In 1864, due to frequent Apache raids from Mexico into the US, a Union officer decides to illegally cross the border and destroy the Apache, using a mixed army of Union troops, Confederate POWs, civilian mercenaries and scouts.
Will Penny, an aging cowpoke, takes a "line-rider" job on a vast cattle ranch requiring him to keep trespassers and squatters moving till they're off the property. Ironically, he discovers that the mountain cabin reserved for the line rider has been appropriated by Catherine Allen and her young son, Horace, whose guide has deserted them en route to Oregon to join Catherine's husband. Too soft-hearted and ashamed to kick mother and child out just as the bitter Rocky Mountains winter sets in, he agrees to share the cabin until the spring thaw. But it isn't just the snow that slowly thaws; lonely man and woman soon forget their considerable dissimilarities and start developing a deep, if awkward and unstated, love for each another. Beyond this, Horace finds in Will the father he's never known, and Will finds in Horace the son he's never known he's wanted. The trio's little refuge is then invaded by Bible-quoting Preacher Quint and his murderous family of "rawhiders," who'd earlier nearly... Written by
This is a good, good movie..underrated & under appreciated....and somewhat largely unseen. Never a Heston fan....I was very pleasantly surprised & taken by his "Will"....he gives a fine, understated performance as the aging loner just looking for his next job..to get through the winter till he can hook up with a cattle drive in the spring. Heston is excellent, free of the melodramatics & overacting found in some of his other work. Will is an aging cowboy, a loner, an illiterate, faced with the prospects of a dim future. He is someone who realizes that he can't do anything else but what he has been doing all his life..he punches cattle because it's the only thing he's ever done, and the only thing he knows how to do......even as railroad tracks laid on the prairie indicate that time may be running out for the cowboy way of life. Nearing fifty, he has never learned to read or write, and existed moving from one job to the next...
Along the way..there's a chance encounter w/ Quint ....the psycho preacher and his degenerate sons, Rafe , Rufus , & Romulus..featuring Donald Pleasance in a maniacal..over the top performance.., & Bruce Dern as one of his loony sons. These guys could give the Hammond Brothers ("Ride the High Country") a run for their money.
There's also Joan Hackett, in a lovely, subtle, yet solid performance as Catherine Allen , a woman travelling across country w/ her young son, in search of her husband, who had gone on ahead ...through whom Will sees a life he never had..& never thought possible. The film is notable in that it presents not at all a romantic image of the West..Cowpunching not being a glamorous profession....not a lot of 'Yeehas' here... it's a life of solitude and hard work.. The work is brutal..., hired one day and out of work the next....... Yes..there is action..fistfights..gunplay & violence...but the first fistfight..shows us the kind of territory we're in...get it on..get it over with.. Here we see the kind of people who must really have inhabited the West..cowpunchers,.families looking for a better life... (sure, there were bounty hunters, bank robbers, marshalls...shootouts at High Noon..the OK Corral etc.) .....but this is more of a character study of people very much like us. In one of the gunfights...a cowboy sustains a bullet wound in a way that's atypical of western movies..but probably pretty typical of the real West.
Another nice touch is the "town" Will, Blue, & Dutchy ride into...many "towns" really did consist of nothing more than a couple of buildings ..a few shacks and a tent. The direction was superb; Lucien Ballard's cinematography added to the splendor of the story. ..filmed in the glorious Inyo Mountains of California.
The music in the movie is mostly uninspired , although by no means terrible or distracting..
Some fine, familiar character actors are here.. the can't be anything but great Ben Johnson appears as the top hand at the ranch where Will takes a job riding line... William Schallert, Clifton James, and Anthony Zerbe all deliver good performances. Lee Majors is passable.
In short.."Will Penny" is a film that deserves to be seen & enjoyed.. & savored.
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