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Favorite Vigilante-Themed Movie


pintorini
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To most of us, there is something horrifying yet undeniably seductive about the notion of taking the law into our own hands. Seizing on this grim aspect of the human psyche, filmmakers throughout the decades have featured vigilantism in movies of virtually every genre.

 

In many instances, vigilantes are depicted in film as misguided, overly-hasty, ill-informed, and perhaps even evil individuals, e.g. in movies featuring lynch mobs, witch-hunters, neo-nazis, and other hate groups. In some movies, the vigilante is portrayed as errant but wrenchingly sympathetic, as in A Time to Kill, the 1996 movie based on the John Grisham book. In still other pictures--usually ones in which law enforcement officials are portrayed as corrupt, weak, or merely absent, vigilantes are portrayed as heros. Certain John Wayne movies (including Rooster Cogburn) and many 50's westerns provide excellent examples. And the glorification of vigilante justice in film enjoyed a renaissance beginning in the 1970's with movies such as Shaft (1971), [/i]Dirty Harry[/i] (1972), and Death Wish (1974), and continuing through the present with films such as Spiderman.

 

What is your favorite movie featuring vigilante justice? Mine is To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the heroic Gregory Peck, with the help of little Scout, talk down a lynch mob at the jail. My beloved Henry Fonda has also figured into more than one movie featuring vigilante justice, including, of course, The Ox-Bow Incident.

 

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(Nice graphics! I love "illustrated" posts!)

 

Besides THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, I'd have to say my favorite would be Spencer Tracy's FURY, directed by Fritz Lang. It is one of Tracy's most complex and intense portrayals, in a career that's full of them. The ending is really something.

 

THE BIG HEAT, another Lang movie, also seems to incorporate a man taking the law into his own hands. Cop Glenn Ford's wife is killed by gangsters---he leaves behind his badge when it hampers his efforts in this ultra intense movie.

 

And though I've never seen it, I believe Gary Cooper's THE HANGING TREE is all over this subject.

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> To most of us, there is something horrifying yet

> undeniably seductive about the notion of taking the

> law into our own hands.

> In many instances, vigilantes are depicted in

> film as misguided, overly-hasty, ill-informed, and

> perhaps even evil individuals, e.g. in movies

> featuring lynch mobs, witch-hunters, neo-nazis, and

> other hate groups. In some movies, the

> vigilante is portrayed as errant but

> wrenchingly sympathetic, as in A Time to Kill,

> the 1996 movie based on the John Grisham book. In

> still other pictures--usually ones in which law

> enforcement officials are portrayed as corrupt, weak,

> or merely absent, vigilantes are portrayed as

> heros. Certain John Wayne movies (including

> Rooster Cogburn) and many 50's westerns

> provide excellent examples. And the glorification of

> vigilante justice in film enjoyed a

> renaissance beginning in the 1970's with movies such

> as Shaft (1971), [/i]Dirty Harry[/i] (1972),

> and Death Wish (1974), and continuing through

> the present with films such as Spiderman.

> My beloved Henry Fonda

> has also figured into more than one movie featuring

> vigilante justice, including, of course, The

> Ox-Bow Incident.

 

 

Nice Post and how timely! I just wanted to reprint the definition of vigilante. This word does ring a bell for me and the "Ox Bow Incident" has been a matter of topic for me also. As George C. Scott said in "Patton" "I was there".

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I think FURY was instrumental in propelling Tracy's movie career. As you can see, in the ads his name is billed second to Sylvia Sydney. Not too long after this movie, I don't think that he took second billing ever again. It's intense, atmospheric---I think you won't be disappointed. :)

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When they first came out, "Straw Dogs" and "Taxi Driver" were seen as vigilante movies, but with distance, this seems less the case. The Dustin Hoffman character never knows that his wife is raped in "Straw Dogs" and DeNiro kills the pimps only because his political assassination attempt has been thwarted. Both of these are powerful movies.

 

Was Henry Fonda in an anti-lynching movie from the late 30s called "Let Us Live"? I think this was a low budget copy of "Fury" and was directed by John Brahm, but I've never seen much written about it.

 

And is there another anti-lynching film from the early Fifties with Lloyd Bridges as the bad guy. I think Cy Edfield (best known for "Zulu") directed this film noir which has a lot of vocal admirers.

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There are two movies directed by Phil Karlsen. From the Fifties comes the semi-documentary "The Phenix City Story" about a wide-open town in Alabama and the heroic DA who shut it down. I saw it only once and it isn't my favorite Karlsen (I guess "The Brothers Rico" is.) Can't remember how vigilante it ends up. I have the suspicion the hero was stopped before he beat the bad guy to death, but the violence here was very shocking. A black girl (about age 10) was killed and dumped on the hero's lawn as a warning that the same could happen to his daughter.

 

Far more open a vigilante movie was "Walking Tall," directed by Karlsen in the mid-Seventies. I never saw this one, but everybody knew about Buford Pusser (played by Joe Don Baker) who dispensed justice with a baseball bat. They made two sequels to the film, which was something of a rival to "Dirty Harry" at the time.

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What about "The Vampire Bat" with Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray and Melvyn Douglas and "Falling Down" with Michael Douglas (doing "vigilante" acts I'm sure we've all fantasized doing...)

Another one I'd like to see is "Child Bride" from '38. It's from "exploitation" producer Kroger Babb...about a school teacher (and her DA boyfriend) trying to stop men from marrying underage girls in the Ozarks. It stars (12 year old) Shirley Mills (later seen as Ruthie Joad in "The Grapes Of Wrath")-who does a skinny dipping scene! The cast also includes ("little person") Angelo Rossitto-who's been in everything-from "Freaks" to "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome."

