Wild Rovers Sept 25, 2011 17:07:03 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Sept 25, 2011 17:07:03 GMT -5
I never cast novels. If I’m reading something I’ll try and stick with the description the author’s laid out of each character. But…sometimes…when reading – particularly something period-set and with a first person narrator, when the author is unsteady and the book isn’t that great, I’ll find myself livening things up by giving the lead over to William Holden. It’s a trick I learned a while ago and it works every time. There’s just something about that crackling voice of his, confident without arrogance, ordinary, yet commanding, that raises the interest level of anything – even if you’re just magically conjuring it in your own head. (Preferably if you’re not crazy.) He’s the one golden-age star who made a mark throughout his career. No other star of the 30s was a fixture of groundbreaking classics in each subsequent decade into the 1970s.
Two years after he lead THE WILD BUNCH, Holden saddled up for another “wild” western, this time with director Blake Edwards and the result is WILD ROVERS a pleasingly uneven film that’s startlingly fallen by the wayside, but deserves to be regarded as a first-rate picture. Damn near a classic one, in fact.
The story concerns two cow-pokes (Holden and Ryan O’Neal) part of the team working a huge Montana ranch. The old hand and the green kid are unlikely buddies, bonded by shared daydreams of the easy life. On a whim the pair decide to become an unlikely criminal duo, and their foray into bank-robbing and subsequent getaway make up the bulk of this mellow, sepia-toned tale.
And if anyone can make you believe in a weary, quixotic and doomed mid-life crisis it’s Holden. He’s no man of action, but rather a sad-eyed and deluded dreamer, oblivious to the cost his daydreams will exact once realized. And Edwards loves writing for this guy. He provides Holden with a number of passages of finely wrought lines that the actor nails, especially a final campfire soliloquy. I’m not a Ryan O’Neal fan, but he’s quite effective. He usually comes off as a self-conscious pretty-boy, but here he does a fine job of conveying the unschooled young man. The character’s basically a likable dumbass, and O’Neal embraces the part without any knowing asides to the audience.
The supporting cast, led by Karl Malden as the rancher, is all quite good. I loved the dynamic established between him and his sons, terrific turns by Tom Skerrit and Joe-Don Baker, as characters who eventually become antagonists to Holden and O’Neal without ever becoming real villains. There are also bittersweet moments between Malden and his wife that are tart and understated, as are the portrait of some of the people the pair rob. For a film helmed by a “master of comedy” these portraits are surprisingly shaded. In fact, Edwards brings a marvelous contemporary feel to the characters. I felt like they were of their time without their depiction being at a remove to us watching.
The film conveys a keen sense of realism while avoiding the somber, tedious naturalism that would infect the genre later in the decade. For instance, there’s a great scene of all the cowboys gathered 'round a giant table eating breakfast before heading out to the range. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this; it’s a wonderful set piece and Edwards realizes it with an unstudied authenticity.
I watched this off TCM where they retained what must have been the film’s roadshow presentation with entrance and exit music, intermission and entr’acte. There’s a great Jerry Goldsmith score. And the film is clearly meant to be experienced in this bifurcated manner – it plainly has two halves (I’m not a fan of the Robert McKee proselytizing about all film’s having a three-act structure. They don’t. Few plays do either, by the way. All Shakespeare is five acts, all Chekov four acts and most plays today are two acts, if they have any such structure at all.) Anyway, the mood in the second half changes in ways that we see gradually reflecting on the two leads, perfectly played by each. And, there’s a very long slow-burning poker game that ends in a shocking conflagration that reminded me of the cellar scene in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.
When violence does erupt in this otherwise low-key and ambling affair it’s rendered with a distracting, not entirely convincing slow-motion nod to Peckenpah. Edwards is a little out of his element there, and indeed, this fine film ends rather abruptly. When Edwards and Holden stop talking, they don’t have much to say. (So to speak.) However, Edward’s rueful Western valentine would make a great double bill with Holden’s prior Western – think of it as a “Wild Bill” -- this rich, satisfying picture making a smoth chaser.