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

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Rancho Deluxe (UA, 1975)

A mildly entertaining anti-Western

Rancho Deluxe is a contemporary Western, a semi-cultish 70s anti-establishment outlaw comedy.

Set around Livingston, Montana, it tells of Jack, a rebellious and footloose rich boy from back East (Jeff Bridges, 26, three years on from Bad Company) and his Indian pal Cecil (Sam Waterston, Frank Canton in Heaven’s Gate) and how they take up rustling, more for the hell of it than anything else.
Being the 70s, it’s the rustlers we kind of root for while the rancher (Clifton James) is a pompous idiot who deserves what’s coming to him. He is a ‘deluxe’ rancher who has sold out a chain of beauty salons. He has more money than Western know-how. As an illustration we have a ranch hand vacuuming Navajo rugs on the grass. He has a clever, rather shifty wife (Elizabeth Ashley) who has designs on the bodies of various young men.
Amusing are their two ranch hands, Curt and Burt (Harry Dean Stanton and Richard Bright) who are smarter than they let on (though in the end not that smart) and become the two boys’ accomplices, as inside men. The scene where Stanton inveigles his way into the scheme during a 70s videogame with Bridges is superb.
The best part, though, is that of the crusty, old and seemingly incredibly inept stock detective the rancher hires, played by Slim Pickens. Pickens was never less than entertaining and often showed signs of being a damn good actor. A true Westerner (actually the only one in the cast), he was perfect for the part. He has some good lines and delivers them brilliantly, such as when he opines that “Things is getting’ downright romantic.”
The opening is a bit grim as the pair shoot a steer and then butcher it with a chain saw. They use some of the beef to pay their rent and they trade some for an old Sharps Big Fifty buffalo rifle, practicing with their new weapon on a brand new Lincoln Continental, which soon looks as though Baby Face Nelson had been having a go at it.

They are not the most competent of rustlers, to say the least, but the detective is (it seems) far worse, so they are safe. There is casual sex and the smoking of weed. There are gags, such as when they kidnap a prize bull and after getting the ransom from the rancher let him find his animal in a hotel room. Warren Oates plays harmonica in the country & western band. I like the ruminations on the pernicious Montana obsession with the pick-up truck.
Are movies with pick-up trucks and helicopters Westerns? Well, they can be, in my view. Lonely Are the Brave had both and was most definitely a Western (though this picture bears no comparison to that fine film), and you might think of The Hi-Lo Country, or even truly great films like Bad Day at Black Rock or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as evidence that Westerns don’t have to be set in the nineteenth century, necessarily.
The director was Frank Perry (who seems to have been an admirer of Robert Altman) and the screenplay by Tom McGuane. Both have had some success in other pictures but this one seems one of their lesser efforts, honestly.

The movie got pretty bad reviews when it came out. But it is amiable, not very consequential and quite entertaining. The lead actors are very good. There is something of a ‘message’, I guess, though a pretty nihilistic one (the West is dead and is now only décor – a view seen from the picture window of the air-conned ranch house).

You could watch it.


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