Eagle's Wing (1979)
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Director Harvey uses the title horse as a focus for interconnecting stories, all dealing with the traditional Western clash of the primitive and civilisation. The former seems to have the upper hand. The vast scrub and desert of the film's landscape is unbroken, ripe for allegories of the mind. The only brief sites of civilisation are a stagecoach of missionaries and landowners, and their hacienda, from both of which derive behaviour that is anything but civilised.
The basic story intercuts three stories. In one, an aimless deserter, Pike, having lost his trading partner, steals a miraculous horse, Eagle's Wing, so-called because of its grace and speed. In the second, an Indian, White Bull, owner of this horse, waylays a stagecoach, and kidnaps one of its female occupants. In the third, the Spanish men sent to find her ignore this quest in favour of a murderous, plundering spree.
Although a revisionist Western, the treatment of the Indian is problematic. Unlike Pike, his character is never explained, forever inscrutable, denied a voice, except for an excruciating snatch of song. When he's not a strange Other, he's a symbol, whose role isn't entirely worked out - at one point a savage brute, at another he epitomises nature and freedom.
But Pike notes at the beginning that the film will attend to the period of primitivism before civilisation. In many ways the film resembles 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY, especially its opening sequence. Part of the film's power lies in the connections made between the three disparate characters, forcing us to view the mythic struggles and quests in a different light. Indian culture and Catholicism is linked by superstition, ritual, greed and murder. Both Pike and White Bull are musical and alcoholic. White Bull is demonised by both Pike and the abductee as a 'bastard', unwittingly revealing the tactic of illegitimacy used by colonising whites who infantilised the natives, becoming themselves 'necessary' fathers.
Unlike a traditional Western, concerned with making history, civilisation, and progress, this film is a double detective story, interrogating the past, tracks, remains.
What gives this film its remarkable uniqueness, I think, is, despite Maltin's racism, its Britishness. The climactic stand-off is more like an Arthurian joust. The film itself bravely eschews dialogue for the most part, creating the kind of visual and aural tapestry Malick missed in THE THIN RED LINE, and something few Hollywood directors would have dared. The existential doubling and quest motifs are more European myth than American (resembling another British Harvey Keitel movie, THE DUELLISTS).
Most astonishing is the use of nature. Most Westerns use landscape as an awe-inspiring backdrop: there is little sense of actually living in the West. In many ways, EAGLE'S WING is like a Powell and Pressberger film, with nature a powerful, pantheistic character in its own right - alive, dangerous, hostile, beautiful. There is a sublime scene reminiscent of A CANTERBURY TALE, when jewellery left as a trap by White Bull in the trees is suddenly blown in the wind: there is a haunting, tingling, magical, thrilling effect more reminiscent of the Arabian Nights than a horse opera. Heartstopping.
Solid western with great loads of action and violence . From the initiation when horse robbing until the final , the fast-movement and action-packed western is continued . The pic is a crossover of various films , the white woman kidnapped by Indians just like ¨The searches¨ (by John Ford) , the battle against nature from ¨ Man in wilderness land ¨ (Richard C Sarafian) and ¨Jeremias Johnson¨ (Sidney Pollack) and obstinacy and stubbornness between two merciless enemies who fight with no rest such as ¨The duelists¨ (Ridley Scott) . The magnificent cast is formed by an excellent Martin Sheen (Apocalypse now) as tough and two-fisted rider obsessed to recover the slim and graceful horse . Sam Waterston (Killing Fields) in a rare role as Comanche is very fine . Supporting cast is featured by European actors, -this is a British production by Rank Organization- such as Stephane Audran (Claude Chabrol's muse) and John Castle (Lion in Winter) as the priest . Besides , Mexican actors (Jorge Luque , Claudio Brook, Enrique Lucero) because being set in Mexican frontier . Splendid cinematography by Billy Williams , it is wonderfully shown on spectacular landscapes . Lively and jolly musical score by by Mark Wilkinson . The motion picture was well directed by Anthony Harvey (Lion in Winter). However , the picture was a flop and barely obtained money and failed at box office .
