There are great movies, good movies, and the rest of the genre, the also-rans. That being said, however, each film must be taken in context. Such is the case with 1973’s Showdown, a presumably lackluster western with Rock Hudson and Dean Martin.
But let us look again, as Showdown isn’t an awful film when taken in the proper context. In fact, it is almost enjoyable. Nothing in the film is particularly noteworthy or outstanding, as the plot of two childhood friends who, in adulthood, find themselves on opposite sides of the law was worn out prior to Roosevelt’s second term. In fact it is almost like a high end made for TV movie.
The last reel of the picture holds most of the action and the final sequence, though rather pedestrianly filmed, is a suitable somber climax to a good retelling of an old story. Hudson’s facial expressions in his final scene are among the finest of the entire picture.
The two stars, Hudson and Martin, were at the time both past their prime in terms of box office draw; and to a lesser extent even appeal on the smaller screen was waning for both. But yet the resulting film, though full of clichés and an overall lack of originality, is worth watching. Performances throughout the cast are strong and production values are good as well, given the relative star power of the picture in 1973.
The reason is simple. Dean Martin. No, this isn’t the Dean Martin of Rio Bravo or The Young Lions, where Martin still felt he needed to prove something against his friend and Rat Pack leader Frank Sinatra. Rather, this is the confident and satisfied “King of Cool” Dean Martin who, for lack of a better turn of phrase, in later years made a very good living aping and being himself. This picture is yet another example of Dean being Dino. It still doesn’t matter if the glass is full of whiskey or apple juice, the atmosphere is the same.
But still Martin doesn’t just mail in his performance- and neither does Hudson, for that matter. The banter and relationship between the two men, aided by frequent flashbacks, is engaging and lively. For added measure through in Susan Clark playing Hudson’s wife, but who wonders almost aloud how things may have been if she’d chosen Martin instead, and you have a perfect trifecta.
Unlike most flashbacks which I find more or less annoying, these are substantial. Not so much from moving the plot along- which they don’t, but rather from showing the deepness of the friendship these two men had well into young adulthood when they each went their different ways. They provide a nice depth and a texture to the fabric of the film. And if you look carefully they also provide more than a bit of foreshadowing of what is to come.
At the end of the day Showdown runs almost like a high dollar made for TV movie, though in reality it is far superior to that weak genre. The only true negative from the picture is David Shire’s irritatingly cloying score, which is horribly dated and full of the atmosphere of the early 1970s. One wonders what the response was then.
Although Martin with his sly grin and easy saunter takes the spotlight, Hudson pulls his weight as well. Although at times having little to do but be the solid and conservative foil to Martin’s ribald sharpshooting character, he has several good line which are all performed quite well, to say the least.
Even though not creative or original in any real sense of the word, Showdown is a pleasant and enjoyable movie if one goes in with the proper expectations. Citizen Kane it isn’t, but it is fun and enjoyable.
And strangely, as of this writing, it was never available on DVD through normal means. You’d think that any film with the coolest of the Rat Pack would have a dedicated audience sizable enough to merit a release, but perhaps I am mistaken. Showdown has become inadvertently a bit of a rarity as it was never released on DVD until the advent of the Universal MOD collection. However, it is now also available digitally for rental or purchase from iTunes and amazon, which will hopefully reintroduce it a bit to the multitudes.
If for no other reason, check this one out for yet another version of the Dean Martin mystique and for the fact that it was the last western either Martin or Hudson made.