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Ella Connors is a single woman who gets pressured to sell her failing cattle farm to her corrupt ex suitor, Jacob Ewing. She asks for help from her neighbor, Frank Athearn. As Ella and Frank fight back through stampedes, jealousy, betrayal, and sabotage...they eventually find love. Written by
When Ewing is shot and falls of his horse, his foot slips THROUGH the stirrup. When the horse gallops away, the foot of the stuntman doubling for Jason Robards is TIED to the stirrup by a long strap, that can be safely released. See more »
Our thanks to the Forest Service for allowing us to film in the Coconino National Forest See more »
James Caan and Jane Fonda face off against Jason Robards over valley ranch land
This western is not your usual, although plot-wise it has a central familiar ring to it. Huge numbers of westerns revolve around struggles for land or water. This one is no different in that respect. Robards is a cattle rancher who wants the whole valley, but Caan and Fonda are two separate ranchers whose independence stands in his way. All of them relate to their parents who had similar struggles. When Robards has a buddy of Caan killed, Caan goes in with Fonda. That's no easy task. She is very much a loner, brought up that way by her dad. Fonda's main hand is Richard Farnsworth who almost steals the picture, but everyone does a fine job of acting.
So what's different here? Several things. A big part of the story is the Caan-Fonda relationship, with Farnsworth as mediator. Another twist is that George Grizzard is an oil man who intends to get the valley for oil drilling. Another twist is that Robards becomes increasingly impatient and obsessed with what he wants. His cold-bloodedness and murderousness are not the standard stuff of westerns, but it is more of its time (1978). And mixed in with this is the very opposite, which is the director Pakula's love affair with the landscape, the cattle business, and the pride of the proficient and very hard-working cow hands. They are shown in their work at length. Gordon Willis is the cinematographer, so you can imagine what beautiful scenes he comes up with. The locations in Arizona and California feature vistas, mountains, and forests.
Mix all this up smoothly and you have a different western. I go with the flow. If Pakula as artist wanted to pace the story slowly and dwell lovingly on the details, including the hands singing songs and playing guitars, I give him the benefit of doubt. All movies cannot be the same. I didn't find that this approach dragged enough to undermine the movie, but he does go slowly at times.
Robards was well-directed. He did not chew the scenery, and that made his part all the more chilling. Jim Davis, from way back, played one of his hands.
TCM showed this recently in a widescreen print. The title I associate with James Caan, or with cow hands more generally, whose work is demanding and includes horsemanship. He comes into Fonda's life and alters it a great deal.
One quibble is that Fonda's voice was too low in a few instances. Caan's enunciation sometimes is garbled. But the fact is that both these actors have stood the test of time. Caan's body of work is looking better and better as time passes, and I look for movies that he's in. That's because I like the rougher movies, as opposed to Fonda's more usual fluff. For a more serious Fonda, see Klute, They Shoot Horses, and The Morning After, or Joy House, The Chase, and Walk on the Wild Side. She too has a more than respectable body of work.
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