30 March 2019

The Three Faces of Eve

Performance makes The Three Faces of Eve
by Kristin Battestella

Based upon the book by Doctors Corbett Thigpen and Hervey Cleckley, writer and director Nunnally Johnson's (The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit) black and white 1957 drama The Three Faces of Eve chronicles the case of what was then called Multiple Personality Disorder for Joanne Woodward's demure southern housewife Eve White. Her husband Ralph (David Wayne) can't understand her change in persona when Eve Black goes out partying, but Doctor Luther (Lee J. Cobb) believes he can reunite the dissociated identities.

The Three Faces of Eve opens with an onscreen explanation poorly equating Dissociative Identity Disorder to a thin man inside a fat person and Jekyll metaphors before a somewhat stilted play like staging and voiceovers interrupt the narrative with date, time, and treatment specifics. When the narrator breaks the exposition right down to the minute, The Three Faces of Eve becomes a case study rather than a drama, and revealing the symptoms or telling us when something bad is going to happen undercuts the suspense, intrigue, character sympathy, and viewer immersion. Without the on the nose clinical patronizing, The Three Faces of Eve is much better – headaches, anger, and arguments play out with off camera screams and violence. Conversations between doctor and patient reveal blackouts and hearing voices. Understandably, there's a certain anticipation in seeing the personalities come out, but the first manifestation is a well done, unexpected transition from married meek to flirty and feeling fine. Is this just a discontented housewife lashing out or something more? Both are unacceptable in the fifties, leading to institution stays and winking innuendo with exposed on the bed versus covering up visual suggestions. Although it's annoying when the doctor can call a name back and forth to change her personas like Multiple Personalities are merely some hypnosis party trick, it's also sad an innocent woman can be so prompted. She may seem to be no harm, but a man isn't going to take no for an answer after all these flirtations, and above all, none of these personalities wants to be hurt. Unfortunately, this illness comes between her mind and her family, leading to divorce and a daughter taken away as the case worsens with suicidal risks and a third personality. Not only does The Three Faces of Eve oddly announce a death before it happens, but I also wish the title didn't give away the third manifestation. The dual performance builds enough conflict before the new identity emerges, and the audience already wonders how these ladies can co-exist as our trouble gal struggles with no memory and a late flashback. While the recounting of creepy, dark places and a visual representation of her tormented state of mind are necessary in revealing the what went wrong repression, the sense of imminent internal collapse instead becomes a quick Hollywood ending. Rather than a conclusive healing, the trauma feels lame and the resolution artificial. Fortunately for The Three Faces of Eve, the reason why and the saccharin results aren't as important as the journey of self discovery – no matter now many selves you have. 

Eve White is a meek housewife hesitant about her amnesia spells, and Oscar winner Joanne Woodward (Rachel, Rachel) immediate has us on her side when unexplained clothes, threats against her daughter, and suspicious trips make the soft spoken Mrs. White seem like somebody else. Eve is clearly scared of losing her mind, but Woodward is exceptional at the distinct personality changes – slouching, tossing her hat, and removing itchy stockings as Eve Black. She's no dreary dope like Mrs. White, hates her jerk husband, and says their daughter isn't hers. She turns up the music loud, jiggles her caboose, and says things Eve White never would, like how she married her husband just because she should. We don't hate Eve Black, but are torn with sadness just like the returning wife, who's confused and embarrassed by her alter's wild hair and unbuttoned shirt. While in the institution, she reads poetry – until Ms. Black in her short shorts wants to tell the orderly a few limericks. Living alone for treatment gives her freedom complete with a sassy nightclub performance, sultry singing, and dancing barefoot with soldiers. Ironically, being alone allows Mrs. White to stand up for herself, even if that means she has to choose between her family and her mental health. Today The Three Faces of Eve may seem tame, but that is only because of the acting conventions of the time compared to now when all the wild, bad girl personality would be shown onscreen. In that respect, however, it makes Woodward's performance all the more provocative. We see the manifestations, but they give us room to wonder about the internal workings of her trouble mind and what's going on with each individual. Eve Black says just because we don't see what she does, doesn't mean she doesn't do it. It's a wonderfully delivered line suggesting all the viewer needs to know, but Mrs. White is the one who ends up slapped and left on the motel room floor. The finale here feels like such a letdown because the fifties film restraints don't live up to Woodward's discomfort in the disturbing “Please, I don't want to.” reveal.

