For the purpose of comparing and contrasting, I will be making references to the excellent Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven throughout this review. This means I will be giving away plot and scene details best discovered by yourself. If you haven’t seen Unforgiven, please, don’t read any further. Go and rent it, and then come back and read this. It’s a great movie, even if you “don’t do” Westerns.
The Western has been a staple of American entertainment almost ever since there was a Wild West to begin with. First it was pulp novels, then it was radio shows, movies, movie serials, and finally TV shows. Without going through the long and diverse history of Westerns, let’s just say they’ve done just about everything. You’ve got Roy Rogers and your singing cowboy types. You have Clint Eastwood and your ruthless anti-heroes. You have Western parodies like Blazing Saddles, Rustler’s Rhapsody, and TV’s Brisco County, Jr. (Bruce Campbell rules! He makes even Hercules: The Legendary Journeys watchable at times). We’ve also got bizarre western hybrids (and potential Jabootu fodder) like Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.
The ’80s and ’90s have seen a sharp decline in Westerns. Maybe it’s because the territory is so well worn that even Hollywood has declared the genre tapped out. Maybe all the lasers, lightsabers, automatic weapons, and jet aircraft have just jaded movie audiences and they aren’t thrilled with a horse and a six-shooter any more.
There have been a few notable successes–Silverado comes to mind. They also managed to turn a dollar and a decent review or two off Young Guns by putting the Brat Pack on horseback. However, the massive success that sends Hollywood scrambling to imitate a big hit didn’t occur until Unforgiven. This excellent movie, winner of that year’s Best Picture Oscar, perfectly wrapped up Clint Eastwood’s Western career. It’s his last Western to date, and the perfect swan song to his work in that genre. In that movie, Eastwood played William Munny, a long-retired mad gunman who is lured into doing one last killing, despite the horror and guilt he feels over his previous life.
Unforgiven is what’s known as a ‘Revisionist Western.’ Such movies tend to concentrate on people who aren’t typically featured in Westerns, or dramatically revise the traditional elements of the Western. Unforgiven exploded several myths of the genre and completely deglamorized the gunslinger. It contained scenes such as Clint Eastwood crawling on a barroom floor, getting the stuffing knocked out of him by Gene Hackman. Later, it showed him crying and confessing he was scared of dying. These scenes were unthinkable for earlier Westerns, when Eastwood generally played a drifter only interested in himself, always confident and invincible with both guns and fists. There were no glorious death scenes–two of the killings were calculated assassinations, and one of the targets dies in the least glorious way possible (think Elvis).
Unfortunately Hollywood (as it usually does) got the wrong message from Unforgiven‘s success. Revisionist Westerns were in, and people would pay a lot of money to see them. Actually, what was in was a good movie. And people will certainly pay to see one, whether it’s a good Western, Horror, Sci-fi…
The first Revisionist Westerns to follow were Posse and Tombstone(1993). Posse had a cast that was almost entirely black. Tombstone featured villains that acted suspiciously like modern street gangs (they even wore their “colours”). In 1994 came Wyatt Earp (Kevin Costner and still more ‘reluctant hero’ shtick over the course of three hours and several gazillion dollars), and our target for today Bad Girls, with its all-female outlaws. The concepts for Bad Girls and Posse by the way are excellent. Despite this, both vanished pretty fast at the box office. Having not seen Posse I can’t comment on that one, but in the case of Bad Movie, I mean Bad Girls, I sure can.
Our movie starts with a close-up of a newspaper, shot through a window. The newspaper is announcing Father Time Outdone By Nellie Bly. Female Reporter Sets Record.” It’s the story of Nellie Bly’s around the world trip. Now I know that there was no such thing as instantaneous communication back then, but this paper really is sloppy. Bly’s trip took place in 1890. Later information will establish that this movie takes place in 1891. They’ve also got the time wrong. By the paper’s information the trip took 72 Days, 11 hrs, 6 minutes. I’ve consulted various sources, and they all say 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes.
Please don’t fail to notice “Father Time Outdone by Nellie Bly.” Get it? A woman beat on a man. This is as sophisticated as the movie’s commentary gets on men oppressing women, and women retaliating. Now, it’s pretty obvious that they’re trying to draw a comparison between our four heroines and Bly, which I find somewhat insulting. Nellie Bly was a real Renaissance woman, with the brains and determination that anyone in any age can admire, male or female. To suggest these four Mediocre Girls are a kindred spirit to her is either offensive or laughable, I’m really not sure which.
There’s a knock at the door, and the paper is lowered. The woman reading it is a prostitute named Anita, played by Mary Stuart Masterton. However, the script is pretty careless and doesn’t identify most of the women until about 20 minutes in, and doesn’t provide a measurable personality or character motivation for them until about 35. For this reason, I’m simply going to refer to them by their real first names.
Behind the door we hear the cries of a randy customer. Mary opens the door and cries “Happy Birthday Colonel!” In comes a pudgy, drooling old man, who continues to carry on. One of the highlights of this sequence is his oinking like a pig. I’m thinking ‘Deliverance’ in two ways: Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty, and as in “from this movie.”
The camera meanwhile begins to track to the right (it hasn’t moved since the movie opened–Auteur!), where we witness Drew Barrymore in her underwear emerging from her room. Her character’s name is Lilly Laronette, which I think we learn in the remaining 30 minutes. She bumps into Andie McDowell (Eileen Spenser, 20 minutes in), and they apparently have been distracted from their work by some religious types parading in the street. I wonder what kind of stock religious figures they’ll be–the Loopy but Ineffectual Kooks, or the Crazed and Dangerous Zealots?
Aha, Zealots. They’re carrying signs that read “Bring the Lord to Echo City” and “Whores burn in hell” and “Boycott this film.” Wait, I may have imagined that last sign.
Anyway, the leader of this congregation begins giving one of those fire and brimstone lectures about gambling, whoring, blah blah blah, and how sinful it is. Up on the balcony, Andie decides to taunt them. “Hey preacher, you come up here, we think we like to change yo’ mind,” she calls in an accent that’s possibly Southern, but might just possibly be Vietnamese.
Inside the saloon, there are lots of patrons though. In fact, there are probably more patrons than members of the congregation. Hovering around the bar is one of those mysterious stranger types, who will later learn is Joshua McCabe (Dermot Mulroney. He played “Dirty Steve” Stephens in Young Guns, probably why he was cast in this flick). He spies Madeleine Stowe (she plays a character named Cody Zamora, who may or may not be a prostitute), sitting at a table gambling and making conversation with several customers.
Maddy looks absolutely gorgeous. Not to be indelicate about the whole business, but let’s get real here. Under the best of circumstances, prostitution is a pretty sordid affair, and it takes its toll on those that practice it. And the Old West wasn’t the best of times for a prostitute. The movie makes some half-hearted attempts to condemn society for its treatment of prostitutes, but really, the way it’s presented here, it doesn’t look all that bad. All the women have perfectly straight, white teeth. They all look like fashion models. And, as we will get to in just a moment, it is also insanely profitable, apparently.
Maddy and mysterious stranger make eye contact, so we can bet we’ll be seeing more of these two together. Upstairs, Mary comes out of her room, and the Colonel runs out and hauls her back in. Seeing this, Maddy says “It’s all right. C’mon.” We’re not sure who she’s saying this to, but anyway. Mary comes out of the room again, and the Colonel catches up to her again. The Colonel starts man-handling her, but Maddy’s had enough.
Standing, she says, in a not-so intimidating voice “Now keep your hands off her Colonel!”
The Colonel snorts. “I paid for a goddamn birthday kiss, and I’m gonna get one!”
“You touch her again, you’re a dead man,” warns Maddy.
He pulls a gun and shoots a glass next to her. Everyone but her scatters. He fires again, and so she pulls a gun and fires, killing him.
Outside, the religious congregation moves in yelling things like “She shot him! She shot him! The whore shot the colonel! Get her!” Oddly enough, even though she’s still carrying a gun, she elects not to defend herself any further. After all, it’s not likely the churchy types are carrying one.
By the way, who owns the place? Why didn’t he come to the defense of Mary and Maddy? To be sure, anyone pimping these girls would see them as an investment, and wouldn’t allow them to be hurt. Yeah, it’s a dirty business, but at least they’d have someone trying to protect them.
One possible explanation is that Maddy in fact owns the saloon. But this doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense either. She seems to be available for the customers as well, so it would be like a pimp also prostituting himself–not bloody likely.
Cut to a sign that reads “Welcome to Echo City, Colorado’s Friendliest Town.” A man comes on the screen and says “Your attention please. Audience members, you are about to witness some savage irony that also comments on the general hypocrisy of society.”
A congregation member whips a hangman’s noose over the sign.
The man on the screen says “This concludes the irony. Thank you for your time. We hope you enjoy the rest of the movie.” He departs.
The congregation is leading Maddy to the gallows. You know, in order to accept this situation, we need a lot more information than we’re getting. First, we have a bar full of witnesses that saw the Colonel fire first–twice. Clearly, this was self-defense. Ok, but the congregation doesn’t care, because they’re religious extremists, right? Fine.
Problem: if this congregation has the kind of power that they can just be judge, jury and executioner, why is there a thriving saloon/bordello in this town in the first place? Problem 2: again, who owns the saloon? If it’s another owner, why isn’t he coming to the defense of one of his prostitutes? If the place is as successful as it looks, the owner should be able to wield considerable economic clout over the town, even if the owner is a woman. One regular bribe to the local ineffectual sheriff should take care of things like this (strangely, he is seen just sitting on his duff watching the congregation go by).
There’s a shot of Maddy through the noose as she approaches. Everyone get that they’re going to hang her now? You in the back, you with us so far? Cut away to a brief shot of the other three starlets hurriedly loading up a wagon with luggage.
Long-winded churchy type begins spouting off. “Harlot, you can not escape the wrath of our Lord.” But is she just a prostitute? Why is she so well dressed? Mr. Longwind starts accusing her of “harlotry,” and “bringing in disease.” She must have a disease I think a lot of people would like to catch, the one that makes you flawless, despite apparently being manhandled by the mob. Really, she looks like she’s sitting in a salon getting her nails done, not on the back of a horse waiting to be hung.
