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Wild Rovers

This nearly forgotten 1971 western drama from the late Blake Edwards was reportedly butchered by MGM, but eventually restored to road-show length by the director and is now available via the Warner Archives. “Wild Rovers” stars craggy William Holden and fresh-faced Ryan O’Neal as a pair of cross-generational buddies who have come to recognize why mommas shouldn’t let their babies grow up to be cowboys. Their not-smart solution: become wealthy bank robbers. The likelihood of tragedy grows even greater when their rancher boss (Karl Malden) sends out his loutish sons (Tom Skerritt and Joe Don Baker) in hot pursuit of the men who looted his payroll.

Edwards was a master of sorts, but on his first western as a director he tries much too hard to both pay homage to and outdo the competition. We have Howard Hawks-like dialogue scenes that go on forever, epic vistas shot in John Ford’s Monument Valley, and a few lifts from Sam Peckinpah. Blood squibs go off and characters writhe in slow motion a la “The Wild Bunch”; a lyrical montage about breaking a wild horse goes on and on like an outtake from “Major Dundee” or “The Ballad of Cable Hogue.” Considering the presence of “Wild Bunch” star William Holden and Edwards’ tendency to gentle wit, it’s impossible not to make the doubtless often repeated quip describing “Rovers” as “The Mild Bunch.” The problem, however, is not too much copying or excess affability, but Edwards’ undisciplined screenplay. It leaves an outstanding cast, and one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best scores, twisting in the wind like a horse thief on the end of a rope.

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