Comes A Horseman (1978) Directed by Alan J. Pakula
It seems our fascination with American 70's cinema continues on this blog. I'm sure we'll move onto some English 70's cinema very soon. Or some Asian cinema. French New Wave. Westerns. So, the real American Film Genre. Comes A Horseman is so slight a film. It's almost as if it isn't there. Yet if you immerse yourself the rewards are good.
Jane Fonda plays Ella Connors who along with Old Cowboy Dodger (a brilliant Richard Farnsworth) is hoping to raise enough cattle to keep her farm for another year. Jason Robards plays the evil land owner Ewing who is trying to force Connors to sell her land so he can dig for oil. Her neighbour is Frank 'Buck' Athearn (an understated James Caan) wh0 joins as Connors business partner and eventually becomes her lover.
As well as the casting of Caan, The Godfather connection continues with the true star of this Modern Western once again being Gordon Willis whose cinematography is the best thing to admire. Pakula let's the drama unfold at a snails pace yet something resembling action does sneak up on you every now and again. It takes awhile to realize the film is actually set in the 1940's, though it's not in any way obvious.
Fonda is simply brilliant in this film. Her Ella Connors is an intense performance, often a gesture saying more than any line. A tomboy, a cowboy, the masculine occupation still can't hide the fact that Fonda is very beautiful. This gives credence to the latter romance with Caan.
Pakula has made two of my favorite conspiracy films in All The President's Men and The Parallax View. This is something different, a film to file beside his other picture with Fonda, Klute. It at least feels better than the manipulating Sophie's Choice.
This realist western often has the feeling of Brokeback Mountain mixed with the sugar of the Horse Whisperer. It's certainly much better than the latter and surpasses the visual aesthetics of Brokeback. At times I was moved and always engrossed by this small, beautiful looking film. Once again I'm in awe of how once upon a time, mainstream cinema was so understated.
Usually going to Anttila to look at DVDs is a real pain. This time it went like a dream: I find Nick, grab the first Western looking thing with Jane Fonda and other familiar faces. It says made in 1978. It must be good. The shocking news (and please appreciate how rare this is) was that Nick had NEVER seen this film before.
So, Comes A Horseman: This film is about creating atmosphere with good photography. The landscapes of huge mountains, plains, the endless sky with storms, rain and sun are more than scenery here. The cows and horses, the livelihood of these people, also get their screen time. And this is how they used to set the mood in movies. Trusting the audience.
Zooming closer to the actors: the costumes are impeccable and inspiring. Levi's and boots, endless variations on plaid shirts. But no, these shirts are nothing like the ones fashionable right now (too much contrast between the colors in this new fashion). Also, Jane Fonda's hair in a long tussled plait is worthy of a mention. Plaited hair is potential, that's where its sexiness lies.
And sure enough, the hair comes undone and her reserve melts.
A film about a woman cowboy getting by on her own and fighting oil companies who want her land – this is 1970s feminism reaching Hollywood via Hanoi Jane.
Now we've had Brokeback Mountain, but everyone's forgotten about this one, I guess. I bet Ang Lee knows this one though.
Do I have to mention the nice man? James Caan. Ok, some men can be really great and good, honest, patient and fair (and good at horse riding and lassoing).