Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Gunsmoke" Connections to "The Hateful Eight"

 

I watched dozens of Gunsmoke episodes this past summer.  I found it interesting when the same classic western elements that inspired and informed Gunsmoke turned up in grotesque and lurid form in Quentin Tarantino's perverse western The Hateful Eight.  This is no real surprise as Tarantino always patches together his films from story elements, character types and visuals from other films.  I really liked a shot of a stagecoach traveling through a snowy route.  I said to myself, "I have to give the man credit for this nice shot."

 
No, I don't have to give him credit because he stole the shot from Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence (1968).


Tarantino even made use of Corbucci's religious crosses in the snow.


The Hateful Eight is essentially a closed-room murder mystery.  A group of stagecoach passengers, including bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive captive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), takes shelter from a blizzard at a way station.  The station is already occupied by several unsavory men, who have also been stranded by the blizzard.  Ruth is suspicious that none of the usual station attendants are present.  He is convinced that at least one of the travelers is not who he pretends to be and this imposter must have a plan underway to free Domergue. 
 
Randolph Scott and Richard Boone in The Tall T (1957)

Other westerns have involved a gang of fugitive outlaws taking control of a way station (otherwise known as a relay station).  This became a reoccurring plot in the 1950s with Rawhide (1951), Hangman's Knot (1952) and The Tall T (1957).  The plot turned up again in a 1964 Gunsmoke episode called "Help Me, Kitty."  Jack Elam, who was Rawhide's greatest asset in his portrayal of a lascivious bad guy, plays virtually the same role in the Gunsmoke episode.

Jack Elam and Susan Hayward in Rawhide (1951)
Amanda Blake and Jack Elam in Gunsmoke ("Help Me, Kitty," 1964)

The Jennifer Jason Leigh character, Daisy Domergue, reminded me of a wholly repugnant character that Virginia Gregg played in the Gunsmoke episode "Phoebe Strunk" (1962).

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue


Virginia Gregg as Phoebe Strunk


Elements of Agatha Christie's classic novel "Ten Little Indians"(1965) can be seen in The Hateful Eight.  These same elements came to bear on a Gunsmoke episode called (appropriately enough) "Ten Little Indians."  In the episode, the Long Branch Saloon becomes a gathering place for a group of unsavory characters, all of whom have arrived in town with a deadly hidden agenda. 


One of those characters is The Hateful Eight's Bruce Dern.

 

Lastly, Russell was a reoccurring guest star on Gunsmoke.


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