Saturday, September 08, 2007


1 : The Psychotic

In One-eyed Jacks, the only film he ever directed, Marlon Brando plays Rio the Kid, an American bandit in pre-revolutionary Mexico, who earns his living by holding up banks with his partner, Dad Longworth.

One day, Rio and Longworth, fleeing from the Rurales after an especially bounteous bank job, find themselves surrounded and outnumbered in the desert. Sheltering from a sandstorm, Dad tells Rio that there's a small town, just a short ride down the valley, through which they passed some time before. There's a guy who lives in the town, says Dad, who sells horses - horses with more life in them than their own knackered animal. With horses, Dad and the Kid could escape from the Rurales and make a break for the border.

While Rio waits, Dad rides off to the town, where he finds a man who sells him a fit, lively horse. Dad mounts the horse, picks up his bag of gold - and crosses the border to Monterey, California alone. Back in the Mexican desert Rio, abandoned by his older friend, is captured by the authorities, paraded round as a trophy, and lands up in the peninentiary to serve a five-year sentence.

When Rio is eventually released and revisits some of his old haunts, he meets a man who is planning a bank robbery in the city of Monterey, where Dad Longworth - unrecognisable as a pillar of respectability - is now mayor.

Longworth, racked by guilt, welcomes Rio to the town and invites him to join in the annual fiesta. Rio seduces Longworth's step-daugher Louisa and the next day, after killing a drunk in a bar, he is arrested. In an echo of five years before, the sadistic Dad violently whips Rio in front of the town's more voyeuristic spectators, and smashes his hand with the butt of a gun.

Rio soon returns to Monterey and when a young girl is killed in a bank-robbery, he is chief suspect. Dad sentences the Kid to hang, but his step-daughter, now pregnant with Rio's child, has other ideas. She manages to get a gun past the guard, Rio escapes his cell and easily kills Dad in a shoot-out. Having committed his revenge, Rio heads up to Oregon, leaving Louisa to wonder if he will ever return.

2 : The Neurotic

In "An Adventure at Brownville," a short horror story by Ambrose Bierce (every bit as great an American writer as Twain and Poe), a young schoolmaster walks home at sunset, satisfied after completing the last day of term. As he absorbs the nature around him, he hears voices coming from the woods.

"I will have no threats ; you are powerless, as you very well know. Let things remain as they are or, by God! you shall both suffer for it," says a man angrily.

"What do you mean?" replies the 'cultivated voice' of a young lady. "You would not - murder us." The schoolmaster sees, among the moonlit trees, the woman sink to her knees in front of the man, but the man does not reply. The schoolmaster tries to intercept - but the voices and the figures vanish into the night.

The next morning, he sees the two women at breakfast : they are sisters from San Francisco. Later he sees the older woman, Pauline, with a man, Richard Benning, whose voice he recognises as the one which haunted the woods the previous evening.

"He was apparently of middle age, dark and uncommonly handsome. His attire was faultless, his bearing easy and graceful, the look which he turned upon me open, free, and devoid of any suggestion of rudeness. Nevertheless it affected me with a distinct emotion which on subsequent analysis in memory appeared to be compounded of hatred and dread - I am unwilling to call it fear."

It emerges that Benning has come to Brownville with his wards Pauline and Eva, who is unwell. Since there is no sign that Benning is acting in ill faith, the schoolmaster tries to forget what he heard in the woods, and lets the matter lie.

But a month matter, Pauline dies suddenly. Eva blames Benning, but when our narrator watches them out on the veranda one day, it emerges that Eva Maynard and Richard Benning are lovers. Later, he approaches Eva, begging her to reveal the true identity and intentions of Richard Benning. "Perhaps this is rude in me, but it is not a matter for idle civilities. When a woman is in danger any man has a right to act. If you had no love for your sister I, at least, am concerned for you."

"I loved her, yes, God knows!" Eva interrupts, "But more than that - beyond all, beyond expression, I love him. You have overheard a secret, but you shall not make use of it to harm him. I shall deny all." At which, the schoolmaster falls madly in love with her.

Eva takes the schoolmaster's arm and walks with him to the Eagle's Nest, the summit of a cliff hundreds of feet about the forest and the valley. There they are intercepted by Richard Benning. "Being a fool," confesses the schoolmaster, "I neglected to take him by the throat and pitch him into the treetops below, but muttered some polite lie instead."

Benning sweeps Eva off her feet, and tells her about the various wild flowers of the region. Suddenly, with a mere look from Benning, "with the smile of an angel upon her lips and that look of terror in her beautiful eyes Eva Maynard sprang from the cliff and shot crashing into the tops of the pines below!"

3. To be determined...

In Hampstead late one afternoon last week, I watched as a mother and her young son alighted the bus. The mother was pushing a pushchair, in which a very young girl slept. The boy tried to pick his sister out of the pushchair, but was held back by his mother. "I'm only trying to help," he protested. "She's my baby as well!"


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