Apparently she has also “blackened the sun, and blooded the moon.” Finally, he says “I accuse you of having a scorpion between your legs that destroys man’s conduct with god.” Strangely enough, he doesn’t mention that she shot someone, which seems to have triggered this whole event. He asks her if she wants to repent, but she bravely says “Just get on with it.”
So Longwind says “Let us pray.” And then he bows his head so that he can spout more of some of this movie’s excruciatingly bad dialogue. “Every tree is known by its fruits. This woman has brought forth bad fruit.” In case you were wondering, this movie has a solemn approach, I can find no evidence that this was intentionally dumb. I can only envision the audiences attending a screening of this movie also bringing forth bad fruit, which they hurl at the screen.
Suddenly, Mary appears on a carriage, riding towards them. Andie and Drew are on horseback. This causes a quite a lot of noise, but Longwind keeps reciting prayers to reduce the six to eight odd days they have to react. Suddenly, Maddy kicks the person holding her horse, and the horse takes off. Is this all she had to do? She could have escaped any time then!
As they ride out of town, the patrons from the bordello cheer, and the sheriff laughs. This must be the most ineffectual town in the West. They didn’t seem to be committed to hanging someone, but they were going to let it happen. Now they’re laughing it up? Capital punishment, good, clean, wholesome fun eh?
This by the way, is pretty much the movie. It consists of people getting captured under questionable or contrived circumstances, and then getting rescued by the remaining cast. So if you want, you can just rewind what’s gone before and watch it three times, and it’s the same thing in a fraction of the time.
After they head out of town, we get one of the movie’s many montages of them riding through puddles, through brush, etc. Their horses are still going full speed through most of it. Wow, those horses must have a lot of endurance.
A little later, the girls are watching Mary sit by the grave of James Crown (1861-1888). This was Mary’s husband, who according to the grave marker died of cholera on the Oregon trail.
Mary’s graveside monologue reveals that he died three years ago. The grave is in great condition to have been left unprotected for three years, but anyway. Mary says “I’m not exactly your brushing bride anymore. I know you don’t hold it against me but at least I never let another man kiss me.” Aha…the ol’ “I don’t kiss” thing from Pretty Woman, another gritty realistic portrayal of prostitution.
Maddy, our rough n’ gruff cowgirl, says “Let’s go. We don’t put ground between us and Echo City we won’t be going anywhere.” Hey, did this script go through any rewrites? If they aren’t putting ground between them and Echo City, then yes, logically, they aren’t going anywhere. I see this one is making a play for being the smart one of the group.
Back at Echo City, two black suited guys are disembarking from a train. They are Pinkerton detective agency guys looking for Mathilda Clayburt (actually, listed as “Clayborne” but sounds more like “Clayburt” in the movie), widow to the man Maddy shot. We see her in black riding in a carriage, with the sheriff protesting that the girls are now out of his jurisdiction.
This would seem to imply that he actually knows where they are, which is unlikely. Also, I really have to wonder just how seriously people are going to take this jurisdiction thing. If a criminal somebody really wants to hang flees over a border of some kind, they usually find away to continue the pursuit. Let’s not forget that this town was about to hang someone without trail. But dammit, they draw the line wherever the zoning board draws theirs!
The Widdah Clayburt says coldly “If you were anything more than a pile of manure, my Colonel might still be alive.” The sheriff points out a fact every one is thus far ignoring: “Nobody put a gun to his head and made him jump that whore!” Indeed. I find it hard to believe that nobody is making anything of the fact that the Colonel was cheating on his wife, most likely drunk, and fired twice, even though it was a woman and prostitute that killed him. There was a bar full of witnesses, and they’re not likely to want to see a local good time gal hanged.
Our two Pinkies meet up with the Widdah Clayburt. She has called them in especially to find Maddy, who she wants dead or brought back alive (don’t they always say that?). She gives them a bag of coins, and a sketch of her. I must say, Echo City has one impressive police artist. That is a damn fine drawing. Before they go, I’d recommend the Pinkertons go over to the crime lab and get a sample of her DNA and the FBI psych profile.
This too, is an example of the movie’s strange timing. How much time has passed? Screen transitions make it look like no more than a day or two. Time enough for the girls to run out of the jurisdiction, have a sketch of Maddy drawn up, and send for two detectives (who will catch up to the girls in a town maybe an hour after they arrive). And wouldn’t it be better to hire someone local who knew the territory?
Cut to another montage of the girls riding. Then we see them at a creek, where they’re dealing with a dislodged wheel from their wagon. Andie, Drew and Mary are struggling to put it back on, while tall dark and mysterious Maddy watches from horseback. You know, she’s supposed to be the one with the really dark past who stands back watching and calculating, but if I were one of these other girls I’d be shouting “Hey Marlboro woman! Act mysterious on your own time! Now get off your ass and help us!”
She doesn’t, but the three manage to get the wheel back on. Suddenly, there is the sound of a vague hissing. The horses take off, wagon in tow. Time for an “action” scene out of nowhere.
Drew takes off after it on horseback, so does Andie. At some point, Maddy dismounts and fires a gun at something off screen. What the hell is going on? If you’re good, you’ll realize that the hissing noise was a snake (and not the audience), which startled the horses and has now been shot. I guess they couldn’t afford an actual snake and snake wrangler, and were too embarrassed to use stock footage. Still, trying to get away with sound effects only is mighty lame. It’s not as bad as having one of the girls point off camera and say “Hey look at that snake! Sure hope it doesn’t startle the horses!” but it’s close.
Drew catches up to the wagon and jumps on. She nearly falls off the back, giving us the traditional character-lying-flat-on-back-looking-over-shoulder-to-see-ground-flashing-by shot. This is mandatory in movies with someone jumping from one moving thing to another. Drew eventually gets up, and shouts “Whoaa” a few times to slow the horses down.
Just as they’ve slowed down, Andie catches up and offers her own “Whoa, whoa now.” Gee, thanks Andie. We’ll let you know if there’s another crisis. Drew and Andie exchange some cover girl smiles. They are slightly smudged with dirt to show that the West was a real struggle for survival at times.
Later, it’s night and they’ve started up a campfire. Maddy is slicing up the snake for dinner. Okay, she’s the mysterious drifter type. She knows how to live off the land. So why did she become a prostitute? Generally speaking, women become prostitutes because of desperate economic necessity. But if Maddy is handy with a gun, can hunt and cook her own meals, she has other means of supporting herself. Did the local snake population dry up, forcing her to turn to other means?
“You can’t tell one meat from the other,” comments one of the girls. “Yeah, just like a man,” quips another. Drew asks if they’re going to find another saloon to work at. Maddy says “I’m finished with that” (So I guess she was a prostitute). Mary says, “Yeah so am I,” and unfolds an official-looking piece of paper.
“What is that, a stock certificate?” asks Andie. These prostitutes have a suspiciously wide range of knowledge. Is Andie going to advise Mary to invest in long term municipal bonds next?
Mary says “It’s a homesteader’s claim to 640 acres in the Oregon territory.” Mary explains that she and Jim came out west for it. All right, so presumably this plan went awry when Jimbo died. That’s certainly bad, but I don’t see why she sat on this claim for however many years after her husband died, and became a prostitute. Why not just sell the claim?
Drew asks “What’s it worth?” and Andy replies “A lot of hard work, and then once you got a farm the bank takes it away.” Yeah, that figures. Never once in the history of the West was a farm not imperiled by a greedy bank or an unscrupulous developer, or so the movies would have us believe.
Mary wants to start a sawmill. She figures that with all the development in the west, lumber is needed. When asked why she never mentioned this before, she says what the scriptwriters must have been saying when examining their characters’ motivations: “I don’t know.” Mary also says she wasn’t sure how to do things before, but now she has partners.
The others look skeptical, so Mary makes a rather unfortunate argument. When Clint Eastwood passes on, we will forever remember immortal lines such as “Go ahead, make my day” and “I’ve always been lucky when it comes to killin’ folks.” I’m sure Clint wouldn’t mind being remembered for these lines for eternity. Mary Stuart Masterton probably prays daily that she won’t be remembered in perpetuity for her next line in this movie:
“We sold our bodies, why can’t we sell some wood?”
Well, who could object to that reasoning? Maddy points out that the mill will need money, but fortunately, she has some, which she is willing to put towards their cause. She says it’s in a place called Agua Dulce (in Texas). She says she’s “been wiring it there for years…over 12,000 by now.”
TWELVE THOUSAND? Dollars?! I’m not prepared to do the economics or the math, but this has got to have been a colossal amount of money back then. Where the hell did she get this kind of money? Let’s put it in perspective: if Unforgiven is accurate (it takes place just a few years earlier), $1000 to kill two people is enough to attract hired killers from across the West into a tiny town in Wyoming. A bar/brothel is mentioned as costing $1000, and finally, to err…service their clientele, the prostitutes charge $1 a turn.
I can make all sorts of ungentlemanly comments about this character’s health and looks after earning 12 grand, but I’ll try to show a little more class. Instead, I will speculate that the only possible way that she could have made this kind of dough is to have owned that parlor. If so, it’s safe to call her an idiot for not protecting her business interests better.
Cut back to the grave of Mary’s husband. The Pinkies are trotting along slowly, and if they’re tracking them at this pace, our heroines will be in New Zealand before they catch up to them. Examining some tracks, one comments “Maybe a day old. They was pulling a wagon. If it don’t rain, it won’t be hard pickin’ ’em up.” Hmm, he’s get woodsy wisdom I see. Now where’s his justification for his analysis? I’m always suspicious of movies that show how “smart” their characters are by having them make these impressive pronouncements with no supporting evidence.
Picture the Sherlock Holmes stories. In every one, Holmes displays an incredible amount of insight, effortlessly describing events and crime scenes that baffle Watson, and the reader. But, after he’s made these assertions, he then goes on to justify them to stun Watson (and the reader again) with his intelligence. Now imagine if Holmes didn’t explain his deductions to Watson. Imagine that they just simply turned out to be true by the story’s end. See what I’m getting at here?