Lee J. Cobb's (On the Waterfront) composite Doctor Luther is initially astonished but remains sympathetic of Eve's plight. He cuts away family emotions to find the facts, asking her how she can explain the things Mr. White says she does. Luther seeks the reason and logic behind her fear but gets the pieces of the puzzle from not just one, but all three personalities. His medical partners immediately suspect she is a fake, and the men wonder if her unhappy marriage is merely making her act out and pretend to be someone else. Today we know it is simplistic to dismiss a woman as unfulfilled rather than consider a mental illness, but The Three Faces of Eve presents Doctor Luther as sincere in his reasoning with each personality. He asks Eve Black not to come out and wants to tell Mrs. White what is happening in hopes of reuniting the personas. Luther confers that neither Mrs. White or Eve Black are fit to be a wife and mother – each is fragmented and not a responsible or capable person. Where his colleagues blame the patient, he uses hypnosis to find the root of her manifestations. Luther is perplexed, but genuinely strives to help reveal and heal her terrible childhood experience. Older, frustrated husband David Wayne (How to Marry a Millionaire), however, is a working man who can't understand what's gotten into his wife. He has to come home and get tough on the phone over an expensive bill and threatens to slap his wife when he thinks she is lying. His harsh is understandable for the time – Ralph doesn't have to be likable and doesn't seem very smart but he's a stern family man keeping food on the table who will give his wife a good talking to whether she's delicate or not. We believe him when he threatens Eve for harming their daughter, yet he can't comprehend the doctor's diagnosis. Ralph has to tone down his temper, get a better job, and send Eve money, but it isn't easy for him to accept treatment that separates his family. When Eve Black is out at the clubs and the marriage finally comes to blows, Ralph's more worried about people laughing behind his back or thinking him a fool than what's best for his wife.

The crisp silver screen Cinemascope still looks sharp on a 4K television, and there are some fine fifties trucks, classic cars, vintage telephones, fedoras, and white gloves to see in The Three Faces of Eve. Fashion is simply but expertly used to contrast our competing personalities – sassy pumps, fancy sequins, and black lace slip dresses versus Peter Pan collars and demure cardigans. Leather chairs and bookshelves represent the male doctor's domain while white cabinets and cheery curtains represent the mid century woman's kitchen before the missus' place in the home is upset by swanky nights on the town, rented rooms, and the now single woman in the workplace. Look at that giant switchboard! Of the time seductions, however, remain hot and bothered. There may be separate beds in the motel room, but the man and his wife not wife sit on the same bed as she removes her stockings and convinces him to buy her something prettier than the old red velvet dress she's wearing. Although great swing tunes and singing accent the scandalous behavior, noticeable music crescendos sometimes give away the forthcoming identity switch. The most stunning moments happen when there is no music or dolly and the tears come forth. Some of the Georgia accent permeating The Three Faces of Eve isn't always reflected in the subtitles, either, which may be confusing for viewers not familiar with the diction. Up close shots and cross coverage that doesn't match the wide shots also feel slower, with firmly fifties editing and pace. Fortunately, the camera is used to great effect with intense zooms and tight two shots as the patient confides her fears. Mirrors and reflections parallel personality transitions, and the visual scale effects in the finale set off the dark place and trouble state of mind.

The Three Faces of Eve is dated in its fifties framework. The mix of case study and then sensational makes numerous mistakes about this misunderstood condition, and the real life liberties will have interested audiences seeking out Christine Sizemore's original case and her subsequent reading materials. Thanks to the disjointed narrations and loosely strung together vignettes, one almost wishes there was a re-cut of The Three Faces of Eve, for the story deserved better writing and direction not some kind of textbook format. Thankfully, Woodward's performance anchors the drama by making viewers compassionate about not one or two but three characters in conflict. These distinct personalities are all clearly broken, and Woodward keeps the suffering of each person no matter how many at the forefront. The Three Faces of Eve is always worth revisiting for a then versus now context thanks to her fine portrayal.

