The Shooting (1967)

In 1967, Jack Nicholson had not yet broken out as a Major Actor. He’d done some cheapo westerns and horror films, mostly by guys like Roger Corman and Monte Hellman. The Shooting was directed by Hellman about the same time as Ride the Whirlwind, which was released in 1965.

Cheap and quick westerns were pretty standard back then – you had your good guys in white hats, bad guys in black hats, and the horses who loved them both. Good clean fun. But with The Shooting, Hellman kind of redefined the western, blurring the lines between the good and the bad just enough to puzzle the viewer.

A man comes to visit his brother, only to find his brother’s disappeared and the only person at the ranch is mourning the loss of his own friend, whom he’d just buried. Then along comes a woman who hires the two men to lead her across the Utah desert. But to what end? And as the journey continues, the group is joined by a hired gun, who obviously knows the woman. What’s all this leading up to, wonder the men.

So call it more of a psychological western. Nicholson’s the hired gun. Warren Oates (forever known to my generation as Sgt. Hulka from Stripes) is the good guy. Millie Perkins is the mysterious woman. Fun and fascinating.

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