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The end of an era in the American West

COURTESY PHOTO | 'Monte Walsh' will be the featured film at Movies at the Library.

COURTESY PHOTO | ‘Monte Walsh’ will be the featured film at Movies at the Library.

“Monte Walsh,” originally scheduled for the winter series of Movies at the Library, will be shown at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 29 in the Community Room. It is a film that appeared largely unheralded in 1970. Why remains a mystery when Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it “as lovely a Western as I’ve seen in a long time,” and subsequent commentaries include “one of the five best Westerns ever made.”

Lee Marvin is Monte Walsh in what one critic called his best performance. Another wrote that he invests his character with humanity, dignity and pride. Jack Palance plays his fellow cowpoke in a performance that reminds the audience what a good actor he was and how seldom he was able to show it. The two characters see the end of an era in the West and choose different ways to cope with it.

Jeanne Moreau, in her first American film and first Western, is luminous. Supporting actors give the best performances of their careers, notably Mitchell Ryan and Jim Davis. They form an ensemble cast that can only result from the work of a great director. That director is William Fraker, who made only four films as director and this was his first. (Others include “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Bullitt.”) He is better known for his work as director of photography and cinematographer for over 50 films, six of which were nominated for Academy Awards. His cinematographer’s eye is evident in every frame of “Monte Walsh” and is one reason it is called an elegiac Western. It is beautiful to watch. It is a testament to its quality that “poetic” and “emotional depth” are used to describe it.

“Monte Walsh” is based on the novel by Jack Schaefer, who also wrote “Shane,” and the two stories are about cowboys who want to settle down. They are requiems for the cowboy, and even audiences who are not fans of Westerns will appreciate the care that went into the making of “Monte Walsh.” It doesn’t shy away from the reality of the dying West, but Ebert said the film depicts what the West was all about, and our American West was a beautiful, majestic place.

So call a friend and come out for a memorable evening with Movies at the Library.

Bottled water and treats will be available. Admission is free but contributions are always appreciated.