Wednesday, November 15, 2006

[1980] BRONCO BILLY: It's the other Scatman Crothers movie from 1980! It's uneven and weird, but not in an unpleasant way--I read it as an attempt to graft Clint's revisionist Western impulses onto something like a Sturges or a Capra screwball comedy, and then set it in modern times. Clint stars as the lead attraction of a third-rate travelling cowboy show (playing at state fairs and the like, and playing at orphanages and mental institutions for free) who never stops being in character--he wants to be a cowboy and have cowboy ethics and not take any hoo-hah from anybody (even though he's from New Jersey, as it turns out) so he is a cowboy; he is "as he wants to be," as he says at one point. That's sort of the moral of the fable of Bronco Billy, getting to be who you want to be, even though you're broke half the time and your tent burns down and you have to humiliate yourself to get one of your "pardners" out of jail. (The requisite evil sheriff makes Bronco Billy admit that he--the sheriff--is faster than Billy. Horrors!) But the film is marred by Sondra Locke's performance as a frigid New York society gal who finds herself in the company of Billy and his employees. Her introduction as a cruel harpy is so overbroad--think Lilith on "Cheers" but times ten--that it essentially cripples the movie for the first half hour or so. She mellows out as the film goes on, but the damage is done, and it's never quite clear why she ends up falling for Billy. It's an all-around odd movie but it's heart is basically in the right place, equal parts cynical and earnest. (Allegedly one of Eastwood's favorites among the films he directed.)

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