Who says a book’s shelf life has an expiration date? Nearly three years after publication, UCLA Film Archive showcases Cinema ’62 on January 27, 2023 with a double feature of two notable movies from that milestone year 1962. The two films selected, WAR HUNT and RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, curated by the authors, illustrate some of the prominent themes of the book: the end of the studio era, the rise of exciting new talent both in front of and behind the camera, the emergence of independent productions, the last hurrah of black-and-white cinematography, the career twilight of master craftsmen, and the burgeoning frankness of artistic expression and content, among others.

WAR HUNT, a low-budget effort set in the final days of the Korean War, features the film debut of future superstar Robert Redford. Produced and directed by brothers Terry (p.) and Denis (d.) Sanders, the movie was backed by United Artists as an “idea film,” with a minimal budget so the studio would not lose money. The Sanders proceeded with a cast of relative unknowns (Redford, Sydney Pollack before he became an award-winning director, Tom Skerritt, Gavin MacCloud) and an actor with a higher profile, John Saxon, playing a rogue soldier, departing from his usual lightweight romantic roles. Redford plays a recruit who morally counters Saxon’s dark-hearted, uncompromising killer. Aside from Redford’s sympathetic performance, the movie represents an early expression of anti-war sentiment, particularly with its Korean War setting, a conflict that was a stalemate. Another notable feature is the black-and-white cinematography of veteran Ted McCord, who went on to score an Oscar nomination for his luminous monochromatic work on another 1962 film, Two for the Seesaw.

 RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, an elegiac western with two Golden Age stars, Randolph Scott (in his final performance) and Joel McCrea (almost at the end of his career) as aging lawmen who take on one last mission. MGM produced the film on a modest budget and entrusted it to a relative newcomer in the director’s chair, Sam Peckinpah. He had gained an impressive reputation writing and directing TV westerns, with Ride the High Country only his second film. The movie is stocked with solid supporting players, with Warren Oates, Edgar Buchanan, L.Q. Jones, and Mariette Hartley in her film debut. Another venerable cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, shot the autumnal western landscape in naturalistic color, and his contribution is a prime asset, along with an incisive original screenplay by N. B. Stone Jr., a veteran of television westerns who spent nearly his entire career in that medium. Ballard was a frequent collaborator with Peckinpah, and they worked memorably again at the end of the decade on the landmark western The Wild Bunch. After the unimpressed studio dumped Ride the High Country into the elephant’s graveyard of neighborhood double bills with scant advertising, critics rescued it from oblivion with rave reviews, and its reputation has risen through the years to be recognized as one of Peckinpah’s two masterpieces (along with The Wild Bunch). In 1992 the Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry.

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