Dust off your Stetson, strap on your six-shooters and prepare to head into the wild and lawless Cherokee Nation with Hell on the Border. David Gyasi stars as Bass Reeves in this true-life story of the legendary lawman, as he sets off on a manhunt to find and capture a deadly fugitive (Frank Grillo) with only grizzled journeyman (Ron Perlman) to help him on his journey.
This classic western tale shines a light on a man who escaped slavery and the Civil War to become the first black U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River. To celebrate the film’s release on Digital Download 9 March and DVD 16 March we’ve taken a look back at some of the most epic manhunts to grace cinema screens.
THE SEARCHERS (1956)
Wanted, Alive: Debbie Edwards
Regularly appearing in critics lists as one of the greatest films of all time, and named the greatest Western by the American Film Institute, The Searchers is the finest collaboration in the fruitful yet fraught working relationship between iconic director John Ford and his go-to leading man John Wayne. In arguably his finest role, The Duke plays jaded Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards. One day, after being drawn away from his family homestead, Ethan returns to find his brother dead and his young nieces Debbie and Lucy abducted by Comanches. After an epic quest to retrieve the kidnapped girls, Debbie is found to be living with Comanche chief Scar. Having converted to their lifestyle after years away from home, the young woman has committed an unforgivable act in the eyes of the vengeful cowboy who has spent so many years on the trail… Such a milestone in American filmmaking inevitably inspired many movies, from David Lean epic Lawrence of Arabia, to TV phenomenon Breaking Bad, but one homage familiar to most moviegoers is the sad scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker returns to his homestead only to find the charred remains of his aunt and uncle.
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965)
Wanted, Dead or Alive: El Indio
The second instalment in Sergio Leone’s legendary Spaghetti Western trilogy, For a Few Dollars More sees Clint Eastwood return as cool-headed, cheroot-chewing bounty hunter Manco. This time the prey is volatile outlaw El Indio, played by wild-man Gian Maria Volonté, and Manco can’t bring him in alone. Forming an uneasy partnership with sharpshooting Lee Van Cleef the pair set out to double-cross El Indio and his gang while they plan a bank robbery in Santa Cruz. As their plan unfolds bodies fall by the wayside, ultimately culminating in an epic three-way duel between the three leading men. This sequel to what’s now regarded as one of the all-time great Westerns, A Fistful of Dollars, almost never happened as Clint Eastwood had returned to America without seeing the finished first film. Desperate to get a sequel to what had already become a box-office smash in Italy, Leone quickly rushed an Italian language print to the US for the acting great to watch. “Yeah, I’ll work for that director again” was his swift response!
THE BIG GUNDOWN (1967)
Wanted, Dead or Alive: Cuchillo aka ‘Knife’
Lee Van Cleef returns for another Spaghetti Western, this time from Italian cult director Sergio Sollima. Released in 1966, The Big Gundown had to square off against big-hitters The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and Django at the box-office yet managed to hold its own, proving a great success. The film finds Van Cleef playing bounty hunter Jonathan Corbett, who decides to take one last job before hanging up his guns and taking a run at the Senate. Setting off to find Cuchillo, the accused rapist and murderer of a young girl, Corbett is frustrated at every turn by his wily foe only to eventually discover the facts of the case aren’t so black and white… After debuting in Gary Cooper classic High Noon, talented character actor Lee Van Cleef struggled to make a name for himself in the movie business, often finding himself side-lined in minor villainous roles. This all changed when after Sergio Leone gave him a chance in the Dollars trilogy, leading Van Cleef to become a major star of the Western genre in the 60s and 70s.
Wanted, Dead or Alive: Quick Mike and ‘Davey-Boy’ Bunting
Like his character in the film, Clint Eastwood returned to the Old West once again for Unforgiven, earning himself an Academy Award for Best Picture for his efforts. Eastwood, directing himself, stars as retired gunslinger William Munny, a legendary outlaw turned farmer. When wannabe bounty hunter the Schofield Kid arrives at Munny’s homestead looking for help to hunt down a couple of cowboys who attacked and disfigured a prostitute, the struggling farmer agrees for the sake of his children. With the help of old friend Ned (Morgan Freeman), the trio set off to capture their bounty but soon cross paths with sheriff ‘Little Bill’ Daggett (Gene Hackman) an encounter that has deadly consequences… Despite its release long after the glory days of the Western, this revisionist take on the genre quickly earned a place among the very best. Patient viewers may spot ‘Dedicated to Sergio and Don’ at the end of the credits, as Eastwood tips his hat to his directing mentors Sergio Leone (The Good the Bad and The Ugly) and Don Siegel (Two Mules for Sister Sara) who made him a star. Thanks guys!
TRUE GRIT (2010)
Wanted, Dead or Alive: Tom Chaney
The Coen Brothers had already earned multiple accolades for their neo-Western No Country For Old Men in 2007 when they decided to tackle a true Western with their retelling of True Grit. The brothers had a tough task ahead of them, the original film version of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel of the same name was already regarded as a classic, mainly due to a commanding performance by John Wayne as hard-drinking bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn. It would be the only role to bag the iconic star an Oscar in his distinguished career. The Coens version sticks more closely to the book than the previous film, telling the story almost entirely from the point of view of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a headstrong young woman out to bring justice upon the man who murdered her father, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She enlists one-eyed, booze-soaked grouch Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to aid her, and later joins forces with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). Despite starring alongside screen veteran Jeff Bridges, who clearly enjoyed the rough-and-ready role, it’s 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld who steals the show, bossing Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin around the screen. True Grit indeed!
Hell on the Border is on Digital Download 9 March and DVD 16 March
Amazon DVD: https://amzn.to/36ZdW3T