Saturday, October 13, 2012

Up a Creek: "Showdown at Williams Creek" (1991)

Tom Burlinson, of "The Man from Snowy River," and not much else, plays an Irishman who comes to the Northwest Territories to find gold.

This entire review is a spoiler, so you have been warned. He befriends an American, and a fellow Irishman, and comes to the titled Williams Creek twice in the span of two years and loses all of his gold- once in an obviously fixed poker game and again when the gold mysteriously disappears off of his American friend after he is killed. By this point, Burlinson has met Scotsman Rhodes, who we find out at the beginning of the film was murdered by Burlinson. The entire film is a flashback (albeit a long one) over Burlinson's life and his run-ins with Rhodes over many years.

Burlinson leaves Williams Creek after the death of his friend and parts ways with his fellow Irishman, traveling with Rhodes to find more gold. Burlinson is shot with an arrow, and left by Rhodes with a rifle in the wilderness. Burlinson makes like "A Man Called Horse" and "Dances With Wolves" and is adopted by some native people, who are offspring of Native Americans and French fur trappers. Rhodes, missing a leg, shows up AGAIN and bilks Burlinson into joining him at a trading post selling watered down whiskey to the "savages." That ends badly, too, with a bloody gunfight, and Burlinson goes back to his native family, a broken man. Quicker than you can say "fool me once, shame on you...," Rhodes, now missing a hand, shows up AGAIN, trapping wolves with a bald-pated idiot who wants to get it on with Burlinson's native wife. Rhodes kills his bald partner, and eventually steals Burlinson's wolf pelts. Burlinson FINALLY decides he has had enough and kills Rhodes. During Burlinson's trial, with TV's Perry Mason presiding, Burlinson's old Irish friend suddenly appears in the nick of time to explain he saw Rhodes steal their gold way back in Williams Creek, but since he could not believe his own eyes, he failed to mention it to Burlinson. Burlinson is found not guilty by reason of he was defending his personal property.

In a perfect world, this would have had a $100 million dollar budget and starred Mel Gibson and Sean Connery in the two lead roles. Burlinson is great in a very poor part (except for some sadly done hair extensions), and it is amazing he has not done much else since "...Snowy River." Rhodes' Scottish accent sounds like a poor Mike Myers impression, and every time he pops into Burlinson's life, he is missing a limb.

The Canadian scenery is gorgeous, but the director thankfully does not linger over long shots of frosty lakes and evergreen forests. The settings are right, from a squatty little mining camp to large frontier towns. The rest of the supporting cast does their job admirably. Come on, though. I know this was based on true events, but how many times does Burlinson need to be fooled over by Rhodes before he finally does something about it? And the video friendly title is also wrong, since the climactic murder occurs very far from the mentioned Williams Creek. The Williams Creek saloon shootout, while very well filmed, is not even a showdown, it is a group of men shooting at other men.

"Showdown at Williams Creek" is not a bad film, but a flawed one. While I recommend it, it has almost as many strikes against it as it does for it. (* * *) out of five stars.