25 March 2019

Big Name Bios and Musical Documentaries

Big Name Biographies and Musical Documentaries
by Kristin Battestella

These documentaries and specials celebrate our tormented singers, melancholy composers, and lovable neighbors are surprisingly tender viewing experiences.

The Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 – This 2001 seven hour concert series in Rome featuring the Berlin Philharmonic with Claudio Abbado conducting breaks down into nine episodes varying from a half hour or hour and change as each titular composition dictates. One is an effortlessly melodic and pleasant start sowing the seeds of Ludwig's intensity before the peppered and windswept No. Two in D Major. From the early romantic strings, forlorn measures, and epic tempo of the Eroica to Four's often overlooked sweet, almost jovial and happy go lucky complexity or the bombastically famous Fifth we all know and love – there's an adagio here for everyone. Be it conductor or double bass, it's also bemusing to see all the smiles, sweat at the temple, and serious head bopping from this animated orchestra. However, the talent and intensity of all involved also provides an emotional, can't look away awe as each note and every instrument come together with the audience's applause, standing ovations, and bowing musicians. Six's pleasing opening and enchanting notes are a Pastoral Symphony indeed; a happy allegro stroll antithesis to V's rumbling with an awesome music meets nature storm all its own before the feisty, boisterous power of No. Seven's Allegretto. Likewise, Eight's short, energetic, and voluminous spirit begats the quintessential Ode to Joy of Nine, complete with big voices, chorals, and mighty crescendos to match the rousing power of this epic finale supreme. These symphony performances ensured forever onscreen are the perfect encapsulation of the man behind the music who could not hear his works. Each stage of Beethoven's life can be paralleled through the measures' highs and lows –showcasing the angry, frenetic, morose, and complex undertones with the no less uplifting, even aloof and carefree yet spirited high notes. Though I personally prefer the odd numbered symphonies, all the segments herein remain perfect for either a musical classroom analysis or as a delightful background score for a sophisticated party or just as repeat ambient multimedia experience. 

