Snow Westerns: The Films that Influenced The Hateful Eight

Image courtesy of IMP Awards

TARANTINO has always been outspoken about his influences. He pays homage to his favorite filmmakers and explores genres that have fallen out of fashion, updating them for modern audiences.

In an interview with IGN's Chris Tilly (Follow him on Twitter), Tarantino revealed that The Great Silence by Sergio Corbucci had the most influence on The Hateful Eight, followed by Day of the Outlaw. Comparisons have also been made to Murder on the Orient Express and The Thing (1982). Watching the films that influenced the making of a great movie provides insight into a director's creative thought process, and expands my understanding of film in general. This article is all about those films as they relate to The Hateful Eight.  

"I'm ready for my close-up Sr. Corbucci." 

"I'm ready for my close-up Sr. Corbucci." 

The Great Silence is a spaghetti western falling under the sub sub genre of snow westerns, according to Tarantino. A gun for hire known as Silence faces down a corrupt politician and a blonde bounty hunter. There are obvious similarities between the two movies, but I think most of them are incidental. A tale of revenge at it's core, the protagonist has more in common with Django. There is no mystery element. The pace is slow. The overdubbing is abysmal, as it is in most Italian westerns. The characters are one dimensional. And it all leads up to a pitiful conclusion. There is a lot of room for improvement as I see it.  

Day of the Outlaw on the other hand was delightful. It's an American western about a group of outlaws descending on a small town in the midst of a feud. The townspeople are forced to band together by saving the gang leader from a fatal gunshot wound in order to keep the peace until morning. Deftly played by Burl Ives, Captain Bruhn is the only one that can keep his men from ravaging the town. As Bruhn's health deteriorates, so do their chances of survival. The situation is a pressure cooker. In that respect, it has the most in common with The Hateful Eight. The full film is available without ads on Youtube:

 
 
Trainwreck

Trainwreck

Murder on the Orient Express is a film from 1974 adapted from the novel by Agatha Christie. It's a specific kind of mystery known as an English parlor room mystery, predating the American hard boiled mysteries of the 1940s and 50s. I haven't read the book, but I had a lot of problems with the film. The filmmakers failed in their effort to romanticize the era of travel by train. Visually it's unimpressive and too soft. Even the ensemble cast of Old Hollywood stars couldn't save this picture. 

In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino was able to keep the spirit of a parlor room mystery, transported to the American west, updated with visual storytelling, Tarantino-esque dialogue, and action. The investigation aspects are handled visually, through POV shots, instead of dialogue. For example, when Major Warren sees the Jelly Bean in the crack between the floorboards, then looks up, and notices a missing jar. Rather than demonstrating the protagonist's intellect at every turn, Tarantino gives the audience a chance to solve the mystery. Another distinct difference is that most of the detective work takes place before the first body hits the floor. Which is the exact opposite of a standard mystery plot line. The inciting incident is always the first murder. Of course Tarantino is the king of broken narrative structures. 

Like Poirot, Major Warren gleefully reconstructs the murder, ferreting out the killers, then promptly serves justice more like Dirty Harry than Poirot. He's not wrong, but it all happens rather quickly. Apparently this was Samuel L. Jackson's favorite scene, in which he referred to his character as "Hercule Negro".

I'm going to hold off on my examination of The Thing from 1982, because I'd like to talk about it as it relates to Reservoir Dogs. I'll sum up by saying that there are other aspects of The Hateful Eight which I enjoyed. Mainly the performances, and the cinematography. It's a visual treat. I'm pleased with Tarantino's foray into the mystery genre, and I'm looking forward to his next film.