Back from the Philippines, where he’d just shot a pair of features for Roger Corman with Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman repeated the trick with a diptych of westerns in 1966.
Ride in the Whirlwind offered another screenwriting credit for Jack Nicholson, but The Shooting would prove to be the masterpiece of the two – an existential subversion of traditional western archetypes that owed as much to Sartre, Camus and Beckett as it did to screenwriter Carole Eastman.
Reconfiguring the female character (Millie Perkins) into a black-gloved, woman-with-no-name – a mirror image to Nicholson’s sadistic, “strong and pretty” gunslinger – Hellman plays with genre tropes all the way to the film’s astonishing, fragmented ending.
It’s difficult to specifically align the film with the director’s contention that The Shooting is really about Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of JFK and his subsequent capture, but the film could never be mistaken for apolitical, something assured by Hellman’s forceful spatial dynamics and an emphasis on the shifting boundaries of moral certitude, violence and humanity.
Guy El Tsosie