Monday, December 26, 2011

UNSPOOLING: Yellowstone Kelly

I'm nothing if not opportunistic, some of the time. (Perhaps that means that the rest of the time, I am nothing, but that's a monologue for another day.) I was cruising the darkest reaches of Netflix last night, searching for something new to watch, and I found a '50s western called Yellowstone Kelly that was only available for streaming until January 1. Naturally, I watched it.

Boy, am I glad I did.

I'm not sure if I love the Western genre or if I despise it. There's plenty of room for creativity: with the colorful, varied history and the variety of scenery the American West provides, there's no excuse for formulaism. Regrettably, too many studios churned out cookie-cutter lawman flicks in the '30s, '40s, and '50s, with the result that the market became oversaturated. Today, many consider the Western a dying genre.

Either way, Yellowstone Kelly was not cookie-cutter. It was unique. It was different. It used some traditional cliches, especially narratively. Its characters were fairly well-drawn. The cinematography was excellent.

A few positive points stood out to me, in particular. First, the fistfights: any Western worth its salt will have at least one fistfight. Audiences expect it, and it's a good way to build tension between characters without seriously injuring or killing any of them. My problem with most fistfights, especially in the heyday of the Western, is that they're more like boxing matches: the fighters seem to think that leg strikes and other grappling techniques are forbidden. And honestly? Nobody boxes in real life. If it's a fight, you're mad, and you'll do whatever you can to hurt the other guy. You're not going to just punch him.

Thankfully, Yellowstone Kelly broke the mold. I noted with approval that the titular character used elbows, knees, kicks, and even a clothesline to take down his opponents. It was fresh, it was new, and it was appreciated.

There was also a nice bit of parallelism, parallelism for which I saw the potential fairly early on, but didn't expect to be fleshed out. I won't give it away, but it revolves around two similar relationships focused on a single MacGuffin. I was very pleasantly surprised by the literate nature of the parallelism.

Perhaps I enjoyed Yellowstone Kelly more because it's set in my favorite part of America, the Northern West (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho). That fact, coupled with the glorious cinematography, may have biased me to enjoy the film more than I would have otherwise. Full disclosure here, people.

I give Yellowstone Kelly 4 Reels on Ian's Totally Subjective Film Rating System.

Long live gems!

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