Back to regular programming here at the blog, just in time for another post where blog pal Mike’s Take on the Movies gives me a movie I’ve never seen before and vice versa.
“Do you know what a Bronc rider is? He’s a cowboy with his brains kicked out.”
Mike said I was sure to like this one and he was right. The Rounders is about aging cowboys and horse tamers Ben (Glenn Ford) and Howdy (Henry Fonda) who have been hired to break wild broncos for Ed Love (Chill Wills). One particularly stubborn and ornery roan, Old Fooler, won’t be tamed and manages to derail the cowboys’ plans to finally settle down and live the good life. First they trade Fooler to moonshiner Vince (Edgar Buchanan) for a bottle of whiskey, but Vince returns the horse for a number of reasons, primarily because it ate all his whiskey mash. After further failed attempts to gift or sell the horse from hell to unsuspecting victims, Ben and Howdy decide to turn Fooler’s rowdiness to their advantage in the rodeo. On the way to one in Sedona, they pick up a couple of strippers (Sue Ane Langdon and Hope Holiday) stranded by the roadside, misadventures ensue, and when the horse gets hurt, they find they’re far more attached to him than they ever thought possible.
This movie is a simple and warm story of two losers who try to make the most of a bad situation and end up right back where they started. Ben and Howdy could easily be ridiculous the way they repeat what doesn’t work, get sidetracked by booze and girls and cling to unrealistic dreams, but you can’t begrudge these decent guys anything that gets them through the loneliness, hard winters and back-breaking work. They’re not that smart but they’re no dummies either, and their easy rapport makes it a delight to watch them swap stories about the women that got away (or came after them with a ball-peen hammer) or their dreams of buying a boat and going to Tahiti (they stare at a hula dancer tourism poster that comes with its own Tahitian drum accompaniment). It’s fun to watch them sell Fooler as the greatest horse ever, and wonder if he’s trying to ruin their lives on purpose when he boomerangs back to them. At one point Fooler returns with just the boot (stuck in the stirrup) of the latest sucker they’ve talked into taking him away, and the classic animated short The Cat Came Back came to mind.
Ford and Fonda are wonderful, but Fooler must get credit for some fine acting. He takes offense to Ben’s crack about its age and chomps the cowboy’s behind, kicking off a feud which escalates when Fooler drags Ben far across the desert. Ben tells Howdy all the different ways he plans to kill Fooler, but can’t bring himself to euthanize him when he’s injured.
Wills is good in little screen time as the tightwad rancher; Love expects the men’s eternal gratitude because he bailed them out of jail, but as Howdy tells him, “we ain’t friends.” Vince’s daughters Aggie (Kathleen Freeman) and Meg (Joan Freeman) wait for the men to settle down, and in the meantime Aggie hangs on Howdy’s every word. When Ben tries to unload the horse on Bull (Denver Pyle) with the lead-up, “I’m gonna give you the greatest gift that one man can give another,” Bull replies, “You’re gonna kill yourself?” The strippers get caught without clothes and try to sneak into a diner with only apron and cowboy hat as cover, to the tune, from a passing parade, of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The Rounders was directed by Burt Kennedy, who did a lot of films I like including Return of the Magnificent Seven (1966), The War Wagon (1967), Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and The Train Robbers (1973), plus several screenplays for Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott movies before he directed. Kennedy adapted this screenplay from the Max Evans novel, and the movie was beautifully shot by Paul Vogel. The Rounders was made into a TV series that lasted one season and starred Ron Hayes and Patrick Wayne as Ben and Howdy, with Chill Wills reprising his role.
Thanks to Mike for suggesting such a charming and comfortable western, and now head over to his blog to get his opinions on the pre-Code Hollywood satire I gave him.