In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_focus_ver2

Focus

Like Ficarra and Requa’s 2011 comedy Crazy Stupid Love, Focus begins promisingly and bops along enjoyably for a while, only to run out of steam…

Thumb_maps_to_the_stars_ver8

Maps to the Stars

David Cronenberg's film of Bruce Wagner's Hollywood satire-nightmare turns ludicrous situations into operatic tragedy.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Chaz's Blog Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Hearts of West

  |  

"Hearts of the West" is a lovely little comedy, a movie to feel fond of. It's about a farm kid who sends away for a correspondence school course on how to be a cowboy and runs away to a godforsaken crossroads in Nevada because he wants to "hang around the campus." Well, there isn't any -- just a couple of con men operating out of a post office box. They try to roll the kid, he escapes into the desert and the next morning he's rescued by a posse of real cowboys.

Real movie cowboys, that is. It's during the Depression, the early days of the talkies, and they're grinding out horse operas in quiet desperation. There's no glamor here: Tumbleweed Productions is a fly-by-night outfit with a line of credit for a budget, and the producer bargains with his cowboys about stunts. "For crashing through that window and running across the porch roof and jumping onto that horse I'll pay $7.50," he says. A sullen silence. "How about $8.50? That's my final offer."

The kid hitches a ride into Los Angeles with the movie company, catches the eye of the cute little production secretary and hangs around trying to get work as an extra. He does, thanks to her. He almost gets fired during his first day on the set, when he leaps from behind some rocks, fires wildly and dies so dramatically that the hero is left gaping. But he redeems himself by doing the stunt where he jumps on the horse. He's so dumb he does it for free. He's also so dumb he does it without an athletic supporter. Gulp.

The kid, all earnest and engaging, is played by Jeff Bridges, that open faced young actor from "The Last Picture Show" and "Fat City." He brings a nice complexity to the role: He's Lewis Tater ("Did you say Taylor?" "No -- Tater"), fresh off the farm and totally naive. But he's got pluck, and he's determined to survive in the Hollywood jungle.

Actually, "Hearts of the West" makes the jungle look fairly tame. It's populated by a producer (Alan Arkin) who makes serious little speeches about motivation, and a veteran extra (Andy Griffith) who passes out free advice, and the script girl (Blythe Danner) with a cigarette in her mouth and a heart of gold. Things seem to work out fairly well for Lewis, who keeps insisting he's a writer even after he's been cast as the lead in a budget basement serial.

He is a writer, too, laboring over his portable typewriter to produce paragraphs heavy with lines like, "Lengthening shadows stole across the harsh desert sands while the Kid unholstered his deadly Colt." He envisions a world of good and evil and showdowns on Main Street, and meanwhile he gets into trouble because (a) he's being pursued by the con men from Nevada, and (b) the kindly old extra has taken one of his novels and tried to sell it as his own. It turns out that Lewis unknowingly stole all the receipts from the phony correspondence school.

The movie's no great shakes, I suppose, but I liked it. Its director, Howard Zieff, is a former adman who gave us the Alka seltzer tummies and is good here at establishing a nice, mellow tone that never tries too hard. There are a few big laughs in the movie, but not too many, and most of the time, what we're feeling is affection. These are likable people -- Lewis and his girl and even the so called friend who tries to plagiarize the novel And when the con men find themselves involved in a shoot-out, one of them apologize "I never ever thought things would go quite this far."

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

“Evil Against Evil”: The Fascinating Incoherence of American Sniper

On how Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" examines evil.

Now, "Voyager": in praise of the Trekkiest "Trek" of all

As we mourn Abrams’ macho Star Trek obliteration, it’s a good time to revisit that most Star Trek-ian of accomplishme...

Observations of an Awards Season Skeptic, Part 4: Green Card Blues

Glenn Kenny comments on awards season, Sean Penn, Neil Patrick Harris, and the actual Oscars.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus