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

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Electric Horseman (Columbia, 1979)

Redford riding down the Strip in his suit of lights.

I give this movie three revolvers because it has a certain amount of class. Directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, it was unlikely to be a total turkey. Furthermore it had Willie Nelson in it and he, though usually dire in Westerns, is terrific as the cynical ex-rodeo star’s promoter who had lines like, “I'm gonna get me a bottle of tequila and find me one of them Keno girls that can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch and just kinda kick back.” (Waddya mean, you find that sexist? I can't imagine what you're driving at). And, because it was Willie, our toes don’t curl up in our shoes when we listen to the ballad over the titles. In fact the songs are great. No, the casting is acceptable, more than.

Redford is not that credible as a broke-down rodeo star, and certainly nowhere in the Robert Mitchum or Steve McQueen class in The Lusty Men or Junior Bonner, but he’s OK and Fonda is, shall we say, satisfactory as the New York TV reporter who falls for Robert. I also think John Saxon was more than passable as the corporate baddy. In fact he was excellent. So at least three guns there.

Then, visually the movie was attractive. Owen Roizman is a solid cinematographer. He had done one Western (Return of a Man Called Horse) and photographed some successful other movies (there are non-Westerns, you know, pards) like The French Connection and The Exorcist but he did a sound job on the Nevada and Utah locations. In fact those locations are so beautiful that I could have photographed them well. But strangely enough his best work is in the Vegas scenes and the image of Redford riding down the Strip in his suit of lights is unforgettable, one of the, er, highlights of the movie.

The theme of what we might call ‘the cowboy and the lady’ is as old as the Black Hills and as durable. It works well here.

So, you see why I give it three.

But why not five, I hear you cry?

Well, the first thing is Sydney Pollack. Mr. Pollack may have been born in Indiana and died in California but he was a Noo Yoiker thru and thru. As a Westerner he was - sorry - hopeless, and conspicuous on the set of Jeremiah Johnson or Electric Horseman in urban clothes and attitudes. He was an excellent character actor but frankly, as a director of Westerns, he was pretty poor. The worst point was his pacing. His films were so long and needed savage editing which they didn’t get. This movie was edited, poorly, by Sheldon Kahn. Don’t get me wrong. Pollack’s actors were nominated for any number of Oscars. But he’s not in the top ten of Western directors and not even in the top 100.

Not that The Electric Horseman is really a Western. It’s a post-rodeo picture. A post-post-Western at most. No gun makes an appearance at all, for one thing. It’s really a romantic comedy (ugh). But I have a soft spot for it. The theme is warming and the scenes of the horse Rising Star running are great. You can forgive Jane those ghastly 70s glasses.

See it anyway.


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