And now a scene that should have Jabootu fans reliving fond memories of Commando Girls. Our heroines have decided to take a bath in a stream. Yep, in their starkers. You’d think that since they’re being hunted they might want to post a watch, but anyway.
Yep, there are splashing fights, giggling and smiling. In my “unrated” version, a brief glimpse at Barrymore’s breasts is shown (there was no nudity in the original theatrical release). This is another curious parallel between Bad Girls and Commando Girls–only one actress was prepared (or compensated sufficiently) to bare all, and that was the woman who played Jan. Similarly, only Drew is exposed (and just twice, briefly).
Suddenly a guy appears in the bushes, watching them. Mary spots him and nods to Maddy, who goes to the side of the pool, grabs a gun, and climbs out. What’s strange is that the girls stop giggling and splashing, and watch fearfully. This would alert the person in the bushes that they were on to him, and yet Maddy still seems to be able to get the drop on him.
“Morning ma’am,” says the intruder, who turns out to be Joshua McCabe. Maddy cocks the gun. “Don’t go firing that thing I just want to show you something,” he says, and gives her a wanted poster with her image. “I must say the likeness doesn’t do you justice,” he says. I guess where he’s from they have Leonardo da Vinci drawing wanted posters.
Joshy explains that he’s a prospector heading north to the Klondike, where he’s got a claim. He’s planning to strike it big as soon as he gets “some…things taken care of.” Woo hoo! He’s a mysterious stranger all right. Specifically, it’s mysterious how he can find his way around. They are going from Colorado to Agua Dulce, Texas. That’s a trip southeast, not north. I must say Mr. McCoy is taking a rather inefficient route to his claim. Since she’s already spotted him once in her saloon (it was her saloon, wasn’t it?), she should know he’s covering something up.
She asks if he’s planning to collect the reward. He says he’s not, just riding in the same direction. Well, either he’s planning to travel across the Antarctic in order to get to the Klondike, or the ladies are planning to travel across the North Pole en route to Texas.
She tells him to be on his way. He replies, “Only if you put your clothes on.” Was that supposed to be funny? Before he goes, he mentions that they “put Pinkertons on your trial.”
Maddy turns around and says that they have to abandon the wagon, and be in Agua Dulce by tomorrow. Someone protests that this will mean leaving their possessions behind, but Maddy insists. The next day (presumably), they’re in Agua Dulce. I already feel a headache coming on trying to work together the quick cutting and the montages and determining how fast they got to Texas from Colorado, so I ain’t gonna bother no more. I will however, draw attention to the kid using a stick to push barrel band across the street. Did kids ever really do this?
Maddy steps into a hardware store and ask to buy a dress (wouldn’t a General Store be more appropriate?). The clerk in this store is in full compliance with Western ClichÃ© #452, Paragraph 3. This mandates: “Merchants must be dressed in white with an apron and a visor, and a black armband tied around their bicep.”
When asked what kind she wants, she says “One of them ready to wear kind like you see in that Sears catalogue.” Okay, Sears isn’t high on the product placement food chain, but be fair. You try to squeeze a product shot for Nike into a Western.
“I really think a woman look you would be happier shopping some place else,” says merchant. To show you don’t mess around with Maddy, she grabs him, pulls a gun on him, and jabs it under his chin. Why did the shopkeeper refuse to serve her? Got me. She wasn’t particularly scruffy-looking. We’re not talking Rodeo Drive here (I do have to wonder if this is some bizarre play on the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts isn’t permitted to shop in the fancy clothing stores). Anyway, way to keep a low profile Maddy. Pull a gun on the guy that wouldn’t sell you a dress, but not the folks that wanted to hang you. I’m sure this will sit well with the townsfolk. Or is the sheriff of Agua Dulce as equally effective as the one in Echo City?
Outside, Drew and Andie are sitting around, waiting for Maddy. A rancher walks up to the store and trips in front of them, sending the girls a’gigglin’. And thus does the character of William Tucker (James LeGros) make his dramatic entrance. Meanwhile, the tormented spirit of Sergio Leone slaps his spectral head and says “Damn, why didn’t I think of this scene?!” I’m sure of it.
Next, we see a middle-aged, well dressed and portly business guy coming out of a bank, and just to make sure we get it, he’s openly counting a large wad of money. This means something. Wait, don’t tell me…he’s…POOR! No, no, wait, I’ll get it, give me a minute…
Andie stands up and drops her handkerchief. No, really. “Captain, the ClichÃ©-O-Meterâ„¢ wasn’t built to take this kind of punishment!” The banker picks it up and hands it to her, and she starts flirting with him, trying to find a good place to stay. We now have sufficient dialogue to determine that Andie is not trying to do a bad Vietnamese accent, but a bad Scarlet O’Hara impersonation. Glad that’s settled.
The banker leans and whispers something to her. She does the faux haughty thing and says “How dare you cast such rude and salacious dispersions upon my person?” She then relents and flirts some more. Drew, looking on and rolling her eyes (winning audience sympathy), pipes up “Eileen, you don’t got to whore yourself with the first old fart that comes along.”
Andie immediately bursts into overly enthusiastic and grating laughter that makes you long for the quiet serenity of a fork being dragged down a chalkboard. Banker is offended and walks off. Andie protests that she’s “just trying to get something passable to eat.” Drew responds “Oh yeah, and I’m Wyatt Earp.” Wow, an authentic Old West reference. I wasn’t sure this was a Western before, but I’m convinced now.
A nauseating “buddy” scene follows (see IMMORTAL DIALOGUE). Maddy comes out of the hardware store in a new dress. The girls whistle at her as she heads over to the bank.
Next shot, she’s knocking on the door of the bank manager’s office. She explains that she wants to close up her account. The manager asks to see her bankbook, even though the deposits have been “wired” over (How exactly did this work, anyway?). Now Maddy does her own Southern Belle impersonation, offering up an excuse about a fire that is naturally too awful for a delicate lady to discuss. Now, in order to show the banker is buffoonish and gullible, Maddy is “acting” badly. However, judging from her other performances in this flick, it’s hard to separate her “bad” acting from the “good”. I haven’t seen Madeleine Stowe in anything that demonstrates great acting skills (Revenge, another potential Jabootu victim starred her and Kevin Costner). While nobody seems to be trying all that hard to act, what we’ve got here is a mediocre performer pretending to be a bad performer. It’s not much of a descent.
Outside, ominous music sounds as the Pinkerton guys arrive. They show somebody the poster of Maddy and ask if she’s been seen, explaining who she is. “Yep, these are some bad girls,” comments the cowboy. Hey! He said the title! Drew spots them.
Back at the bank, “cultured” music is playing. As Maddy waits for her money. Drew bursts in trying to warn her, stopping the cultured music. How rude! Maddy brushes her off. This is one of those scenes where three or so well placed words could instantly make the point (like “The Pinkertons are here!”), but instead the character insists on a jumble of vague statements that fail to click. Eventually, Drew is expelled from the room.
Meanwhile Andie finds Mary, who seems to praying at a makeshift shrine. There’s a pointless shot of them running across the street. It’s not clear what they’re up to. (We know Drew is trying to warn Maddy, so what are these two doing?). Still, if they run somewhere, anywhere, we’ll know that there’s TENSION in the scene.
Back at the bank, Maddy is presented with her money (good thing they had all this cash on hand. Wouldn’t this amount really drain a bank from this era?). Drew bursts in again and finally blurts out “The Pinkertons are coming.” But, the Pinkies come in right behind her and say “Wrong darlin,’ the Pinkertons are here” and they grab them both. The Pinkertons try to escort them outside the bank, but Drew breaks free, but is shoved down. Suddenly, one of the Pinkertons is staring into a revolver, wielded by Kid Jarrett (James Russo). The Kid orders him to drop his gun. Soon, both Pinkies are disarmed.
By happy coincidence, it looks like The Kid’s gang is robbing the bank. And The Kid is an old pal of Maddy’s. Spotting her, he utters a greeting that belongs in IMMORTAL DIALOGUE. I just wish I understood it.
Observing that they’re both “making a withdrawal,” The Kid orders the banker to give her the money. He says “For old times,” and kisses her. The bandits scurry from the bank, and then ride through town, shooting at deputies who have somehow gotten wind of the robbery and are attacking.
The girls rush outside to get to their horses. Time for Contrived Capture Scene #2. The girls mount their horses, except Andie, who is having trouble getting on. This mimics a few scenes in Unforgiven where Munny–a former notorious outlaw but now past his prime–has trouble mounting his uncooperative horse. In the first few scenes of that movie, it was genuinely humorous, although there was one scene where it became extremely tense. Here, it’s just lame. Okay, so Andie’s wearing a dress, and women’s fashion back then wasn’t exactly suited to quick motion. Fine. But Maddy is standing there watching her struggle with the horse, instead of helping her. I also recall her apparently leaping on a horse with all speed in order to chase their runaway wagon. She was wearing a dress then too.
While this is going on, The Kid rides by. In an utterly impossible move, he reaches down into the cleavage of Maddy’s dress and grabs her money. She has all the time in the world to stop this, and all she has to do is take a step backwards. But since this film has a ways to go, she doesn’t.
“You know where to find me darlin,'” he says, and takes off. It would have been much easier to take the money from her in the bank, but anyway. She calls him an SOB and then she gets on her horse. The other three girls ride off, leaving Andie behind. What great friends.
Before the scene cuts, we see Andie pathetically rolling around in the street. She should be covered from head to toe (Horses use these roads, after all) but she only looks a little dusty. She’s taken prisoner, a scene that is shown in slo-mo for some reason.
The Sheriff hauls her towards jail. The Sheriff deputizes Tucker (the guy who tripped). Tucker is obviously holding a box of dynamite. This sets up later scenes in the movie. Be sure you remember this box when we learn Tucker’s job.
Sheriff tells Tucker to bring Andie to jail. Tucker protests that he’s got to get back to his place, but the sheriff insists. “I heard you twice the first time,” gripes Tucker (?). Suddenly, we’re looking at a crowd of men who have gathered around for no apparent reason. The Sheriff asks for volunteers to ride after the bandits. “We gotta get them before they cross the river!” he declares. It’s that old jurisdiction thing.