John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band – This 2008 Classic Albums hour features interviews with Ringo Starr and Yoko Ono as well as archive Lennon audio, home movies, and Beatles footage to recount the raw singing, childhood inspired songwriting, and intimately personal recording sessions of the ex-Beatle's first 1970 solo album. Retro photos and some great song clips detail Lennon's larger than life personality as earlier restrictions within The Beatles lead to a newfound freedom and catharsis in the studio. From the previous 1969 'Give Peace a Chance' release, Amsterdam bed-ins, and performance art to 'Cold Turkey' and 'Instant Karma,' the beginning of Lennon's relationship with Ono and the conception of the new band are touched upon within the music alongside experts and recollections from Klaus Voormann. Despite divorce scandals, the breakup of the Beatles, and largely absent session producer Phil Spector, Lennon made a conscious effort to openly express himself further in song without mass technical productions for the quickest turnaround possible. The dual sessions with Ono's matching album were inspired by Janov's The Primal Scream therapy, resulting in simple, focused songs such as 'Mother' that were able to communicate decades of Lennon's pent up torment. 'Hold On,' 'Isolation,' and 'I Found Out' are revisited with isolated vocals and bass cords while the influence of his relationship with Ono as well as continued work with Ringo are discussed inside 'Why' and 'Love.' Perhaps it is easy to forget John was only thirty years old during these sessions – he's a man ready to move on from the heights of Beatlemania thanks to the likes of 'Working Class Hero' and 'God.' Lennon fought against the studio trying to restrict his lyrics in order to keep his music as pure as possible consequences be damned. Whether you agree with some of his activism and messages or not, there is a certain amount of respect to his adamant vulnerability and the great music produced here. Of course, some of the conversations herein may be tough to understand – even the subtitles have a few 'inaudible' moments – and there is more language and brief nudity in the vintage footage. With its short time and narrow window, this will be quick and superficial to some die hard Beatle aficionados. However, this isn't a biography but rather a recounting of music as the mirror of the persona fitting for nostalgic older fans and a great starting point for new listeners.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? Pleasing titular music, blazers to sweater comforts, puppets, and trolleys accent this acclaimed 2018 documentary on the beloved minister cum children's television presenter Fred Rogers and his charming PBS series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Alongside crew recollections of the on the fly developments of live television, early behind the scenes photos, black and white videos, animations, and archive footage recount Rogers' philosophies on using television and mass media as a tool for education aiding children through life changes, wartime fears, and political unease. Rather than dumbing down his programs with silliness, Rogers remembered his own childhood illnesses and need for imagination – using relatable honesty, musical allegories, and friendly metaphors to speak to a child from his or her own poignant, frank level. In this safe onscreen community of lovable characters and make believe, Rogers expressed negatives, anxiety, and vulnerability in lessons youth nationwide could apply in the real world. Though initially received as 'square,' Mister Rogers' Neighborhood quickly became lauded television thanks to its lack of heavy handed sermons. Rogers valued the space between the individual and what he or she is watching as personal and filled it with positive faith and love thy neighbor communication that went against television's consumer nature. When Nixon attempted to cut public television funding, Rogers' congressional testimony on how television can help children understand self-realization, control, anger, and right versus wrong saved PBS. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood continued to assist youth of all cultures through Vietnam, the RFK assassination, and the Challenger disaster – unafraid to help young viewers grieve and understand loss with dignity. Rogers takes us to task for not placing the emotions of children above all else as his silence onscreen, slow pace, and direct approach encourage focus, patience, and the need to pay attention. Instead of in your face cartoons, viewers near and far were told to speak up and express themselves. The narrative here balances the serious moments with humorous anecdotes and bloopers, however it isn't all positive. Rogers had his doubts, and it was easier to share his own feelings through puppets rather than always be so perfect. His prime time attempt at a program for adults was uncomfortable for many – too deep to be taken seriously. Although he wasn't fond of the spoofs mocking him and disliked bullying reminders of his own hurtful adolescence, Rogers continued to tackle big issues for children such as death, divorce, even being lost. Life is tough enough without creating self-doubts, and Rogers disliked adults unaccepting of mistakes or disappointment pressuring kids to be something they aren't. Despite the risk of losing sponsors, Rogers also supported black and closeted staff where possible, and open our eyes to cancer, wheelchairs, racism, and a stronger sense of being. Even when it's coming over the television airwaves, what's most essential in life is actually invisible to the eye, for we don't need to be sensational to be special but can be accepted as we are and should in turn do the same. This feature is a very emotional viewing catharsis, an innocent, necessary nostalgia reminding us of all the feelings, tenderness, co-existence, inclusion, and love Mr. Rogers taught us. One wonders what he would think of our current climate, as we could sure use his gentle wisdom today.

23 March 2019

Dead Man's Gun: Season One

Dead Man's Gun Debut is Uneven but Weirdly Promising
by Kristin Battestella

Produced by Henry Winkler and narrated by Kris Kristofferson, Showtime's 1997-98 western anthology series Dead Man's Gun debuts with twenty-two episodes of somewhat rocky but no less entertaining weird and vengeful parables.

