The Shooting (1966)

The Shooting (1966), directed by Monte Hellman.

A mystery western. So mysterious that for a while I suspected supernatural elements as in Eastwood's High Plains Drifter (1973) or Pale Rider (1985). But no, it really is a mystery. The director ripped up the first 10 pages of exposition and wants us to figure what is happening -- if possible -- along with the characters.

I can't introduce the plot without narrating everything. Suffice to say: we see Gashade leaving an obvious trail for someone following. Returning to his mining camp he finds a new grave, his brother gone and fled to the hills, and the remaining partner in a panic. The kid says there was trouble in town: two people were run down, including a "little person" -- a child? Now one partner is dead and the other a fugitive.

Next day, a mysterious woman needs rescuing but when they hit the trail she seems rich and spoiled, erratic and bossy. She has a secret agenda and when it is clear she is not alone, the plot becomes even more ominous.

We liked this one very much, even if we could not puzzle out all the plot points.

Made back to back with Ride in the Whirlwind (1966) -- an economizing strategy by producer Roger Corman -- it has the same authentic minimalist look emphasizing outdoor locations we see in Budd Boetticher westerns.

This time I was also reminded of the spy stories of John le Carré like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) and Smiley's People (1982). These are people who do not answer questions and only fools persist in asking. Meaning, again, that we have to puzzle it out.

The cast:

Photographed by Gregory Sandor -- Ride in the Whirlwind (1966), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Sisters (1972).

Like the other film it is only 82m long and had the same $75k budget.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion, with the companion film Ride in the Whirlwind (1966) on the same disc. Both films have a commentary track by the director, Bill Krohn and Blake Lucas.