Volunteers aren’t coming forth. This street was empty a minute ago. Apparently these people gathered around the Sheriff in order to shamefacedly not volunteer to go after the bandits. Joshy appears though, and he’s game.
The Sheriff berates the crowd, and then gets three more volunteers. Sheriff seems to think this is sufficient to go after a gang that is at least the same size. Personally, I’d hold out for a few more guys.
A little later, Andie is not being escorted by Tucker to jail. Instead, one of the deputies wounded during the robbery is leading her in. Tucker, strangely, is already inside.
As the scene opens, we arrive in the middle of some heated exchange between deputy and Andie. She’s grumbling something “…like a big man?” (?) He replies something like “feels like my damn shoulder hurts,” and then tells her to “Sit down, and act like a lady,” but this is totally unfair. “Acting” is clearly out of her league.
Meanwhile, the bandits ride across the river. There seem to be just four of them. This river must be about ten minutes away from town. Our sheriff must have really small jurisdiction.
Back at the cell, Tucker is guarding Andie. (Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the wounded deputy guard her, and have Tucker ride with the posse?). She asks if she looks like a criminal and tries to get him to let her go. He says he’d like to but he can’t. She begins to fake crying. Once again the movie makes the mistake of having its performers “act badly” when they really haven’t tried any good acting.
He tells her not to cry and that “the sheriff will straighten everything out when he gets back.” She snorts, and the scene ends. You can’t possibly guess it since this scene registers about as much impact as a bullet on Superman, but this is the beginning of a romantic subplot. Is the raw sexual tension making you sweat yet?
Back to the river, where the posse has arrived. The sheriff says “We ain’t the law over there,” and they start to ride back. This is crazy. We’re not talking about the border between two nations here. We are talking about two different counties at most (and one of them is a very small county, apparently). Law enforcement in frontier territory is different from law enforcement in settled areas.
The idea is that the sheriff’s range of powers is much broader than a normal cop’s. The rules of civilization haven’t fully taken hold out here, which is why the sheriff can improvise. Why he can deputize farmers and have them help him chase criminals. Why he can chase a bandit across the state. Let’s look at it this way: if he goes out of his jurisdiction and arrests The Kid, what’s going to happen? The courts will say The Kid must go free because the arrest is invalid? I don’t think so. And at the very least, why not visit the sheriff of whatever county they are in and tell them to do something?
Josh, apparently recognizing the idiocy of these rules, keeps on going anyway. The other posse members don’t seem to notice. With these sharp-eyed cowpokes, Kid didn’t have to run across the river. He and his gang could have hid behind a single cactus.
Cut to a camp at night, where the three remaining girls are arguing. Drew is demanding that they rescue Andie, but Maddy doesn’t seem so interested. Drew protests that they rescued Maddy, who says “Well, that was lucky.” No, it was incredible incompetence on the part of the churchy types, but anyway.
Despite Drew’s fears that Eileen will be hung, Maddy says it won’t happen, and instead she is going to see The Kid, which she identifies as “our best chance.” Best chance of what?
Mary reminds Maddy “that son of a bitch has been nothing but trouble to you” and this morning he stole their money. Maddy offers up this shaky reasoning: “That’s Kid’s way of inviting me to come over.” She further explains “You don’t know him. He’s bored. He’ll give us back our money and spring Eileen just for the hell of it.”
“You’re rating yourself awful high, Cody.” Mmm-hmm. She is. Filmgoers and critics weren’t as giving.
By the way, ever since I read the book Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol J. Clover there’s something I never fail to notice in a movie. All too often, in a movie that puffs itself up to have a STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER (as if they invented the idea), frequently gives the STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER a male or gender-neutral name. For example, Sigourney Weaver is not known in the Alien series as “Ellen” but as “Ripley,” her last name. It’s especially prevalent in horror movies (“Stretch” of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II). And since the Maximum Overdrive review didn’t seem to satisfy my urge to trash Stephen King, the STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER of the awful novel Gerald’s Game was “Jesse.” It’s almost as if the filmmakers or whatever aren’t really creating a female character, but a transplanted male. So what do you think of that, CODY?
“I ran with that gang, I know what I’m doing,” insists Maddy, and warns them if they don’t do what she tells them, they’re both out. She warns them to stay here. Which they’ll do, I’m sure. Strangely, tender music begins playing as she rides off.
Back at the jailhouse, there’s a grueling scene of torture. No, Andie isn’t being beaten. They’re working on that romantic subplot again. I meant audience torture.
“My Daddy had a big house in the quarter,” Andie is saying. “That’s the French Quarter.” Yes, thank you. “Parlez francais?” she asks. Hey, that time with GÃ©rard Depardieu in Green Card really paid off! Too bad she couldn’t have picked up a few acting tips from Depardieu too.
Tucker isn’t so cosmopolitan, so Andie has to explain “it’s French.” No, please, don’t say it. Don’t say-
“It’s the language of love, you know.” Dammit Andie! You broke the ClichÃ©-O-Meterâ„¢!
“I didn’t know the language of love had words, ma’am,” says Tucker. “Oh my yes. I could teach you.” He gulps, but she’s only talking about French. I guess he was worried she was going to give him some acting tips too.
Tucker reveals he’s a rancher. He owns some land with cattle called the Circle Bar T. I’m a huge Unforgiven fan, and I can’t help but observe that Clint Eastwood’s movie had a ranch called the Bar T. Geez, I’ll bet more imagination went into the catering for this film. Now that we know Tucker is a rancher though, its begs this question: What the hell was he doing with dynamite? Planning to have some really well done burgers?
Dissolve to some pigs. We’re now seeing the bandits’ hideout. I’ll bet this is supposed to be symbolic. The villain’s HQ seems to be a very small town, only a few crowded buildings. According to the IMDB, both Agua Dulce and this set were originally built for the John Wayne movie The Alamo. Thus, Bad Girls makes Jabootu history with the first set that can be ranked on the Embarrassed Actors’ Scale(tm) .
Maddy rides up, and after a quick conversation in Spanish with the sentry (She can speak two languages, knows how to live off the land, and is a good shot. So she became…a prostitute), she’s allowed in. There are no subtitles for this conversation, interestingly enough. One of The Kid’s men makes a lewd remark at her (you just know he’s gonna get it for that later), and the sentry leads her into camp after confiscating her gun.
On the way in, she meets an old man sitting lazily in a chair. This is The Kid’s father (who looks nothing like him) Frank Jarrett (movie workhorse Robert Loggia). Apparently they are friends, and talk briefly about it being awhile. They hug, although Maddy is oddly stiff. Okay, somebody’s got their character wrong here, and I think it’s Loggia. Frank feels like a genuinely nice guy here. And yet, Maddy is stiff (so stiff that we can see it is beyond Stowe’s wooden acting). Later, Frank will turn into a jerk. No, it doesn’t seem like the character was hiding his duplicity. Loggia’s performance is so laid back that there’s no hint of future treachery. It feels more like Loggia completely changed his mind about how to portray his character.
The Kid appears, so he and Maddy go off to chat. They pass through The Kid’s “office” I guess you could say, where some of his goons are looking over what looks like an ad for a gattling gun (“I’ll just have one of them gattling guns like in that Sears catalogue”?)
“Playing with the big guns now, Kid?” inquires witty Maddy. “Well, you know I always did like playing with things,” replies Kid jovially. Maddy simply says “Uhm huh” like she hardly cares. What, no easy masturbation joke?
Kid reveals he’s learned of a shipment of these guns (as in, a US military shipment), which he plans to rob. Kid doesn’t look like he has the kind of firepower or men necessary to do this, but apparently looks are deceiving, or circumstances are contrived. Kid next begins crowing about the time they “ran guns from Durango to…” oh, wherever, and offers her a bottle. It’s held to look vaguely phallic. She passes on the bottle. Symbolism, perhaps?
For some reason, this gets her called a “lyin’ bitch.” There’s some more crap in which Kid teases her about her plans, zzzzzzzzz…Finally she asks for the money back. After teasing her a little more, he finally coughs it up. She thanks him and tries to walk away. But suddenly Kid asks “What makes you think Oregon’s any different?” Different from what? “New start for an old whore,” he adds. Yeah, look at her with the Cosmopolitan cover looks. She’s practically decrepit.
“Why don’t you just say it kid,” demands Maddy. “You’re still sore at me for running out on you.”
“Sore? Why would I be sore? Just because you ran out on me in the middle of the night without saying a word?” The Kid is a jerk, but we’ve seen nothing about Maddy’s personality that indicates why she’d want to leave her life as an outlaw to become a prostitute. Since the scriptwriters haven’t developed her character this far, they have her try to leave instead of answer. The Kid grabs a bullwhip, and nails her around the neck, slo-mo. Incidentally, the whip is not a thing for grabbing. It is a thing for inflicting serious damage. I wonder how on Earth Maddy’s neck is unblemished in later scenes.
Cut back to the camp, where Drew is getting more impatient. “She ain’t coming back,” declares Drew, so she’s off to get Andie herself. Mary asks what Maddy will do when she comes back. Uh, Mary? Drew just said she’s of the opinion she’s not coming back. Drew forgets this too. She says “Don’t worry about it, she’ll wait.”
Drew gets on a horse and rides off, leaving two behind. Two? Andie’s horse is in town, Maddy rode off on hers, so did Drew just now, and one is Mary’s. Where did the extra horse come from? Is it the extra horse from the wagon? They rode into town with just four horses…
Dissolve to a trail at night. Joshua sees a horse in the distance. On top and barely conscious (like the audience) is Maddy. Josh rides up to her and holds her. As he does, she murmurs “Don’t hurt me.”
Sigh, where to begin. It will be implied, though never overtly stated or shown, that the bandits are rapists. Nothing actually occurs on screen, and at no point does any character say “I was” or “She was raped.” However, in the eyes of this juror, there is evidence beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt. There will be one more victim, and another is spoken of, the crime occurring years before.
