, perhaps the most famous Western hardly anybody ever saw, takes deadpan survey of the fallout from a casual atrocity, or perhaps only a ludicrous accident, in a nameless town. We never see the atrocity/accident, or even the town. Word simply reaches a prospector's camp, a wood-and-canvas pimple on the blankness of the wasteland, that someone "rode down a man and a little person... maybe a child." Was the someone Willett Gashade's brother Coin, who has gone missing? Was it Leland Drum, Coin's companion, who gets shot from ambush at his fireside--perhaps by an unknown avenger, perhaps by Coin? The death of Drum explains the film's title, but there's a long list of things we never know in The Shooting
, and most (all?) of the characters in the movie never know them either. Still, the small, relentlessly enigmatic cast of characters gets into motion and keeps moving--chasing something, running from something, headed for somewhere that may turn out to be nowhere, or deep inside themselves.
Monte Hellman made The Shooting (and a second movie, Ride in the Whirlwind) during one brief trip into the desert, anonymously financed by Roger Corman, in the summer of 1966. His material was a script by Adrien Joyce (later of Five Easy Pieces fame), the patient camera of Gregory Sandor, and the faces, voices, and brazenly modern presences of Warren Oates (Gashade), Jack Nicholson (a white-collar killer), and Millie Perkins (a pinched Medusa, freckled with trail dirt, bitchy light years from Anne Frank). Over the intervening decades the Beckettian movie has been sporadically available only on late-night TV or via scrappy 16-millimeter prints at film societies. That now triumphantly changes with this crisp, color-saturated DVD release, whose modest letterboxing eloquently enhances the unsettling power of Hellman's compositions and eerie long takes. --Richard T. Jameson