Originally, the first three episodes of Dead Man's Gun were shown in a television movie block opening with John Ritter (Three's Company) as an ambitious sideshow assistant in “The Great McDonacle.” He's tired of trick shooting and buys the titular gun despite warnings that the devil himself made it such bad luck. The poor Shakespeare shows and bad saloon singing are slow to start, however the six shooting spectacles, bullets caught between the teeth, and obvious kiss before the shot add to this business of illusions. He's not a real marksman, so why does he need a real gun? Playing against the odds with one more shot, unfortunately, proves costly amid well done character interplay, shootouts, and Billy the Kid references. Seemingly slick thief John Glover (Smallville) steals money, documents, and our gun in “Fool's Gold” before selling a $200 claim to local rube Matt Frewer (Orphan Black) and making moves on saloon girl Laurie Holden (Silent Hill). Bankers, mining equipment deals, bets on recouping the cost of this speculation, and contracts with survivor claims lead to some hefty interest policies, double crosses, and blackmail. Fortunately, this gun comes in handy for eliminating all those little technicalities. Producer cum down on his luck peddler Henry Winkler (Happy Days), however, takes a dead man's identity as well as his gun and employment papers to become the next town marshal in “The Impostor.” He's thrust into a standoff and inadvertently saves the day – earning free meals, service, and respect as he settles local disputes and finds romance. Our town hero begins believing he can stop bank robbers and help others, but we known such innocence doesn't last long on Dead Man's Gun. This first episode of the series proper is a much better start to the series than the spliced feature, and dreaded undertaker Larry Drake (Dr. Giggles) pilfers jewels, boots, and clothes off the dead in “Buryin' Sam.” He reuses the linens and rusty nails in the caskets but charges the bereaved $12 for all the trimmings. Shootouts from our gun are good business when not pursuing widows – after all, it's really about comforting the living. Interfering heart conditions and indirect fatalities, unfortunately, lead to murder, lightning, and supernatural betrayals as empty graves and night time burials invoke fine horror elements. Night caps, syringes, and killer sex for “The Black Widow” leave the titular Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place) with will readings, black veils, and our inherited gun before she sets about ensnaring a local jeweler. Hot air balloons and romantic picnics quickly lead to the marital grand manor complete with a pesky old maid, locked attic, and treacherous stairs. Gems, fortunes, and memento mori accent the suspicions alongside poison mushrooms, nitroglycerin, well done suspense, and deadly interplay.

A birth in the brothel and the Dead Man's Gun is offered as doctor William Katt's (House) payment in “The Healer.” He insists on helping a dying gunslinger after a standoff in the saloon, and the townsfolk quickly turn into a trigger happy mob. They want him to look the other way while they 'take care' of a feverish patient who will hang anyway, and past rows reveal they never really were that neighborly. The doctor's missus has some history, too, and it all comes out thanks to a dreamy romp in the hay. Though rough around the edges, the vengeance, responsibility, and consequences here make for an interesting gray. Of course, racism abounds with buck, squaw, and redskin talk in “Medicine Man” as Adam Beach (Windtalkers) receives a bottle of whiskey instead of real payment for his work. His father Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) dislikes his cold gun with an evil spirit and wishes his son would return to the chants, drums, and tee pees – but these are a proud people made low, warriors with nothing left to hunt. The Nez Perce language is minimal and some of the Native American motifs are stereotypical, however this parable is told from the proper point of view and the audience understands the anger and rage. Dreams and spiritual wisdom add a slightly supernatural touch, but the gun only makes it easier to pursue ruthlessness, and revenge only begats more revenge. In “Next Of Kin,” Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) invites Helen Shaver (Supergirl) and the rest of the snotty, presumptuous family to finalize his will. Can they stay the weekend enjoying his gourmet food and luxuries to prove themselves worthy of his legacy or will they bicker and toy with his priceless loaded gun? Despite blaming, blows, and supposed self-inflicted gunshots in the night, no one's willing to leave and lose their fortune. The accursed gun is tossed into the fire, where it doesn't get hot or burn, but its E&S initials – Latin for 'ruin and destroy' – glow. Certainly there are similar mysteries and horror tales, but the period dynamics and stir crazy of our looming heirloom make for one of the season's best – a superb little potboiler with kinky relations, past bitterness, and bodies in the hall. Blacksmith Meat Loaf (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), however, is displeased when his new wife arrives with a son for “Mail Order Bride.” On top of this awkward situation, he recognizes our gun that keeps coming back to haunt him. The tender father son bonding is somewhat try hard, too on the nose with its lessons, but Meat Loaf's fine performance raises the uneven drama and keeps things intriguing as the gun falls into the wrong hands.

