Two cowboys, one old and cynical (William Holden, The Bridge on the River Kwai), the other one young and cocky (Ryan O’Neal, Love Story), decide to rob a bank, and yes, the plan has unintended consequences.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Director & writer Blake Edwards is full of surprises. I didn’t expect to see such a deliciously rambling ode to the old west from the king of slapstick. Sure, Edwards’s resume includes some stark dramas — Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Experiment in Terror (1962) — but he is mostly remembered today for his Pink Panther films. Wild Rovers has nothing in common with either one of these movies. This revisionist, melancholic western feels closer to John Ford or Sam Peckinpah than to the man who gave us Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Victor/Victoria (1982).
It’s a moody, sometimes comical but more often than not dark, lyrical tone poem to old west themes and motifs, yet is conspicuously avant garde and reconstructive-minded.
The performances are a pleasure to watch. Holden’s character resembles the one he had played in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). He is an aging cowboy who is fully aware that he is past his prime. The role fits nicely into the second phase of Holden’s career, in which he mostly played word-weary middle age men. Holden uses his former movie star image to his advantage; his face alone conveys the idea of a past slowly dying.
O’Neal clearly represents a new set of sensibilities. His youth and ornery attitude contrast beautifully with Holden’s tired looks and outdated code of honor. The generational gap is also present in the subplot regarding a ruthless cattle baron, played by Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named Desire), and his two sons (Joe Don Baker, Walking Tall, and Tom Skerritt, Alien). The cast also includes James Olson (The Andromeda Strain) as Joe Billings, Lynn Carlin (Faces) as Sada Billings, Leora Dana (Amityville 3-D) as Nell Buckman, and Rachel Roberts (Foul Play) as Maybell Tucker.
Philip Lathrop’s (The Cincinnati Kid and Earthquake) camerawork is breathtaking. Fantastic music score by Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen and Gremlins). Camera and music create a feeling of lamentation, mourning, that enhances Edwards’s (re)vision.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Wild Rovers really feels like something special, very deserving of a place among great elegiac westerns like Ride the High Country (1962), The Wild Bunch (1969), Monte Walsh (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), The Shootist (1976), etc. Highly recommended! TCM (Turner Classic Movies) showed the director’s “roadshow edition,” with overture, intermission and exit music. Color, 136 minutes, Rated PG.