I really have to wonder where the movie’s head at it is regarding the topic. They do not use it exploitatively, really–no major movie production would dare do this anymore (more to avoid outcry and bad press than any moral commitment I fear). On the other hand, they also don’t try to use it to express the horror of the crime. It just sort of seems to sit there. And rape is not an issue you play with in a film. In an era where it’s still a huge problem and a subject that raises powerful emotions, you either handle it very carefully and you handle it right, or you don’t handle it at all. You can’t just juggle it like it’s some vaguely interesting concept.
I think what they’re trying to do by these heavily implied rapes is to cheaply raise the audience’s hatred of the bandits. Look at this horrible thing that they’ve done! Dontcha hate ’em? Cantcha just wait until Maddy and the other girls blow ’em away? But once again, here is Madeleine Stowe, looking ever glamorous. Events of this movie will suggest that the only consequence of rape is that your hair gets slightly mussed. Rape is a crime that cripples its victims mentally and physically. By treating it so carelessly you undermine the seriousness of the issue, and the spirit of the characters. A number of extremely offensive messages can be taken away from this. For example: Cody is able to recover from the rape so quickly because she’s a prostitute, and rape wouldn’t be so bad for her. Like the racial subtext of Clan of the Cave Bear, I do not think this was deliberate. But as Ken observed “It’s kind of there anyway.”
Cut back to town, where the two Pinkertons are walking merrily along, apparently after having a few brewskies. Well, I’m glad to see they’re on the case. Where have they been all this time? One of Maddy’s gang is sitting in a cell in this town, so they set up a stakeout…in the local tavern. This movie began positioning them as a large threat against our heroines, but when they couldn’t think of anything interesting to have them do, abandoned them pretty quickly.
While chatting about the electric chair (no anachronism, they were in use by this time) they spot Josh carrying Maddy. It’s at some distance, but one of them is sharp-eyed and is pretty convinced it’s Maddy. He’s VERY sharp-eyed if he can recognize her in the dark, a little drunk, and quite a distance away with hair obscuring her face. The other has doubts, but they investigate anyway.
Joshy takes Maddy into a tent, labeled “Mystic Healing Methods While U Wait.” Well, not really, but it is time for one of the dreary scenes were the main character, having had the tar knocked out of them, is nursed back to health using a different culture’s “ancient ways.” This one does manage to cloud the stereotype a little by making the healer Chinese, not Native American.
Joshy hears the Pinkertons coming and goes out to intercept. He pretends to overhear that they’re looking for Maddy, and hints that he knows where she is. Our Pinkertons apparently don’t notice he’s dressed exactly like the man who was carrying a person they thought was Maddy fifteen seconds ago.
The Pinkies offer up a bribe to Josh. “500 wired to you when we get her,” they say. Hey, everybody “wires” everyone else money in this movie. I guess American Express issues traveler’s cheques in the event of lost or stolen credit cards.
Josh says “she’s heading up river with Kid Jarrett.” This makes them happy, as they now believe they have the chance of nailing both Maddy and Kid. My US geography ain’t so hot, but they don’t seem to care which river. I guess Texas only has one. They never ask for Joshy’s name to wire him the bucks though.
Pinkies dealt with, Josh goes back inside. Time for Western ClichÃ© #306, Paragraph 2, “the cauterizing of wounds with gunpowder.” Maddy, half-conscious, yelps as she gets the treatment. I think that this would hurt just a touch more than that. She doesn’t even struggle.
Meanwhile at the cell, the wounded deputy spots Andie and Tucker chatting, and gets pissed. Tucker protests he’s been “interrogating the prisoner.” Deputy responds “Well you ain’t trained for that.” Interrogation, or acting?
Suddenly, in pops Drew, wearing a white dress that emphasizes her cleavage. Drew says she wants to turn herself in. Cut quickly outside, where Mary has appeared at Andie’s cell window. This is a pretty tight close-up of Mary’s face, and we notice that there is rope tied around the bars. Yep, Western ClichÃ© #82, Paragraph 1, “the ol’ escape from cell by horses pulling out the bars thing.”
Mary calls Andie over. As we switch shots to see Andie approach the window, Mary slips a length of rope through the bars, and the first coil of rope has vanished. Oopsie, continuity…
Back in the cell, Drew is swooning, tossing off not so subtle double-entendres. “You don’t know how hard it is being hunted, men wanting you everywhere you go.” Hormones sufficiently aroused, Deputy sends Tucker back in to check on Andie. A while later, she hikes up her dress to reveal her legs to point out a bruise. Once again I am inclined to suspect that Barrymore was the only actress who agreed to have her body shown off like this. The rest will remain surprisingly well clothed for prostitutes, even in the early scenes when they’re on the job, so to speak.
Outside Mary has tied the other end of the rope to the wagon axle, but as she orders the horses to take off, the wheels come off the wagon, but the wall remains intact. Okay, full credit to the movie for doing this. I’ve always wanted to see a Western where this happened.
Deputy hears the ruckus, and although Drew tries to distract him some more, he dashes outside. Good idea to leave her inside the jail unguarded, huh? Anyway, Deputy runs outside, and Mary hits him with a log, knocking him cold.
Inside the cell, Andie is still trying to convince Tucker to let her out. She says has a chance to do good, “Someone is in real trouble. I swear on my honor as a southern woman.” Finally he relents, and lets her out. Need I mention that this is the second time the girls have initiated a rescue, only to have the person captured release herself? I’m not even sure the diversions mattered. Anyway, Andie is released from the cell, and none-to-convincingly pushes Tucker inside, closing it again.
They get on horses and escape, but while riding by the healer’s tent, they spot Maddy’s horse and recognize it (sure was nice of the bandits to let her keep it, huh?). Mary says she’ll check it out, while Drew and Andie head up to the Circle Bar T. Fortunately, they’ve read the script so they know that they won’t encounter any trouble in the tent, and that Tucker won’t be so furious as to call in the sheriff to arrest the lot of them when he sees them on his property.
Inside the tent, Maddy is up, needing a little refreshing of her makeup and a comb. Like I said, she was savagely beaten. She says “Well Mr. McCoy, you seem to be muh lucky penny.”
“It weren’t no accident,” Joshy confesses. “I was in Echo City, than I tracked you here. Word was that you had a history with the Jarretts.” Turns out Frank Jarrett killed his father, and he has a score to settle with him. Outside, Mary is listening in on this.
Joshua mentions that “my mom was done like you was. She lived on a few years…I swore on her grave I’d live to see Frank Jarrett die.” Once again, the implication here is rape, perhaps even gang rape. Later words from Frank Jarrett will reinforce this suspicion. And again, Maddy looks far too good for this sort of attack.
Maddy says “So you figured that Jarrett’s whore might lead you back to him?” she asks. “Yes ma’am,” he says politely. Sparks fail to fly. Mary enters and Josh disappears. At the sight of Mary, she says “I didn’t get our money.” Yeah, and most movie-goers who paid to see this didn’t get their money back, so you get no sympathy from me. They embrace.
Next, it’s daylight, and Andy and Drew arrive at the Circle Bar T, which Drew remarks is “big.” Actually, it is huge. There is field after field of carefully raised fences, and the property is clipped clean, nary a weed in sight. Unless Tucker is a workaholic who gets about 2 hours of sleep a night, no way could one person maintain all this.
Andie however demurs, and begins spouting off some of the lamest dialogue of the movie. She’s supposed to be the wise one explaining to Drew the ways of the land, but it’s utterly ridiculous. And thanks to Ken for pointed out that filmmakers often try to throw in some nice scenery to disguise lame dialogue. Again, it doesn’t work.
“Ha. This ain’t so big,” scoffs Andie. “This used to all be free range. Law of the land was cows could go where they pleased.” Anyone out there know what she’s talking about? Does she mean that before evil humans moved in and took over the land, the noble cow was free to gallop majestically across the plains? Or does she simply mean that farmers were allowed to let their herds wherever they pleased?
“See that barbed wire? That gave small ranchers like Tucker a chance to get started without being over-run by the cattle from the big outfits.” Andie, stop. My brain is beginning to hurt. So, evil cattle barons were stopped by wily small farmers and…fences?
“You know folks say the west was conquered by the railroad. Muh uh. My daddy says it was conquered by barbed wire. Daddy also used to call me ‘Edward’ and mistook the goat for James K. Polk.” All right, I improvised this last bit of dialogue. But Daddy was obviously crazy, an idiot, or both. I don’t think that anyone who seriously wants to put a small farm out of business would be slowed down significantly by a fence. And you know what? I’ll bet larger ranchers also developed their own fence technology to keep their cows apart from other ranchers.
“You sure know a lot about this for a fine southern lady from New Orleans,” observes Drew. If Drew thinks this is impressive knowledge, she must have problems identifying horses from trees.
Now Andie confesses her deep dark secret. She’s not really from New Orleans. YOU MEAN…THAT ACCENT WAS FAKE? Andie says she “grew up on an east Texas grub ranch not much different than this one.” Grub ranch? This is about the cleanest and nicest ranch I’ve ever seen. There’s not a stray cow pat anywhere, and you could golf on those fields. I guess on those big cattle baron ranches each cow has its own private condo.
Drew says she doesn’t know much about grub ranches, but it sure looks nice to her. Andie concedes “It’s got possibilities.” Did you say the same thing about the script to this movie, Andie? Are you sure you’re qualified to judge what has possibilities?
Meanwhile, at Villain HQ, Kid and his gang are going over their nefarious plans. In marches Frank for a very short, very pointless scene of high drama.
“Well, ain’t this sweet,” sneers Frank, suddenly undergoing a total change of personality from his previous scene. “Little boy’s gonna rob an army choo-choo. Gonna get himself a big new toy gun.”
“That gun’s going to make me rich old man,” declares Kid. Father walks off, end of scene. Whoa, what drama. I need to change my shorts.
Back at the homestead, Tucker arrives accompanied by dopey music. That box of dynamite is conspicuously in his hands. I still don’t know why a cattle rancher would need this. Very stubborn weeds in the garden?
Well, the whole gang is here, much to Tucker’s chagrin. Andie is making stew. The camera pans down to meaningfully show her bare feet. Is this supposed to be a savagely ironic play on that “keep ’em barefoot and pregnant” thing? Since Andie’s been one of the more ineffective of the group, this doesn’t exactly turn the stereotype on its ear. She makes a more convincing housewife than outlaw or prostitute.
