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Will Penny, an aging cowpoke, takes a job on a ranch which requires him to ride the line of the property looking for trespassers or, worse, squatters. He finds that his cabin in the high mountains has been appropriated by a woman whose guide to Oregon has deserted her and her son. Too ashamed to kick mother and child out just as the bitter winter of the mountains sets in, he agrees to share the cabin until the spring thaw. But it isn't just the snow that slowly thaws; the lonely man and woman soon forget their mutual hostility and start developing a deep love for one another. Written by
Even more than his Oscar-winning role in BEN-HUR, Charlton Heston's performance in the terribly underrated 1968 western WILL PENNY may stand out as his best. He tended to be even better in non-epic films, and this is proof.
Heston's an illiterate cowboy who has just finished up a long cattle drive out in the Montana badlands with his company, led by G.D. Spradlin. In no time, he is unemployed and wanders with his two best friends (Lee Majors, Anthony Zerbe) looking for a job as a harsh winter sets in. But they run afoul of a sadistic preacher (Donald Pleasance) over a dead elk. Zerbe accidentally wounds himself in the shootout; and Pleasance vows to get revenge on Heston after Heston shoots and kills one of his sons (Matt Clark).
Separating from Zerbe and Majors, Heston finds employment at the Flatiron spread, led by Ben Johnson, and, unintentionally, winds up protecting a lone woman (Joan Hackett) and her son (John Gries) during the harsh Montana winter and Pleasance's subsequent revenge quest.
Superbly directed and written by Tom Gries, who died too soon in 1977, WILL PENNY is a very well made western, albeit somewhat sad in the end(Heston can't marry Hackett in the end, because his age and his sudden, but lamentably too late, realization of what life should be like stand in the way). The excellent photography, done by master cameraman Lucien Ballard, was done principally on locations in the foothills of California's eastern Sierra, near Bishop. Featuring solid performances from other fine actors like Slim Pickens, Bruce Dern, Luke Askew, and Roy Jenson, WILL PENNY is easily one of the best westerns ever made--which somehow seemed to escape Paramount Pictures' notice back in 1968.
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