A favorite of aficionados
This is a delightful light Western in which Henry Fonda (Howdy) and Glenn Ford (Ben) shine as two down-on-their-luck, none too bright cowboys who always end up working for sharp rancher Chill Wills. Ben says, “It comes to me that we ain’t the smartest cowboys ever lived” and Howdy replies, “You could say that.”
Edgar Buchanan excels as a moonshiner with, ahem, ‘eligible’ daughters. Sometimes the comedy gets a bit low, especially when Fonda & Ford meet up with some seriously dumb blondes (it wouldn’t be allowed these days). One thing we can also say: as a dancer, Glenn is not a good twister. Fonda doesn’t even try (much wiser).
There’s a nod to the Duke when Fonda is asked the origin of his name Howdy. He says he was christened Marion so he changed it to something more Western.
The movie’s written by Burt Kennedy (from the Max Evans novel) and so is rather superior and it is also directed by him. The music (Jeff Alexander) can be a bit irritating (‘comic’ tuba in the funny bits). But the photography (Paul Vogel) and Arizona locations are lovely. I kind of wonder if Sam Peckinpah had seen this film because his Junior Bonner (1972) also has sad rodeo stars, saloon brawls and quasi-documentary footage, in his case of the Prescott Frontier Days, here the Sedona Rodeo.
Maybe the makers of Will Penny (1968) had seen it too because Ben and Howdy winter up at a line shack, get a Christmas tree and have a dance. But no brutal ending here.
As in Junior Bonner, the aging bronc buster dreams of new horizons; Ben wants to buy a boat and go to Tahiti. Who can blame him? Howdy reads out possible adverts, a bit like the scene between the crooked cops in Payback.
But that’s enough references.
In the Italian version of this film the unridable horse is made to talk, which is a bit naff, but in the original the roan has quite enough ‘personality’ without that.
Denver Pyle has a stagger-on part as a drunken friend of the boys. Warren Oates and Peter Fonda have uncredited bit parts.
It’s an amusing little movie well worth the occasional watch. Ford and Fonda were both supreme Westerners and here they are frankly great as cowboys going nowhere. There’s rather a poignant part where Glenn tells his girl that he might settle down one day. As he is 50 and looking it we realize that that’s never going to happen.
MGM mishandled it badly and released it on a double bill with some trashy college comedy. It was only later that it became the favorite of aficionados that it is today.