Fire eaters and carnival atmosphere accent “The Fortune Teller” when charlatan Elizabeth Peña (La Bamba) really beings to see the future in her crystal ball after coming into the Dead Man's Gun. The town is at odds over believing the tea leaves and tarot cards or ignoring the hocus pocus, but the price to hear of one's adultery, murder, or vengeful fortunes goes up from fifteen cents to a dollar! Eerie images and an unique hedge maze finale converge as the gun brings the visions to a sharp point. He cures sleeplessness with stimulation through the power of the mind in “The Mesmerizer,” but this doctor is really using hypnosis to assault the lady patients and steal from the gents. Stealing our gun, however, makes the power of suggestion stronger – enchanting people in the streets, using old ladies to rob a bank, and invoking new death bed will signatures. Though similar to Poe's The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, we want the nastiness to get its due, and Dead Man's Gun provides it with deathly vengeance and full on horror in the just desserts. By contrast, the sepia stills and vintage equipment of “The Photographer” seem so quaint until Gary Cole (Veep) takes a photo of our jinxed gun in action. He has no qualms about snapping pictures of the departed, and townsfolk are shocked when he captures a bank robbery – unlike today where smartphones galore make everything an instagram story. Is he a vulture seeking disturbing images or a chronicler capturing fatal action as it happens? After selling his graphic photos to the local gazette, national papers write that they will pay top dollar for more scenes of a violent nature. After all, folks who can't read buy the paper for the scandalous pictures! As he snaps more shootouts and convinces dangerous outlaws to pose before his camera, our photographer traces the gun as it changes hands five times, and it would have been interesting to have had this period premise that's still relevant today featured regularly throughout the season. Despite a strong mid-season, Dead Man's Gun is quite uneven in its first half with an often embarrassingly wooden secondary cast and continuity issues despite the anthology format. Instead of completely tracing the gun's travels from one episode to the next, our inanimate anchor is picked up at the end of one hour with our never knowing what happens next. Likewise, openings that had more to tell dump the piece onto the next victim as Dead Man's Gun further misses the opportunity to have Kristofferson (Blade) appear as a sage in pursuit. After a few clunky episodes, my husband wrote off the series as being too “random” in its gun portrayal. Fire and brimstone Tim Matheson (The West Wing) is putting on the healing under the revival tent in the penultimate “Wages Of Sin” with plants in the crowd and holy elixir shams. He charms the ladies and convinces a violent brother to give up his tool of evil. From fevers to blindness and broken wings, our reverend begins to believe in the miraculous nature of our gun. He wants to build a permanent temple thanks to wealthy neighbors and tempting blondes, but some pay for seeing through the con and double crosses as the gun giveth and taketh.

Although the narration calls the weapon legendary, its sentient or evil natural is not fully explored – it's not infamous and is passed on quite innocuously at times. Some own it decades despite its misfortune while others are done with it in a few days. Beyond a general Old West, towns and locations are never mentioned, and while all these bads probably don't take place in the same town, every place sure looks the same. A Horse or carriage ride scene opens every episode, any kids seen are dang annoying, and the nineties flirtations are laughable amid the try hard speak oldeth. Dead Man's Gun also has a noticeable abundance of lookalike blondes – several each episode where having had one woman witness it all would have been more interesting. “My Brother's Keeper” is the weakest of the initial three television movie segments, as poor brothers in bar room quarrels and quick draw fights are somehow slow to get to the point. It's too early for Dead Man's Gun to seem like it will be the same episode all the time – if you've seen one, you've seen them all. The shabby boarding house of “Highwayman” is different from the usual lookalike town, but the weak, undistinguished cast and thin story also contribute to that same one trick pony feeling. A then unlikely shorter episode order would have kept the series taut instead of repetitive. Despite a shopkeeper looking for dime novel excitement and a creepy old lady customer offering our gun as payment, the dream sequences in “Bounty Hunter” are too hokey. A wife so young she could be his daughter is just obnoxious, and the powerful temptations for a man made small by his station in life are somehow too plain. Sage characters in these faulty episodes also add to the ambiguous nature of the gun – which can be triumphed by a good person or consume one in an evil that was already there. Is it the person or the gun's influence? Some stories portray the philosophical debate well while others remain inconsistent. When grieving mother Kate Jackson (Dark Shadows) demands justice in “Death Warrant,” the gray area between legal bounty hunting and killing an innocent bystander is disappointingly lame, even pointless thanks to bad faux southern accents and greasy styling. Everybody looks rode hard and put away wet thanks to some juicy out of place saloon girls showers, and ultimately, the gun is an afterthought. “Stagecoach Marty” Jo Beth Williams (Poltergeist) handles holds ups and precious silver cargo before buying lavender soap and getting a makeover that catches a handsome passenger's eye. Unfortunately, the sassy woman humor and unladylike likable awkwardness are too unevenly mixed with suspect romance, decoy wagons, and secret heist plots trying to do too much. A drunk ex-gunslinger returns to form in “The Resurrection Of Joe Wheeler,” but the slow start is laden with rapacious violence, thuggery, and incompetent town officials. Outlaws are raiding town, and Dead Man's Gun resorts to the same old one man with issues and a blonde on his arm. Of course, the straights, flushes, aces, and pairs pile up in “The Gambler” until a sassy blonde in a cowboy hat joins the high stakes game. Here the impressive gun action – one must kill to keep his luck – simply can't overcome the contrived romance, card playing montages, and streaky where is this going plot, for hot hand run cold stories are as old as the West itself. Likewise, Union troops are having a terrible time thanks to an inept young officer in “The Deserter.” No matter how many mystical riding montages we have, he keeps returning to the same painfully obvious cornfield, and the over use of both slow motion and hectic for the cowardice feels D.O.A. before we even get to the soldier being tied up and bathed by a bunch of women. The titular safe cracker in “Snake Finger” faces a newly designed, supposedly full proof, time release safe installed at the local bank while romancing the owner's daughter. The drama is never sure if we're supposed to like the charming crook or support the crusty lawman in pursuit, and what should be an exciting cat and mouse is ultimately a sappy finale with little connection to our gun.

