"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (Warner Bros, 1970)

Peckinpah's favorite film

This is an ‘end of the West’ Western with a difference. Sam Peckinpah, in the calm between the blood-spurting of The Wild Bunch and that of Straw Dogs, gives us a gentle, abstract evening tale of a man who bargains with God when abandoned by treacherous partners out in the scorched Nevada desert, duly finds water and sets up a staging post.

He is joined by a wandering renegade preacher (David Warner) and a town whore (Stella Stevens) and his ratty old snake-infested place flourishes.

It’s a comedy Western, with songs (it is a ballad after all) and some speeded-up film and some slapstick, and yet it isn’t. In fact the film is rather sad.

The story is a revenge tale which turns revenge on its head.

There’s a prominent American flag, which they sentimentally salute, and there are other symbols, or icons if you like. It starts with a prehistoric lizard and ends with an automobile.

Jason Robards is very fine. It wasn’t an easy part. He had to talk to himself a lot. There are Western stalwarts to back him up: Slim Pickens drives the stage with gusto, Strother Martin and LQ Jones are the skunk partners (they look a bit like the pair in The Wild Bunch) and RG Armstrong is the banker who grubstakes Hogue. Stella Stevens is very good as Hildy, the whore with the heart set on gold.

It was photographed by Lucien Ballard in Nevada and New Mexico and the light and arid scenery are very beautiful.

It is said that the bar bill for the director and actors came to $70,000.

It was Peckinpah’s favorite film. It might be yours.


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