I recently saw this, mainly because it was directed by Sam Peckinpah. Being a director notable for his Westerns (and violence therein), I was curious to see if the viewing experience matched my expectations.
I’m happy to say the movie is well worth watching.
An aging ex-lawman, Steve Judd (played by a grizzled Joel McCrea) is hired to guard a gold shipment in transit between a high country mining camp and the town of Hornitas, California. (Yes. Hornitas—for reelz!) Judd brings two guys to help him out. One is his old friend and partner Gil Westrum (played by Randolph Scott), who has been making a living as an alleged legend of sharp-shooting fame called The Oregon Kid. The other is a young sidekick/protégé/love interest, Heck Longtree (played by Ron Starr).
Unbeknownst to Judd, Gil and Heck have their own agenda where the gold is concerned. Delivering it safely isn’t it.
En route to the mining camp, the three men spend the night at a farm owned by Joshua Knudsen (played by R. G. Armstrong), one of those uber-religious guys who treats his daughter like
shit dirt. The daughter, Elsa, is played by Mariette Hartley. When the men leave the farm, Elsa follows and tags along with them to the mining camp where she hopes to find her (alleged) fiancé, Billy—a gold miner at the camp—and tie the knot.
What she doesn’t realize is that marrying Billy means marrying his family, too. And when it comes to marital rights, the rule when it comes to intimate relations is share-and-share alike among Billy and his brothers. They include Peckinpah favorite, Warren Oates, who excels in portraying the lewd and disgusting brother, Henry.
Without revealing spoilers (other than the ones I may have already revealed inadvertently), here’s what I think:
In many respects, this is very much a typical Peckinpah film. It’s about older men in the frontier West who are doing what they can to wring the last bit of sustenance out of a way of life that’s destined to die soon—just as they are. But there’s something more than just Manly Gamesmanship and Last Stands here.
I was particularly taken with Mariette Hartley’s depiction of Elsa. Hartley plays Elsa as somewhat naïve, but not a victim. The scenes in which the horrible reality of her situation sinks in give her character genuine depth. And when she has to fight back, she does so in no uncertain terms.
I was pleasantly surprised that this movie about the dynamics among Men of the West in their
dotage advanced years (a Peckinpah specialty) managed to portray such a strong and determined woman without making her a complete bitch (not a Peckinpah specialty).
The ending has an awesome shoot-out and resolves in a bittersweet, but satisfying conclusion.
Definitely worth it for fans of the genre and Peckinpah.
You can also rent or buy it from Apple. (affiliate link)