Fortunately, covered wagons, horses, painted ponies, gun powder, long rifles, and mud set the Dead Man's Gun mood alongside western facades, saloons, spurs, stagecoaches, hay, and saddlery. While the slow motion strobe when the gun's firing is unnecessary, the ominous music themes and subtle guitar strings are a fine touch. Rays of light through doorways, silhouettes, and reflections in mirrors or windows also make for interesting visuals. Our holstered gun is often in the foreground ready and waiting amid lanterns, candles, old fashioned money notes, ticking pocket watches, period patterns, chewing tobacco, and wanted posters. Corsets, bustles, parasols, lace, chokers, ruffles, and bobbles provide a feminine touch while rustic outdoor filming, bitter snow, and shabby slat homes contrast luxury luggage, grand staircases, fancy mansions, and Victorian gardens. Sound effects and more foreboding lighting invoke spookiness as needed while flies buzz around the horses or the dead, yet Dead Man's Gun is surprisingly colorful with rich greens, maroon, and purples highlighting rugs, antiques, and velvet sofas. Cigars and smoking are a realistic touch obviously not seen as much today, but how did they film that real rattlesnake bite?! The sex scenes however, are totally lame with little to see and nothing steamy before Showtime goes overboard later in the season with out of place butt shots and side boobs. There's a warning on the video that the picture quality is old, and indeed the nineties production looks VHS flat on a 4K television with some dark, tough to see nighttime photography. The relatively late Dead Man's Gun DVD release also has no subtitles, and the episodes are spread out across a lot of discs despite the otherwise slim and bare bones set. Thankfully, Dead Man's Gun makes the most of its real locales, a pleasing sight compared to contemporary CGI. There isn't an over-reliance on action or blood, gore, and typical western fast. Instead, the gunshots are realistically blunt with just enough splatter and drama to the shootouts. Such choice use makes the anticipation all the more intense and violent when gun action happens. After all, Chekov says that trigger's got to be pulled!

Though occasionally rerunning on western themed channels, creators Ed and Howard Spielman's (The Young Riders, Kung Fu) series always seemed unloved by Showtime and Dead Man's Gun remains a little elusive. I remember waiting for new episodes back then and was disappointed when the more recent DVR was likewise filled with the same few reruns, so it's pleasing to see all the episodes here almost anew. While some legs are better than others are and the series doesn't go as full on horror or mystical as some audiences may like, Dead Man's Gun is the perfect weird western for steampunkish viewers looking for something that's not your daddy's western.