Tucker boils, and when he tries to go into his room, Joshy emerges to say that Maddy is sleeping in there. “Why don’t y’all just make yourselves at home,” bursts out Tucker. He goes outside and stamps his feet and curses. This is supposed to be comical, though nothing we’ve seen demonstrates that Tucker would merely be mad, instead of disarmingly pleasant while he tries to figure out a way to secretly contact the sheriff. But he relents. He says he’s been out here alone ever since his “family died.” He must be worked to death maintaining this property alone. Tucker says “I guess I wouldn’t be much of a man if I wasn’t hospitable. Welcome to my home.” Awww…Puke.
That night we get another auteur-ish tracking shot of the ranch. Mary reads an article to Drew from the paper: “The population of the United States is over 63 million people now,” says Mary. “They sure ain’t here,” astutely observes Drew. Why yes, Drew. In fact there are only half a dozen people in the immediate vicinity. You would need substantially more people to reach 63 million. Nothing escapes you, eh?
Also in this shot, we can just make out one of the girls through the window. I think it’s Andie, who seems to be serving supper to Tucker. All right, a powerful feminist message. You see, it’s wrong to berate them for being prostitutes, because in every prostitute there’s a housewife trying to get out. I guess I won’t be seeing Gloria Steinem’s name attached to this script.
And now we work on the romantic subplots. Maddy and Josh are back together. Although Joshy says he’s leaving to let her rest, she says she doesn’t want to be alone. Josh says “That’s funny.” Maddy says “Funnier than you know.” Funnier than the audience knows too. What is she talking about? They hold hands, and play a quick game of “handsies.”
Meanwhile, Tucker is playing the guitar, and he and Andie do a nauseating “Let me show you how to dance” routine, while Drew and Mary look on and giggle. Yep, they’re world-weary seen-it-all prostitutes all right.
All right, time to get to the not so great train robbery. We see a small blockade on the tracks that might stop an unambitious cow, and a rifleman holding up two conductors.
The Kid has his pistols trained on four soldiers, who seem to be the entire military escort for this train. I find this whole setup very suspicious. The Kid’s gang isn’t very big–half a dozen give or take. That seems to be a pretty small group to hit a train carrying military supplies. Wouldn’t there be soldiers all over this train, especially since it’s carrying what was then top military weaponry? Well, oddly enough maybe not: there are exactly two gattling guns on this train. It seems a little odd that the military would make a train trip just for two guns.
Kid orders the soldiers to strip while his boys load the guns on to a wagon. Kid forces them into Western ClichÃ© #12, Paragraph 2: “forced to dance at gunpoint.”
Maddy meanwhile is watching all this with a telescope (where did she get that?). Maddy seems to be fully recovered from the beating they gave her–not a hair out of place. It seems our bad girls have somehow divined where the train robbery will take place and the route the wagon carrying the guns will be following, because they’ve arranged a post-robbery ambush.
Joshy detonates some dynamite. I guess Tucker the cattle rancher bought this in case he ever had to set up an ambush. As you know, dynamite is extremely powerful stuff, and its effect here is devastating. It kicks up a big cloud of dirt and scares the horses. Shocking.
The girls begin shooting, in one of the most unexciting gunfights I have ever witnessed. It’s plodding, and nobody can seem to hit anybody else. It’s kinda strange that there’s anything to shoot at all after the dynamite, but that’s besides the point.
Kid’s men begin to desert. The Kid shoots one traitor–the wagon driver–in the back. Very good. This is the first wound dealt during the fight. Andie, toting a rifle, runs out of ammo. Tucker stands up to shoot the person she was shooting at, and gets shot himself.
Josh throws a stick of dynamite just a few feet behind the guy that shot Tucker. Finally, we see the true destructive force of dynamite. The blast knocks him down and appears to give him a mild back pain. Fortunately, the pain isn’t so severe that he can’t get on his horse and ride off.
While this is going on, Mary commandeers the wagon with the guns and rides off. The Kid sees this, and seems about to pursue, but then along comes Daddy Frank.
“You dumb ass!” he crows. “Ain’t nothin’ but Cody and a bunch of women! Better go find your toy sonny!” Why does Kid keep him around? If he’s not going to help, just be a pain, why hasn’t he shot him or sent him away a long time ago?
Kid hisses at him (no seriously), and rides off. Maddy has heard this exchange, so we know it’s okay for them to blow Frank away later.
Josh apparently has gone to get his horse, and rides at Frank. Frank and Josh draw guns. Josh shoots him, and he falls off his horse.
Contrived Capture Scene #3: Maddy spots Drew, who hasn’t been doing much of anything, apparently. Maddy nods at her, so Drew runs out onto the road, where she is instantly spotted by Kid. I guess this nod meant “Go ahead and run out into the open and get captured stupidly.” Kid uses his whip to lasso her, and easily (yeah, sure) hauls her up on his horse and rides off. Drew doesn’t defend herself very effectively, and Maddy for some reason leaves behind a rifle to run out on to the road to watch him disappear with Drew.
Josh meanwhile is ready to pop the injured Frank, but Maddy stops him, wishing to arrange a swap for Drew. You know, if they knew about the robbery, they could have gone right to Kid’s camp and taken the money back while he was gone, or attack the bandits during the robbery itself. There really was no need to steal the guns.
Back at camp, Jarrett is arriving with Drew, and she doesn’t seem to be struggling much. The other members of his gang are still there, and they mumble their excuses for running off. Strangely, Jarrett doesn’t seem to care too much. Most movie villains would have dug a few graves and put an ad in the classifieds for new henchman by now. Jarrett says they will trade Drew for the guns, and hauls her out of sight, but not before we can quite plainly see that she has two revolvers on her belt.
Now, don’t tell me that Drew is out of ammo. Nobody with 1/30th of a brain would ever consider letting their prisoner carry two pistols. Just one live round turns it into a killing machine again. Not to mention their intimidation value. Few people with one pressed to their head will take a chance on it not being loaded. In fact, one rule that was drilled into my head when I was taught firearm safety pretty much sums it up: “There’s no such thing as an unloaded gun.”
At Tucker’s ranch, the girls open the guns. “We trade Frank for Lilly, when we get her, we give kid this toy, and get out money back,” says Maddy. But Mary isn’t as confident. She says the only reason she’s with kid is because they went after him in the first place. Uh oh, division time. Though we might ask Mary what they were supposed to do. Let the Kid have their money?
“All you care about is revenge on kid,” accuses Mary. “You went with us Anita, you came along,” points out Maddy. Mary cries “None of this should ever have happened.” Hell, I was saying that five minutes in.
“We have no choice!” says Andie as Mary walks away. “We have to get Lilly.” Mary cries “I know!” Yeah, so do we. She must be fed up with the repetitive script like us too.
Mary goes to get a drink of water. Frank, who is tied up nearby, asks for water too. She gives him some, and then he begins to taunt her. Somehow, he knows their whole plan. “It’s just that I’ve never heard of no single Miss holding a claim for land, in Oregon that is.” Mary says “Well just because you haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean it can’t happen.” She’s spooked though, and is later seen riding off on her own.
Back to Kid’s hideout. Kid’s gang is leering at Drew. There’s some “defiant” dialogue from her (SEE IMMORTAL DIALOGUE). Kid makes the following mysterious observation. “You don’t look much like a poor horse girl in those pancy boots!” The gets the gang laughing. Yes, he did say “pancy.” I think Russo accidentally mispronounced “fancy.”
Now they reveal Drew’s background (a little late, dontcha think?). Her father worked in a Wild West show, and no joke, his name was “Roy.” I wonder if he wore sequined shirts? He died, and the show died with him. She started working as a prostitute to cover his debts.
“Well ain’t you daddy’s sweet little girl,” sneers Kid. This gets the cowboys guffawing again. Since what he said isn’t particularly funny, I guess we can assume that they’re laughing at his gravel “villain” voice, which sounds more like he’s going through puberty.
Drew lunges at him, but they restrain her. Kid orders them to “break her in” which is funny, because nothing much is happening at the start of the next scene.
Now we rejoin Mary at a law office, checking up on the validity of her claim. A lawyer says it’s fine. Next, Mary asks if it’s still valid if her husband is deceased. Strangely, he grabs a textbook and looks up the answer. Would he really not know this off the top of his head? After reading for a bit, he apologizes, and tells her the claim is worthless.
I admit that I don’t know the history of the West or the rights of women inside and out, but this strikes me as heavily contrived. Why would the claim be invalid? Wouldn’t ownership automatically revert to next of kin (i.e. her)? Look at it this way. Let’s say that her husband didn’t die before the claim was occupied. Let’s say he died two weeks after they took up the claim. Would she still lose it? Doesn’t seem likely. Widows have
been inheriting husband’s property for centuries. It is true that women with a high degree of economic clout are less likely to be victimized by a legal system (say, one that could afford to hire her own lawyer), but then it becomes a class issue, not a gender issue.
Interestingly they do not quote any kind of specific passage that explains why the claim would be invalid. Could it be because they don’t have one? This is pretty sad. Nobody would argue that the lot of women back then wasn’t pretty bad. And yet, the scriptwriters found the need to embellish the story in order to establish the point. There are probably hundreds of ways in which they could have demonstrated the oppression of women without making something up.
Well, it’s time for a speech anyway. “I was worthless until I married, so now I guess I’m worthless as a widow,” says Mary. “Funny, I had some value as a whore. Did I shock you?” she demands. “You expect me to cry over your big desk?” Granting for a moment that this weird regulation exists, I should point out that the lawyer has actually been polite and courteous so far, and apologetic when he broke the bad news. Yes it sucks, but it’s not his fault.
“Well to hell with that,” cries Mary. “If your laws don’t include me, than they just don’t apply to me either.” Word, sister! Except that by definition that if the laws don’t include you, they don’t apply to you. For example, laws prohibiting the sale of chimps don’t make mention of me, so I would hope we can safely conclude they don’t apply to me. They might apply to the scriptwriters though.
