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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Yes, my friends, the action starts right here, right now, right after the jump.

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RIP Karl Malden (updated)

Like all character actors, Karl Malden never got quite the same level of attention as costars like Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Steve McQueen, Anthony Perkins, Montgomery Clift, Michael Caine, and George C. Scott. Even the seventies TV series he starred in, “The Streets of San Francisco” found him being overshadowed in the eyes of the teenybopper set by his young punk of a male ingenue costar, Michael Douglas. That was largely because Malden was the kind of performer who understood that acting is a team sport. His best scenes were like great duets with near perfect communication between him and his scene partners. The exception were American Express travelers’ checks; those, he wiped off the screen.

Karl Malden died today at age 97, having been more or less fully retired since appearing in a 2000 episode of “The West Wing.” While he was never precisely an A-lister, he was a go-to actor for secondary leads, president of the Motion Picture Academy, and as far as I can tell a universally respected figure among actors and everyone else associated with the movie industry. He was also married to the same woman for seventy years, a rare enough Holllywood achievement to merit it’s own special Oscar. Not a bad life.

Below the fold is a video tribute I found that, from the misspellings, I gather may come from Serbia. (Malden, whose real name was Mladen Sekulovich, was the son of a Serbian father and a Czechoslovak mother.) The image quality could be better and some of the clips are a little too brief, but it does give you an excellent overview of his truly diverse film career, which included work with some of the greatest Hollywood directors including Elia Kazan, John Frankenheimer, and Alfred Hitchcock. It also includes some interesting moments from two oddball spy films, “Murderer’s Row,” which I haven’t seen, and the underrated “Billion Dollar Brain,” which included some pretty amazing scenes between Malden and Michael Caine as his old spy buddy, Harry Palmer, as well as Françoise Dorléac as his treacherous spy girlfriend (though he’s pretty tricky himself).

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