THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (1995)

   Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Woody Strode, Sam Raimi (director)
   The town of Redemption is holding a world championship quick-draw tournament, and the best shooters from around the world have gathered. Herod (Hackman) is the mastermind behind the tournament and the town. One gunslinger who is not part of the contest is Cort (Crowe), a prisoner in chains and Herod’s former partner in crime, who has now found God and become a preacher, a man of peace. One of the contestants is “The Kid” (DiCaprio), lightning fast and itching to prove himself. We learn later that he is Herod’s son and has never been good enough for his father. But the center of attention is on Ellen (Stone), a mystery figure wearing her guns with confidence. Herod tries to figure out her secret, but she holds it close to the end, when we discover that she seeks revenge against Herod, who killed Ellen’s father years earlier. The film provided the first major roles for DiCaprio and Crowe and it was Woody Strode’s last film. He died before it was released.
   Everything about this self-reflexive Western countered all Westerns before it. Scenes from famous Westerns of the past are parodied. When the loser gets shot, he does not just crumple and fall. He is blown upward and backward as if hit by an explosion. When Charlie Moonlight (Strode) is a bit slow on the draw, a bullet blows a hole the size of a baseball through his head. Other victims do flips in the street from their hits. As Herod falls in the last scene, a glint of sunlight shines down through the hole in the middle of his heart. The initial reaction to The Quick and the Dead from fans and reviewers still adjusted to the classic Westerntradition and even somewhat to the antimyth tradition was overwhelmingly negative. The film was not really a box-office success. Sam Raimi fans, however, loved it because they immediately saw the connection of the film to his Evil Dead series of horror films. The Quick and the Dead was quickly nicknamed “the Quick and the Evil Dead.” It has since become a cult classic, though not particularly among Western fans. Despite receiving an initial negative reaction, The Quick and the Dead has developed a major reputation among academic film critics as being one of the first significant postmodern Westerns—postmodernmeaning the utter rejection of the grand meta-narratives upon which modernity was based, utter repudiation of the assumptions of classic Westerns of the myth of the West. One may well wonder whether the film is comic or serious. Can it be both? The film is often praised (or condemned) for its comic-book feel: its sharp, violent passages; its straight-line story; its simple buildup to the climax; its unusual camera angles and transitions.
   This film is also considered a feminist Western in the same tradition as The Ballad of Little Jo(1993). Ellen is a gunfighteron a level with all the champion gunfighters of the West. The fact that she is a female is not particularly noteworthy. She does, though, have fashionable tastes, wearing styles, including sunshades, that would not be out of place in 1995 or in whatever Western period the narrative takes place.
   See also COSTUMES; GREENWALD, Maggie.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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