An era of film making I am currently digging is the mid 60's and early 70's in Hollywood. All the major studio heads of yesteryear were either dead or retiring. And the suits buying these studios really didn't know the first thing about making movies. So they put their faith and trust in the “New Hollywood”. Maverick filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and William Friedkin just to name a few.
Monte Hellman is another filmmaker that can be lumped into that bunch. And in 1966 he made two westerns. Two films that were forgotten as soon as they were released. THE SHOOTING and RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND. Both of which were co-produced and starred Jack Nicholson. Nicholson even wrote the screenplay for RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND.
Often referred to as 'micro westerns' these films would go on to become cult classics. Being called 'micro westerns' I think comes from the fact both films are low budget ( which you can't tell because of how stunning the production value is), and the story each movie tells is surprisingly small for a western .
RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND is probably the most honest depiction of the west in a movie I have ever seen. Everything is sandy and dusty. All the characters have a look of desperation about them. All around it's just a very naturalistic feel. Hellman's depiction of the west is almost post apocalyptic. Which can account for the 'micro western' label. The characters in RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND seem like they could be some of the last remaining people on earth.
Three cowhands on the way to a cattle drive bunk at a cabin for the night. Little do they know that their hosts are outlaws who recently held up a stagecoach and killed a man. When an vigilante posse attacks the cabin, the trio is mistaken as part of the outlaw gang. Two of them escape only to be relentlessly hunted down by the avenging pose.
A movie like RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND is one that grows on you. When I finished watching it I could take it or leave it. But after a few days I kept thinking about the film and liking it more and more. I can't remember the last time I watched a western where the frontier was such a lonely place. And where the people who live in it look like prisoners who've given up hope.
Final thoughts. While I typically like my westerns a little more stylized, RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND is a cool little film. For such a small budget there is some excellent locations and high production value in the cinematography. One cool piece of trivia, the shooting location for the movie is now underwater. Yep, Glen Canyon near Kanab, Utah where the film was shot became Lake Powell.
I'd recommend RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND to avid movie buffs and fans of 60's counterculture films.