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
Charlton Heston's saddle-sore cowpuncher is one of the most understated-and underrated- performances in an outstanding career: he's a man nearing the end of the proverbial ride, and he's all too aware of it. He questions his choices, he makes mistakes... but he plugs stubbornly on. Makes more mistakes. Moves on. There are only a handful of unglamorous but wistful westerns that ring true due to character: WILL PENNY is one of the best of them. It's amazing that this low-key classic was done around the time of PLANET OF THE APES (which boasts a tour de force performance by Heston): the difference in the characters (both of whom are rendered believably, with the craft of a consummate professional) only points up the amazing range of this superstar. ALWAYS interesting, even in bit parts, Charlton Heston never failed to rise to the occasion... or to come back down to earth when the situation warranted it.
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