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benwhowell,

 

Talking about exploitation pictures...have you ever watched a 1934 movie called "Maniac"?

 

This was included on one of those fifty movie, five DVD packages. Not knowing anything about "Maniac", I spun the thing and was shocked...shocked, I tell you. Directed by Dwain Esper of "Reefer Madness" fame, I could not believe "Maniac" ever made it to ANY theater. Why? Well, the movie features a guy chasing a half naked woman, a couple of women fighting each other with hypodermic syringes, a scene with a man throttling a cat and doing something with part of the cat I cannot even describe here without making readers sick. Makes me queasy now, just thinking about the scene. Oh yes, "Maniac" never played in a mid-1930's movie theater. I looked the movie up. It was something called a "road picture". That is, Dwain and company arrive in town with tent, projector, screen, film, advertising flyers and tickets. Townsfolk attend one showing of "Maniac". Immediately after one showing of "Maniac", Dwain and crew fold up tent, projector, etcetera and get the heck out of town before local constable arrives. Local constable arrives to throw Dwain and friends in hoosegow, but Dwain&Co long gone. I guess, one way to make money during the depression.

 

Rusty

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Rusty,

I've never seen "Maniac." It sounds like my kind of movie...except for the cat thing (which probably wasn't "special effects.") I can't tolerate animal cruelty-even if it's not real. Needless to say, I have problems with many movies-including "Lassie, Come Home," "Equus," "The Horse Whisperer," etc.

I do love those "road show" movies. Kroger Babb used to do that. His movie, "Mom And Dad," was shown in tents around the country as an "educational" movie-because it included a child birth scene! I think they even had people dressed as nurses-passing out literature on VD and other such things...

Ben

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Last night's Silent Sunday feature on TCM, The Mating Call (1928) with Thomas Meighan, Evelyn Brent and Ren?e Ador?e, featured one story element centering around a fictionalized Klu Klux Klan-type organization called The Order. This group delivered quite a bit of rough "justice" to transgressors among the community's male population. Producer Howard Hughes and director James Cruze wisely left out any explicit nativist, anti-Catholic, or anti-Semite references within this skein of their story and focused the wrath of this group on the far more profitable at the box office, if sometimes equally controversial, sexual transgressions of several individuals within the community.

 

Members of this movie's vigilante group did not wear the pointy bedsheets of unpleasant memory, but draped themselves in what looked like black netting, though the Grand Kleagle or whatever he was, adorned his pompous self in white satin. The Order boys did convey a silent, rather passive menace in several scenes and I imagine that the most troubling scenes to most audiences of then or now were probably those that depicted certain citizens being whipped while attached to a cross-like structure. Very strange.

 

Note: early signs of Howard Hughes' predilections were evident in the irrelevant to the story and nonsensical sequence that featured Miss Ador?e's decision to take a nocturnal swim in--my stars--the buff, followed by a nicely backlit scene of the lady in a diaphanous gown! This was entirely inoffensive--by today's cultural standards--though I suppose it caused alot of comment at the time, as Robert Osborne mentioned during his intro.

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Wow--thank you, Moira, for that very interesting summary of The Mating Call! I am sorry I missed it. I will have to add it to my list.

 

I was busy watching Taxi Driver for the first time, which I'd recorded earlier from (*blushes*) AMC. It was not letterbox, of course ... grrrr ... and I got the impression it had been liberally edited. Nonetheless, I can now appreciate MikeBSG's point about how the movie is perceived differently today than it was in 1976.

 

 

************SPOILERS**************

 

 

The end of the Taxi Driver would likely come as a complete shock to a young person today who has no idea about the social and political climate of the 70's. Today, with the hindsight of Columbine, Waco, and similar horribles, the gunslinging taxi driver would most certainly have been hauled off to jail at the end for shooting those people, pimps or no pimps. In fact, he would probably escape death row rather narrowly, and not because of jury sympathy, but because of jury cynicism--e.g., their reluctance as taxpayers to fund the execution of a guy who "only" killed scum.

 

But of course, in the actual ending, Mr. Taxi is hailed as a hero and thanked profusely by the parents of the teenage hooker he rescues. The current implausibility of such an ending suggests to me that although vigilante movies enjoyed a renaissance in the 70's and 80's, we will likely continue to experience a dry spell so long as everyone is still peeking over their shoulder for some sign that a co-worker or fellow Wal-Mart shopper is about to turn "postal."

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Re "Taxi Driver": there are some people who think that the post-shooting scenes in the movie take place in Travis Bickle's imagination. I don't think that is what Scorsese and company intended.

 

"Taxi Driver" is a movie that came true in a few ways. John Hinckley was supposedly inspired by it to try to kill Reagan. Then in the mid-Eighties, there was a guy who shot some people on the NYC subway and he was hailed as a hero for a while.

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> "Taxi Driver" is a movie that came true in a few

> ways. John Hinckley was supposedly inspired by it to

> try to kill Reagan.

 

Ahhh ... hence Hinckley's warped belief that in doing so he might somehow impress Jodi Foster!!! As usual, my historical knowledge was missing an important piece of context. Thanks, MikeBSG!

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Hi,

 

What about all those "Death Wish" movies with Charles Bronson?

I only saw the first one but I'm sure all the others were just as violent.

 

Last Friday, "Law and Order" had on an episode where a father kills the thug who murdered his daughter. The criminal was vicious and responsible for 13 unnecessary, gratuitous killings; but the father was convicted anyway.

 

Larry

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