on the road so I pulled over and started picking it up. Lee was standing inthe road directing traffic around me and the looks on peoples faces as they drove past and recognized Lee was priceless. When we finally got going again we just cracked up imaging what people would tell their friends.

  7. christian Says:

    Alexander: I’m glad they played it on TCM — was it wide-screen? It’s now officially one of my favorite westerns and Marvin films. I wrote an entire screenplay based on the soundtrack…

    Harold: Thank you Sir! What an amazing tale. I would think that if you were driving Lee Marvin in his pick-up, drinking a six pack with him and watching him guide traffic that you deserve some sort of hall o’ fame all to your own! Wow.

  8. Yes, it was in glorious widescreen, Christian. TCM shows everything letterboxed if they can.

  9. christian Says:

    Uh perhaps you could send me a copy Alexander?

  10. Email me your address, Christian. :-)

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