It seemed to be a lot more realistic than most westerns, in portraying how the West was more truly won. As well as the complexities of the characters it presents. The Indian-Sam Waterson character is particularly intriguing. He seems to be brutal in the savage environment he is conditioned to, but displays remarkable respect for the frailties he witnesses in the white men & women he encounters. He is not friendly or sensitive to these intruders in his lands, but he has a limit to his sense of vengeance, even a compassion when he is in a position of power & observing the wilting white man bent on revenge, as well as the girl he kidnaps after capturing a stagecoach. As such, his character seems complex but congruous to the harsh lands he lived in & which were threatened by these intruders he is not heartless in his dealings with.
The magnificent horse he rides is a critical link & it is interesting to note how this Indian handles it, compared with the Martin Sheen-character who has it in his possession & power for a time. "Eagle's Wing" is an unusual Western, a genre I am not drawn to, but I really appreciated this excellent offering, which I would rate second only to "A Man Called Horse".
Forget big, bankrupt Hollywood versions of the past, men with big chins and swirling music; this one is all about a primeval struggle between protagonists who, stripped of all the trappings of 'ordinary' life, come to understand what is worth fighting for. Impressive.
Martin Sheen gets to inject some humor into the cat and mouse game with some of the few lines of dialog the film actually uses; for his part, White Bull remains entirely silent throughout. It complements his mysterious nature, and the ruse with the tricked out dagger that takes out the thieving Mexican was a nice touch. Sheen does a remarkable job convulsing from that arrow to the leg from White Bull, so much so that you feel his pain.
In the set up for the horseback duel finale, one expects a decisive outcome without knowing who'll win, but again, your standard Western conventions don't bear out. White Bull acknowledges Pike's temerity and allows him to live, and his thundering dust cloud ride into the sunset sets both men free. The ending though, managed to elicit an unintended chuckle just like Vincent Price does in the closing sequence of "The Fly", when Judith and Pike separately plead their case to the heavens - "Please, help me".
Watch out also for a moving and unexpected graveside poetry reading by Sheen. This was one of the last major films produced by England's Rank Organization.
However, a concise analysis of this film is that it is a interweaving of the seven deadly sins with the four types of justice.
Envy, greed, pride, sloth, anger, etc. and justice in the forms of retributive, distributive, blind, and divine.
I could demonstrate three examples of each, one for each of the three protagonists; however, it is much more fun to note them for oneself.
This is an excellent film.
Don't miss it.
This is a unique, professionally-made Western. The tone is thoroughly realistic, Waterston is impressive as the Native, the women are good-looking and the Mexican locations are magnificent, albeit thoroughly desolate. Unfortunately, the story isn't very absorbing. But the film's interesting in some ways and certainly worthy of your Western collection.
The movie runs 111 minutes.
From other point of view, it gives you a lot of material to think about the tragedies that occur because of the human ambitions, and the big Tragedy that occurred in that clash of civilizations that happened in the far west, the same kind of tragedy that is happening again in these days in several parts of our world.
I do not see anything particularly innovative. Sometimes conventional elements, such as an intrusive musical sound track near the end of the movie, seem superfluous.
I suppose the film is mythic but I am almost clueless about what that means here. There are scenes in which the trappings of wealth and power seem meaningless within the forbidding but lovely landscape.
"Eagle Wings" lacks the wryness of Samuel Becket, the clarity of the monoliths or the personality of HAL from Stanley Kubrick, or the grit of John Ford but the captured girl is pretty even if she is abandoned in the wilderness. For some reason, I like this movie. It is a nihilist masterpiece.
First watch: 2019 / How many: 1 / Source: DVD / Rating: 8
Whenever I watch "Eagle's Wing" ending, I am reminded of the last shots of Ridley Scott's unforgettable debut "The Duellists" - after all, both films have a lot of things in common.
It's a shame that there's not one DVD version worthy of such a great movie. The latest, American one, despite its flaws, seems to be the best of the three known to me - at least it is transferred in the original aspect ratio.
Sam Waterston as White Bull is exceptional. Martin Sheen as Pike is a great contribution as well.
The cast also has in tow many superb actors from all phases of cinema.
I loved Eagle's Wing.
The view is stunning.