2017 Dances With Films Festival
The action packed Cassidy Red (2017) had a raucous reception from friends and fans at Hollywood’s historic Chinese Theatre. Written and directed by Matt Knudsen, it’s one of a few Westerns featuring a female gunslinger.
The film begins with a saloon pianist named Cricket (Gregory Zaragoza) spinning a revenge tale to Quinn (Jessy Knudsen) a young woman in crisis. She needs to hear his story as much as he needs to tell it. It’s about the outlaw Cassidy Red, growing from feisty girl to young woman in the Arizona Territory. Speaking with Shakespearean precision, Cricket seems to have an intimate knowledge of the events. Perhaps, he’s just a good storyteller.
Young Josephine Cassidy (Alyssa Elle Steinacker) roughhouses and fights with the boys including the town bully, Tom (Hudson Borthwick). She’s protective of an Apache boy, Jakob, Tom’s adopted brother. Against the wishes of her retired gunfighter father (Rick Cramer), she eventually becomes proficient with a six-shooter. “You don’t want to defend yourself, you want to take a man’s life,” he snarls.
As adults, “Joe” (Abby Eiland) becomes engaged to Tom (David Thomas Jenkins), now self-appointed sheriff. Her heart is still with Jakob (Jason Grasl), however. When she believes he’s been killed by Tom, she seeks revenge.
The film crosses genres using elements from melodrama to very dark film noir. At the Q&A, director Knudsen expressed his appreciation for Cat Ballou (1965) with Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin. It was one of the many classics his parents introduced him to, he said. That film uses trappings of the Western while satirizing it. Cassidy Red, for the most part, plays it straight.
Veteran actors Cramer (Walker, Texas Ranger) and Zaragoza (The Last of the Mohicans (1992) add gravitas to the excellent ensemble. I asked Knudsen if Zaragoza’s Cricket was an homage to Hoagy Carmichael, also named Cricket in the Bogart and Bacall classic To Have and Have Not (1944). It was a subconscious choice of name apparently but a perfect one.
Muted colors reminiscent of period photographs bring to life The Old West of the late 19th Century. Contributing to the look of the film are cinematographer Julia Swain. editor John Lange, production designer Lauren Ivy, art director Jim McCambridge and costume designer Brianna Quick.