Monday, July 11, 2016

The Ballad of Cable Hogue

Directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by John Crawford and Edmund Penney, The Ballad of Cable Hogue is the story of a prospector trying to make a life for himself in the Arizona desert with the aid of a prostitute as he deals with the West starting to change in the final years of the frontier. The film marks a change of pace for Peckinpah in the western genre as he goes for a character study into a man trying to salvage an element of the Wild West in its final moments. Starring Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, L.Q. Jones, Strother Martin, and David Warner. The Ballad of Cable Hogue is a witty yet touching film from Sam Peckinpah.

Set in the late 19th Century, the film is about a man who finds water in an Arizona desert after being left for dead by criminals who betrayed him as he would create a watering hole between two towns as a way to make money but also live his life that he would share briefly with a prostitute. It’s a film that is about a man who would become a prospector where he hopes to succeed despite his lack of education while being something that matters for the West where he would find this watering hole by accident and do something for travelers. Along the way, he would later encounter the modern world and changing times as he and those who were part of the Wild West would be taken aback by. The film’s screenplay doesn’t just explore the journey that Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) would take but also the man himself. Hogue is quite stubborn in his ways as he is someone that is from the Wild West and has old ideas about the ways of the world.

The script also has Hogue falling for this prostitute in Hildy (Stella Stevens) who also lives by her own code yet wants to become rich to go to San Francisco and live the good life. While Hogue understands what Hildy wants, he is reluctant to let her go once she would stay at his watering hole for a while where the two have this very unique relationship. Another friendship that Hogue would have is with a preacher in Joshua (David Warner) whom he meets early in the film as Joshua is a very unconventional character that has a thirst for emotionally-vulnerable women but is also a man that is willing to help despite his quirks. The script does have a structure as it relates to Hogue’s attempt to create a watering hole between towns as much of the first half is about that where he would succeed. In the third act where it has been a few years since he had founded the watering hole, there is that air of revenge as it relates to the men that left him for dead but also an encounter with the modern world that he as well as those he know are baffled by.

Sam Peckinpah’s direction has an air of style where it has a few violent moments but it is mostly restrained as he goes for something that is more intimate not just visually but also tonally. While it opens with this stylish sequence of Hogue being betrayed and stranded all alone in a desert, it is among some of the moments in the film where Peckinpah would go into style as well as some of the funny moments with some fast-motion sequences that is about humor. Peckinpah’s usage of the wide shots to capture much of the scenery shot on location in Nevada with the town scenes shot in Arizona. Peckinpah’s usage of medium shots and close-ups as it plays into some of the people that Hogue befriends as well as some of these moments that play into the world that he is creating. Even in a moment where Joshua would comfort a young woman in a very sexual way as Peckinpah makes no qualms about how women are treated where he would shoot Hogue staring at Hildy’s cleavage. It’s all part of Peckinpah’s sense of fun while balancing it with moments that are serious such as some of the events in the third act as it relates to the modern world that Hogue would encounter. It’s ending isn’t about loss but the end of an era that these characters hold so dearly about as the 20th Century and everything else about it would emerge. Overall, Peckinpah creates a light-hearted yet compelling film about a prospector’s life and his attempt to do something in the Wild West.

Cinematographer Lucien Ballard does excellent work with the cinematography from the naturalistic look of many of the scenes set in the day as well as some lighting for scenes set in the interior and exterior at night. Editors Lou Lombardo and Frank Santillo do amazing as it has some stylish cutting with its fast-motion and a few slow-motion cuts as well as some jump-cuts and stylish usage of dissolves. Art director Leroy Coleman and set decorator Jack Mills do brilliant work with the set design from the look of the home and stop that Hogue would live and run as well as the look of the town. The sound work of Don Rush is terrific as it play into some of the natural elements of the location along with scenes that are quite playful in its usage of sound effects. The film’s music by Jerry Goldsmith and lyricist Richard Gillis is wonderful for its mixture of orchestral textures with folk-based instruments to play into the feel of the West with some songs that would be themes for its three central characters as they are catchy but also helped tell the story.

The film’s marvelous cast includes some notable small roles from James Anderson as a local preacher, Susan O’Connell as a grieving woman that Joshua would comfort, Peter Whitney as a bank president who would give Hogue money for the business, R.G. Armstrong as a land prospector who turns down Hogue over the land that Hogue had bought, and Gene Evans as a husband who is angry over Joshua and his antics. Slim Pickens is superb as the stagecoach driver Ben Fairchild as someone who does business with Hogue as well as be a friend of him as he would often stop at his home. Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones are fantastic as Hogue’s former crime partners in Bowen and Taggart, respectively, with Martin as the more cowardly of the two and Jones as the one who is conniving and greedy.

David Warner is excellent as Reverend Joshua as a preacher who would help Hogue build his home and business as well as be this eccentric man of God who has a weakness for vulnerable women as it’s a very complex yet witty performance. Stella Stevens is amazing as Hildy as this prostitute who takes a liking to Hogue for who he is while helping him run his business briefly as she would fall for him but also deal with his stubbornness. Finally, there’s Jason Robards in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as this man who is left for dead in the desert as he would discover an oasis where he would use to become a prospector as he does whatever he can to make it succeed as it’s Robards in one of his finest performances.

The Ballad of Cable Hogue is an incredible film from Sam Peckinpah that features great performances from Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, and David Warner. While it’s a different kind of western of sorts from Peckinpah, the film is still an engaging as well as entertaining that plays into Peckinpah’s ideas of the West as well as creating something that is sensitive and funny. In the end, The Ballad of Cable Hogue is a spectacular film from Sam Peckinpah.

Sam Peckinpah Films: The Deadly Companions - Ride the High Country - Major Dundee - Noon Wine - The Wild Bunch - Straw Dogs - Junior Bonner - The Getaway - Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid - Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - The Killer Elite - Cross of Iron - Convoy - The Osterman Weekend - The Auteurs #62: Sam Peckinpah

© thevoid99 2016


Professor Brian O'Blivion said...

Good review! One of the few Peckinpah films I still need to see.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. For me, it's one of his essential films as well as one of his most underrated for the fact that it doesn't have a lot of violence as it's more about the story rather than the visuals.