Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Hired Hand

Directed and starring Peter Fonda and written by Alan Sharp, The Hired Hand is the story of a man returning home after going away for seven years as he tries to win back his wife by becoming her hired hand. The film is an unusual western as it explores a man dealing with abandoning his wife as well as gaining some redemption. Also starring Verna Bloom and Warren Oates. The Hired Hand is a ravishing and touching film from Peter Fonda.

The film follows a drifter and his friend whose years of trying to find work forces him to return home to the wife he abandoned and win her back by becoming her hired hand. It’s a film with a simple story as it explores a man who had been away for seven years as the years of drifting from one place to another and a violent encounter with a corrupt gang leader forces him to return home. Alan Sharp’s screenplay begins with Harry Collings (Peter Fonda) roaming around place to place with his friend Arch Harris (Warren Oates) and a young man named Dan Griffen (Robert Pratt) as their companion as they go into this remote desert town where trouble occurs. Following this troubling encounter, Collings decides to return home to his estranged wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) whom he hadn’t seen in seven years as she is not happy to see him. Her disdain towards him is something Collings understands as he realizes what she had to do to survive as it bear some elements of feminism in the script. Especially as Collings realize that tending to the farm is not enough to win her back while Harris yearns to see the ocean as he helps out so that Collings could get his redemption.

Peter Fonda’s direction is very unusual in his approach to creating a western as it doesn’t play into some of the conventional tropes in favor of something more meditative as well as reflective. Shot largely on location in New Mexico, the film’s first act is set in a river and later in the desert at this remote town where Fonda would use some wide shots for some of the locations but also some unique close-ups of the characters. Fonda’s approach to style doesn’t just play into some of the close-ups and medium shots he would create for much of the film but also in these evocative montages filled with superimposed images and dissolves that add a very poetic quality to the film.

Notably as it play into not just the sense of guilt that Collings is filled with but also this determination to redeem himself to his wife Hannah as well as the fact that he has a young daughter named Janey (Megan Denver) he just learned about. There is a confrontation in its third act but Fonda would aim for something unconventional as it’s more about a man needing to fight for a reason rather than just be in a shootout as well as a vow he’s made to the woman he loved and abandoned in the hope he wouldn’t do so ever again. Overall, Fonda creates a dream-like yet intoxicating film about a man being a hired hand for his estranged wife.

Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond does brilliant work with the film’s gorgeous and dream-like cinematography with its natural usage of sunlight for some of the scenes at the forest home of Hannah as well as the usage of low-key lights for the scenes set at night. Editor Frank Mazzola does amazing work with the editing with its stylish usage of montages through its superimposed dissolves and stylish approach to freeze-frames as it’s a major highlight of the film. Production designer Lawrence G. Paull and set decorator Robert De Vestel do fantastic work with the look of the desert town with its ruined stones and bricks as well as the look of Hannah’s home.

Costume designer Richard Bruno does nice work with the costumes from the ragged look of the clothes the men wear early in the film to the simple look of Hannah. Sound editor James Nelson does terrific work with the sound as it is very straightforward to play into some of the quiet sounds of the location as well as some of the gunfire that occurs in some of the action scenes. The film’s music by Bruce Langford is excellent for its rapturous music score that is filled with rich acoustic instruments and woodwind sounds that help give the film a dream-like feel that is just intoxicating to listen to.

The film’s superb cast include some notable small roles from Owen Orr and Ted Markland as a couple of henchmen for a local outlaw, Ann Doran as a neighbor of Hannah, Robert Pratt as Collings and Harris’ traveling companion Dan Griffen, Rita Rogers as a Mexican woman that is mistreated by the brutish local outlaw, Megan Denver as Hannah’s daughter Janey, and Severn Darden as the brutal outlaw McVey as a man who runs a remote desert town and tries to get Collings and Harris into trouble.

Verna Bloom is brilliant as Hannah as a woman who has a lot of pent-up anger towards Collings as she isn’t eager to have his help while she doesn’t trust Harris despite the fact that she knows that he’s a good man. Warren Oates is amazing as Arch Harris as a cowboy who is eager to see the ocean knowing that his days of drifting are gone as he tries to help out at Hannah’s home and farm as well as lament on the life Collings would have if he chooses to stay with Hannah. Finally, there’s Peter Fonda in an excellent performance as Harry Collings as a drifter that is trying to redeem himself to his ex-wife as he would fix things at her home while dealing with the years of drifting that lead to nothing as well as being forced to fight again to protect the things he’s starting to regain as it’s a very understated role from Fonda.

The Hired Hand is a remarkable film from Peter Fonda that features great performances from Fonda, Verna Bloom, and Warren Oates. Along with Vilmos Zsigmond’s beautiful cinematography, Frank Mazzola’s dizzying editing, and Bruce Langford’s haunting score, the film is a very unconventional yet rich western that bear elements expected in the genre but also with ideas on feminism and a woman’s role in the West. In the end, The Hired Hand is a sensational film from Peter Fonda.

© thevoid99 2017

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