Posse (1975)

“Honest men stay honest only as long as it pays — that’s why I’m a thief, and you’re a liar.”

Synopsis:
With the help of his deputies, a politically ambitious marshall (Kirk Douglas) captures notorious outlaw Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern), and uses his victory to campaign for more votes as U.S. senator — but when Strawhorn eludes his grasp, Douglas finds his political future once again on shaky ground.

Genres:

Review:
Kirk Douglas’s revisionist western (he produced, directed, and co-starred) offers a cynical look at the intersection of politics and crime in the American West, with Douglas’s aspiring senator (Nightingale) and Dern’s crafty outlaw (Strawhorn) representing two sides of the same self-serving coin. Because Nightingale is clearly using his pursuit of Strawhorn for political purposes — and because Strawhorn’s capture is framed as a veritable media frenzy which leads to even more “corruption” (Nightingale’s posse takes advantage of their “moment of glory” to bed the star-struck women of Tesota) — it’s relatively easy to start rooting for Strawhorn, who’s clever enough from scene one to warrant our continued attention. The entire film is essentially an extended cat-and-mouse chase, in which — thanks to Strawhorn’s remarkable guile — the tables are turned again and again; just when the game looks to be over, it’s not. While Posse‘s ending isn’t entirely plausible, the point is clearly made that loyalty is relative, and that looking out for one’s best interests doesn’t always fall on the right side of the law.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bruce Dern as Jack Strawhorn — as always, Dern’s performance alone makes this unusual sleeper worth a look
  • Kirk Douglas as Howard Nightingale
  • Fred Koenekamp’s cinematography
  • Maurice Jarre’s memorable score

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.

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One Response to “Posse (1975)”

  1. A must – as a relatively unheralded film that merits attention.

    I’d not seen this – but, not being an overwhelming Douglas or western fan, expectations were not high. (This is one of only two films Douglas directed – the first, ‘Scalawag’, came out two years earlier and even Douglas was displeased.)

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the challenge of a western rests in finding a unique angle – and I think ‘Posse’ has that. As well, running at 90+ minutes with an economic script (and very impressive camerawork), it gets to its point efficiently. What strikes me as most interesting about the film, though, is its apparent messy morality, and the ending (which I don’t find all that implausible) leaves everything in the viewer’s court, which seems appropriate.

    Both Douglas and Dern turn in fine, rather understated work. (The role of the newspaperman that Douglas created for James Stacy – victim of a tragic accident two years prior – affords the actor a welcome opportunity.)

    There are two moments in the film which suggest a flaw: Dern is unwittingly helped on two occasions (but characters can make mistakes, and without the help the film’s final, very tense third would be without conflict).

    Overall, this is a commendable effort and a gripping watch.

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