Mary goes to leave, but the lawyer wants six bits in exchange for his services. She throws some money at him and says “Keep the change, you sawed off old fart.” I guess I’m supposed to be cheering this newly empowered woman, but I can’t help but think that the lawyer actually isn’t the problem here. He did not personally decide that the claim was worthless. She’s shooting the messenger. I guess that since this isn’t a court room drama, which is the only place in Hollywood courts where good lawyers are allowed to exist, that he’s an evil lawyer.
Back at the Circle Bar T, Josh and Maddy are giving Frank some grub. He tosses it away. Then he starts leering about how he found Maddy scrubbing floors in a parlor house when she was 14. Among other things, he implies they slept together. He makes fun of Josh for being “a love sick pretty boy.” He also smirks that Maddy won’t let Josh kill him. “Nothing’s changed,” says Josh, whipping out a pistol. “You’re dead. I just ain’t killed you yet.”
Frank starts singing some song (no, I didn’t bother trying to make out the lyrics). Josh goes off to comfort Maddy, who’s broken up with the painful reminder. Wait, something fishy about this…
The next morning, Frank decides to taunt Josh about his mother. Again, it’s implied she was raped her.
Across the camp, a gunshot rings out. Maddy runs over to see Frank lying on the ground dead, but thankfully still obeying the laws of Western ClichÃ© 22, paragraph 2: “Not even hurricane-force winds can separate a cowboy’s hat from his head.”
Josh says he was trying to escape so he shot him. Nice alibi, Joshy. Maddy says “Did you shoot him before or after you untied him?” Josh growls “He brought it on himself.”
Maddy complains now they have nothing to trade for Drew, which isn’t true. So far the Kid seems to be more attached to his guns than anything else, and Kid himself even said he wasn’t interested in their money earlier. It seems to me that they still have bargaining power for both.
Maddy pulls a gun on him and says “Get the hell out of my sight. Keep riding until you hit the Klondike.” Josh says “Ok, but I’ll need to borrow one of those super-endurance horses you rode during the first montage.” Okay, no he doesn’t. He just rides off.
Aha, I just caught it. It just occurred to me that we’ve witnessed an interestingly parallel. Frank taunts Maddy. What does she do? She suppresses her anger and starts crying. Ain’t that just like a woman? Then Frank taunts Joshy. What does he do? Gets mad, whips out a gun and shoots him. Ain’t that just like a man? See AFTERTHOUGHTS for discussion.
Mary arrives next. She explains that the land claim is no good. Andie gives Mary a gun, and they decide to go get Drew.
Back at Villain HQ, Drew is staring icily at her captors. They ask what she’s looking at, and she eloquently replies. “Pigs.” Aha, remember the first time we saw this place? It started with an establishing shot of a pigpen. Subtle. Toldja it was symbolism.
Kid tells her she’s going to be here awhile so she should be “friendly and get to know everyone,” another hint at rape. He introduces his thugs, then tells one of them to get one of Maddy’s old dresses. Hmm. Two possible situations here. Kid has been hauling around a female wardrobe (including a full-length mirror) during his nomadic bandit travels. Or, Maddy, has been sending her life savings to a town right next to her old flame, an outlaw who might be very sore about her bolting on him. Reaction to either situation: yeah, sure.
Kiddy forces her to have a drink. Drew grabs the bottle and chugs away. The outlaws like that. This scene may have been meant to show the bottle as a phallic symbol. There was an early scene with Maddy and The Kid where the bottle was used this way. Here, booze dribbles down Drew’s cheeks. Again I really have to ask what kind of message they were trying to send here.
A dress arrives, and Drew is forced to undress and put on the dress. We do not see most of this, but there is more (brief) nudity as Drew steps into the dress. I’m inclined to suspect that the filmmakers wanted it both ways here–exploit an actress willing to do nude scenes and condemn a society for its backward views of women. They call that hypocrisy where I’m from.
Kid grabs her arm, hauls her close, and she engages in Western ClichÃ© 41: “Heroine threatened by villain must spit in his face. Villain must smile coldly in response.” Just once I’d love to see a heroine spit in the face of a villain, and have him and cry “EWWW! EWWW! GROSS! COOTIES!”
Quick shot of the river at night, here comes the rest of the gang.
Now, this next scene presents us with the strongest evidence of rape (which again, is never shown, or overtly stated). It’s a shot of Kid walking by without pants, swigging from a bottle. He tells one of his goons “She’s all yours.” Seems pretty conclusive to me.
Drew is tied to the bed, but seems to be dressed still. In comes the goon, named Ned, to make leering passes at Drew. Strangely she says “You’ll have to kill me first, because the only way I’d lay with you is if I were dead.” Since it seems highly probable that a rape is already occurred, a more likely and effective line is to promise that whatever they do to her, she will get them back for later.
Suddenly, two explosions rock the camp. Goon takes off and a mysterious figure emerges from the dust. It’s Joshy! How did we know that he’d be back? Well, in a movie, telling someone never to come back is a guarantee that they will. Using movie logic, if Maddy really wanted him to vamoose, she should have said “Stay here. Don’t move, no matter what happens.”
Very abruptly, we’re outside, where Drew is riding on horseback. She bumps into the rest of the girls. She begins to describe Contrived Capture Scene #4, so ludicrous it doesn’t even happen on screen.
Drew describes her escape as “crazy, explosions everywhere.” Would that be the two explosions we heard? She says she rode out, but Josh wasn’t behind her. Oh Lord. Lamelamelamelamelame…Needless to say, Drew thinks they got him. Yes, thank you, we’d have guessed as much. It seems as though our filmmakers realized that she can’t be captured now, or she won’t be able to participate in the climatic gunfight (Oh come on, like you didn’t see it coming). On the other hand, they need a captive to exchange for. So they made this extremely hasty swap.
By the way, apparently Drew’s escape really was crazy. How else would she have found time to change out of her dress into her old clothes, change her hairstyle, locate a horse, and ride out without being recaptured? “Crazy” seems like a pretty accurate description to me.
So they gallop off, and then there’s a shot of them trotting at sunset in a bit of pacing that is equally crazy. Seriously, if you value your sanity, do not try to estimate distances and times in this movie.
Whoo hoo, time for the big show down. The girls ride into Kid’s camp. They dismount and march slowly into the camp. As they do, the girls and Kid’s goons train guns on each other in a scene that’s supposed to be tense. But I’m at odds here. Do I concentrate on pointing out that it was idiotic to leave the gattling guns strapped to their horses unattended, where one of the goons can grab them, or that it was stupid to do the transfer in Villain HQ instead of neutral ground, or do I just point out that this is ripped from The Wild Bunch?
During this sequence, we’ll see some burnt bits of the town, and a corpse or two. Kid’s gang must be really small now. Drew sees two different people aiming at her, so she crosses her arms to get a bead on them both. Cool, eh?
Kid is sitting on a chair casually, flanked by goons. “Where’s the old man?” he asks. When informed he’s dead, Kid says “That is a shame. What are you going to do now?”
Maddy asks for Josh. Kid replies “He’s here, but I wouldn’t worry about him. He ain’t dead…yet.” Villains laugh again. Geez, Pauly Shore only wishes he had an audience like this. He might still have a career.
Okay, there’s the traditional hostage exchange thing. As always, villain wants to see thing he wants, but hero counters by asking to see the thing they want first. So Joshy is dragged out. He doesn’t look all that badly beaten, but of course he can’t stand on his own.
Satisfied, Maddy nods at Mary. Mary runs off to get the guns. Oh come on! After showing this build up of them carefully marching through town with weapons drawn, they make another tactical blunder? Mary could be grabbed as she runs along through the town, tipping the hand in Kid’s favor.
Fortunately, Kid is an equally clever tactician as they are. Mary is able to return with the guns. The Kid gives poor Joshy a kick. Maddy says “Kid!” warningly, but nothing happens. Goons take the guns, and then crack open a case, and begin setting up and loading one. It’s a smart idea to let them do this. Very smart.
Ned, the guy that almost raped Drew, leers at her some more. “Hey, Lilly, welcome back.”
Then The Kid pushes Joshy forward, say “You want him, take him.” Following which he shoots Josh in the back. This does not trigger the climatic gunfight. It’s stupid to believe that it wouldn’t, but it doesn’t. When people have guns trained on each other, and one goes off, killing someone, it tends to set off a chain reaction.
Instead some more posturing is done, pointing guns and cocking…extremely awkward, and extremely unlikely. Maddy embraces Josh, whose last glimpse at this world is Maddy’s face.
“Oh that’s real sweet, coming from a heartless whore,” sneers Kid, and tosses the money at them. “That’s what you came for, now get your asses out of here.” Mary gathers up the money, and tells Maddy “let’s go.” I don’t know what they were thinking here. There is no reason that the gunfight would not have started by now. Of course, they wanted to get in Josh’s death scene, and they couldn’t pin that at the end of the events which are to follow.
They begin slowly backing out the way they came in. Ned invites Drew to “come back and finish what they started.” Drew loses her cool, and shoots him. Okay, now the climatic gunfight starts. “Split up!” cries Maddy. The girls scatter while Kid and two of his boys leisurely take their sweet time about reacting to one of their mates getting blasted. No, this isn’t the arrogance of the villain, but the pacing of the movie.
So they exchange some gunfire. Andie says “Cover me,” which no one does, as she jumps on to a horse (suddenly, she can do this quickly again). One of the outlaws is manning the gattling gun, and fires at Andie. The gun chews up the wall behind her as the gunner follows instead of leading his target.
It’s strictly not cheating, because gattling guns were in use by this time, but I find the appearance of dynamite and the gattling gun very interesting. I call it Jason’s Theory of Modern Westernsâ„¢. We live in age where the firepower of an old gattling gun can be in a weapon small enough to be carried by a single soldier. Our movies are filled with heroes like Arnie Schwarzenegger and Chow Yun Fat who fire about twenty Westerns’ worth of bullets in each of their movies.
