Nineteenth century Wyoming: the wild West. Mild-mannered Tom Healy has a two-wagon theater troupe hounded by creditors because Angela, his leading lady and the object of his affection, constantly buys clothes. In Cheyenne, they meet with applause, so they hope to stay awhile: the theater owner likes Angela, and she keeps him on a string. She's also the object of the attentions of Mabry, a gunslinger who's owed money by the richest man in Bonanza. Complications arise and the troupe heads for Bonanza, through hostile Indian territory. Is the troupe doomed to a peripatetic life, is Mabry in danger, and does Tom stand a chance with Angela, a hellion in pink tights? Written by
A blonde Sophia... and a surprisingly effective story
Director George Cukor's only western, this is about a traveling stage show that keeps getting into trouble because of the escapades of their leading star, Angela Rossini, deliciously played by Sophia Loren, quite fetching as a blonde. She is top billed along with Anthony Quinn. It also stars an adolescent Margaret O'Brien (a child in "Meet Me in St. Louis"), whose mother does not want her to grow up. I thought O'Brien was as charming in this as she was in "St. Louis."
I had never seen "Heller" in its complete form, never in any quality print, and this DVD looks great. I'd only seen edited for TV versions, and that made it hard to follow. Seeing this DVD release surprised me. The film is top notch Cukor, ranking as one of the most entertaining westerns of the 1960s. The director also got a full- blooded and emotional performance from Loren, perhaps one of her most natural, and the director even held the reins on Quinn, who could overdo his roles on occasion.
Actor Steve Forrest also has a well-integrated part, and his character appears at just the right moments to thrust the story forward or change its direction. Ramon Novarro (Judah in the silent "Ben-Hur," opposite Garbo in "Mata Hari") appears on screen for the last time, effectively playing a conniving banker. If you go into this film with an open mind, I think you'll find that it is funny, exciting, romantic and often surprising. I never knew where it was going, and that made it refreshing. You'll probably also enjoy the wonderfully visualized period atmosphere in stunning Technicolor. There's also a fine score by Daniele Amphitheatrof, a far too unappreciated composer.
Give this film a try. You'll probably have a good time.
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