Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton
Director: Monte Hellman
Mood: If you’re tired of everyone living fake lives on social media and you want a Western that’s totally real and authentic even if that means it takes a long-ass time to go nowhere.
Ride in the Whirlwind is a short and also pretty pointless movie, and I regret putting it on as the conclusion to my weekend.
Jack Nicholson wrote and produced this glum exercise in Revisionist Western monotony, which proves that he was smart to mostly stick with acting for the rest of his career.
I get it, I get it – it’s supposed to be a window into the simple and thankless life in the Old West, right? But there was NOTHING to connect with, so I was just bored and confused. The title is insulting to the word ‘whirlwind’.
Ride in the Whirlwind is the story of three cowhands on their way to Texas. They encounter a group of bandits, and both parties act weird to avoid trouble, so it’s decided they should stay the night – even though it’s clearly mid-day. The cowhands agree to leave at daybreak, as cowhands would, but the next morning it’s full daylight and they are still hanging around.
A posse of lawmen appear, surrounding the bandits and shooting at anybody who moves. The lawmen clearly have a crapload of ammo, because they keep shooting for what feels like hours even without visible targets. The cowhands try to escape into the nearby cliffs on foot. The lawmen hang the bandits and pursue the cowhands in a not-particularly-urgent manner.
The cowhands are on foot and tired, and forced to turn into quasi-bandits. It’s basically hopeless. But like… y’all saw all the red flags and stayed at that campsite anyway, and didn’t leave at daybreak like a cowhand worth his salt, so I feel zero sympathy for any of you. Except Harry Dean Stanton, because he has an eyepatch and still tries to run a banditing business. That’s gotta be tough.
Jack Nicholson is… there. He does a decent job of playing an understated cowhand. I believed it. Cameron Mitchell is actually really good, but he’s carrying all of his scenes. Harry Dean Stanton is a standout.
Millie Perkins is the definition of ‘hot chick doing the bare minimum’. She looks perpetually sullen, like she wants to be lurking in a dark corner of a Beatnik film instead of playing a pioneer daughter.
Literally every scene in Ride in the Whirlwind feels 10 times longer than it needs to be. The dialogue goes nowhere. The plot doesn’t give you anything or anyone to care about, then drags you along for the ride anyway. It’s like you’re trapped in a small room listening to the mundane conversations of people you don’t know or like.
I think this was the ‘60s version of producing ‘authentic content’, like they wanted to deconstruct the Western and give you something more like a scripted documentary. The antidote to decades of Roy Rogers and John Wayne.
Critics seem to LOVE this movie. Quentin Tarantino calls it one of the best Westerns of all time. There’s clearly an audience for it, but it’s not me. Or my poor fiancé, who thought we were spending our Sunday night watching something good. I’m sorry.
I’ll wrap things up with this astute quote from Steve of Rotten Tomatoes: “Overrated moody Western starring Nicholson.” Thanks, Steve. I’m using that as my excerpt.