So Hollywood’s more recent Westerns have things like gattling guns and dynamite thrown like grenades (well, movie grenades), the closest they can come to modern weaponry. I guess they’re caught up on that “more is more” theory that drives Hollywood. Nobody will care about a gunfight nowadays unless 200 rounds go off per minute right? Unforgiven had only one real gunfight, in which Eastwood fired off about half a dozen shots. Millions of dollars in box office receipts and three major Academy Awards later, the creators of Bad Girls didn’t think that anyone would want to see such a movie.
Drew gets on a horse as Andie guns someone off the roof. Drew rides up behind gattling gun guy (who is dangerously exposed anyway), and shoots him in the back.
The Kid is watching all this, laughing. I’m glad someone’s enjoying this. He ducks inside a building. Maddy takes the gattling gun, peppers the building until it’s out of ammo. Maddy runs inside after the kid.
Inside, The Kid gets the drop on her while Maddy aims at that mischievous full length mirror.
“Just foolin,” he says. “You don’t think I’d shoot you in the back do you darlin’? I’m out of bullets.” They laugh at that, but I’m citing them for violating Western ClichÃ© 436: “Confronted Villain asks Hero to join him in a life of crime.”
Maddy ejects a live round from her rifle and tosses it at him. “Pick it up, put it in, die like a man,” she advises him with a nifty double-entendre. Now, I’m told that it is possible for some rifles and pistols to share ammo. Anyone know their guns well enough to determine if Kid and Maddy’s weapons are compatible? My guess is probably not.
Maddy puts the rifle down, preparing to draw her pistol. She waits for Kid to load his gun. He does this. “You are a dumb whore,” he sneers. Maddy moves first, and shoots him. He dies with a big dopey grin on his face. Was it good for her, too? Anyway, by gunning the Kid down, Maddy has proven that she’s not a worthless whore, but a real man. Or something like that.
Outside, things are winding down. We see all is forgiven between Mary and Maddy as Ned gets up behind Maddy, not dead, and so Mary shoots him. Mary and Maddy at each to show all is cool again (this is a great movie for nodding). They bury Josh and head back to the ranch. Time to wrap up the lamer of the romantic subplots.
Andie shows up, helping the injured tucker pitch hay. She’s supposed to ride out with the other girls, but Tucker wants her to stay. He’s aware of her past, but “It’s all in the past it don’t matter to me none.” Wow, enlightened, forgiving men at every turn. The Wild West doesn’t seem so barbaric as we’ve been lead to believe.
Now it’s time for Andie’s big moment. She reveals that her father worked to himself to death, and she didn’t want the same thing to happen to her. So she ran off to marry a rich guy. “All I got was a couple of fancy dresses, and a broken heart.” In all seriousness, he says this: He’s got this land, he hasn’t got money, “But I swear I’ll never break your heart.” Awwwwwwww… Suddenly, all the diabetics in the audience reach for an emergency dose of Insulin. During the hugging, she squeezes his injured arm for some original laughs.
Inside the ranch, the girls are dividing up the loot. Andie is given a bag marked “Trust.” Apparently Kid had these (Is this the money from the robbery earlier? Are they keeping it?). Mary says “consider it a wedding present.” Hey, I wonder what the Sheriff is going to think of Tucker’s new bride? Or is all forgiven in Agua Dulce too?
Maddy says all that’s left is the 12 grand, but “that belongs to us.” Err, why? Why doesn’t Andie get a cut? Oh, never mind, the movie’s almost over. Besides, she says something even stranger. Apparently, they’re going to the Klondike to take over Joshy’s claim. Now how are they entitled to this? Let me get this straight…a widow can’t inherit a land claim from her husband, but four women who just happened to be around when a mining claim holder died can take over his claim?
Drew is upset because she isn’t likely to see Andie again. We’re not. We’re glad that there wasn’t enough box office return to warrant Bad Girls II (though throw in Shannon Tweed and some more nudity, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a direct to video sequel).
Tucker says that once the Army gets its guns back, they’ll be heroes. They reply “We ain’t heroes.” (ClichÃ© 873: “Heroes are always modest.”) The girls ride off.
Cut to a shot of the Pinkerton guys (remember them?) still looking for Maddy. They’re questioning some cowboys, but they answer “Sorry son, the only female I seen in the last month is that mare over there. And she’s starting to look pretty good to me!” They laugh. Meanwhile, the girls ride by in the background! Somehow, everyone fails to notice this, and they ride off into the sunset (ya know, I think that might be a clichÃ© too). Roll the credits.
Ok, here’s the situation. The movie is set in a time and place that has rigidly defined roles and expectations for women. However, you’ve got a modern audience watching it. And except for a few Neanderthals who came hoping for a glimpse at a topless Barrymore, most of them would realize that women are not necessarily fragile and delicate creatures, that their thinking is easily confused, or that they can’t be as competent as a man. Most of them are well aware of the oppression women endured (and are still enduring). They aren’t going to be enlightened to learn that a woman can be just as deadly as with a gun. As for the Neanderthals waiting to see some skin, they’re not likely to have a change of heart by the message from one movie.
If you want to show real women working against real oppression in the Old West, you’ve got to do what Unforgiven did: make it ugly. This means the women can’t be beauty queens. The violence has to be consequential. You also can’t make the mistake Clan of the Cave Bear made: overcompensate by making the heroine excellent at everything she does. That means they are balanced characters with realistic strengths and weaknesses. The simple truth is that all people deserve a standard of level treatment, regardless of whether they’re supertough or not. By including superheroes who can do anything, you cheapen this message.
Making this kind of movie is a tough assignment, not very audience-friendly or Hollywood-friendly. However, there is another, easier approach. Forgo the heavy-handed messages, and go for a straight action movie. Give the girls some guns, and let them get into all sorts of gunfights. Let them whip out their guns at unrealistic speeds and shoot down three men that have the drop on them. We’ve seen male action heroes do this thousands of times, so make the women super-competent too. The fact that women are doing this is still relatively novel, and watchable. Bad Girls doesn’t do this because the gunfight scenes are unexciting and the stuntwork unimpressive, the kiss of death in an action movie.
The movie tries to do a little of both, coming up with one muddled movie. At times it contradicts even its own premises. Mary, for example, refuses to cry when she learns her claim is useless. Instead she gets angry. Minutes later, Maddy cries when taunted by Frank. Still, she berates Josh for losing his temper and shooting Frank. However, at the climatic gunfight, Drew loses her temper and shoots Ned. Nobody gets mad at her for that. What are we supposed to make of these conflicting ideas? It doesn’t help that this “feminist” western also falls into the trap of other “chauvinistic” movies (showing Andie as a happy housewife rather than a prostitute, for example).
This movie didn’t have a fraction of Unforgiven‘s class. They also ignored the myths it debunked (the myth of the noble gunfighter, the quick draw etc). After someone makes a movie like this, the genre is forever changed and you can’t go back to the standard clichÃ©s. It’s liking watching the parade of new slashers in the wake of Scream, which was part slasher, part slasher parody. Here Scream is, cheerfully and cleverly pointing out how predictable these movies are. Hollywood sees its box office success, and then determines slashers are back in, and makes a slew as predictable as the pre-Scream slashers. Things like this show they were paying attention to the awards and the returns for the breakkthrough movie, not what it was that got it awards and returns in the first place.
I know Jabootu fans are very suspicious of Leonard Maltin’s opinions, but he was actually on the money with this one, calling it “an advertisement for good-looking Western duds. A collectible poster in search of a movie.”
Thanks, but the subtext on Xena: Warrior Princess works better:
Andie: “Can I have a kiss Wyatt Earp?”
Drew: “Don’t you pucker up to me!”
The Kid, a smooth-talker with the ladies as always:
The Kid: “Cody?! Well kiss my sister’s black cat’s ass.”
Drew is held prisoner and offers up “Defiant” dialogue:
Kid: “What’s your name?”
Kid: “Just Lilly?”
Drew: “Lilly’s enough.”
Kid: “Well if you answer to it…”
Drew: “Well that depends on who’s asking.”
Jabootu philanthropist Sandy Petersen, a proud resident of the Lone Star State, offers some ‘barbed’ commentary (Ha, how droll one am I!):
Barbed wire was a huge factor in the Old West. Before barbed wire, the cattle was all “free range”. This meant that cattle were allowed to wander everywhere unrestrained. Periodically, cowhands would go out and round up all the cattle on their ranch – the function of brands was to enable cowhands to identify the ranch a particular cow had strayed from. Of course, some cows had unbranded calves accompanying them â€“ you were supposed to brand a calf with the same brand as the mother, so all ranches actually kept branding irons with their neighbor’s marks, to use on these. “Dogies” were unbranded cattle old enough so they no longer stayed with their mother, so you couldn’t tell to whom they belonged. These belonged to the ranch which found them.
So â€¦ under the free range conditions, it was impossible for a small ranch to exist. You would almost never have your own cows on your own land, since they’d wandered off. Your cowhands would spend all their time trying to round up cows from other ranchers (it was your responsibility to go get your cows from the other guys), and the big ranchers could hardly be bothered to carry branding irons for every piss-ant dirt farmer who had a cow or two. But there was no way to keep cows inside your own property! So big ranchers and free-range was the rule. I’m not saying it was Bad with a capital B, but it did hinder the development of the west, since it meant that starting up new ranches was kind of hard and needed lots of capital. Also newcomers mostly ended up working for the big ranches instead of being self-employed family farmers.
When barbed wire was introduced, it meant you had a means of cordoning off your ranch so that your cows would stay home, and your neighbor’s cows wouldn’t intrude. Suddenly it was possible to profitably operate a ranch that didn’t cover a hundred square miles! But the big ranchers hated it of course, because barbed wire wounded their cattle and of course no one liked the small-timers moving in. Laws were passed making it a felony to cut fences. Then laws were passed that handed ownership of an animal which breached a fence to the person whose property it was on(!)
Eventually the big ranchers started fencing off their property too, and found that it, in fact, helped them as well. Among other things, it permitted ranchers to start raising different breeds of cattle (when all your cattle bred out there on their own, in the wild, how could you control whose genes were affecting your stock?), or even sheep.
Anyway, sorry about the long-winded explanation, but suffice it to say that barbed wire was a huge factor in the economic development of the West. Of course, it’s not a simple case of Big Money vs. the Little Guy (as it is sometimes portrayed)