Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 170: The Rounders (1965)
One of Burt Kennedy’s “modern westerns”, The Rounders has the makings of a great cowboy movie. It has two charismatic leads with good chemistry, great Arizona location photography, and an amusing story that also has the potential to be poignant. But sadly, Kennedy squanders that opportunity.
Much of the film works well, especially when it follows Ford and Fonda through their cyclical, dead-end lives as bronc busters. However, the subplot involving a particularly stubborn horse begins with some big laughs and soon descends into silliness. By the time Kennedy has the horse untie a mare and wander off with her or get drunk and crash through a barn, I wondered if I was watching a Disney movie. Now that I’m nearly at the end of my study of his work, I speculate that Burt would have enjoyed working for the Mouse house. His instinct is always to push things in a comedic direction and his sense of humor is often childish.
You can see it again in this picture with the episode involving the two stranded ladies. The girls are so cartoonish they might as well have been animated. Because they don’t come off as real humans, the situation of trying to get them across the street with no clothes is not nearly as funny as it could have been. What makes a situation comedic in most instances is our ability to relate on a human level, something Kennedy too often forgets.
Back to the horse, the film has an incredible opportunity to draw a parallel line between Glenn Ford and Ol Fooler, the horse that can’t be broken and the cowboy who can’t be changed. Such a comparison would make the later scenes in the movie more effective, even moving. If that metaphor is evident in Max Evans’ source novel (and I suspect it probably is), The Rounders is a great candidate for a remake. Someone could make a humorous film out of this that also touches the heart.
It’s not that I dislike Kennedy’s film but I’m disappointed at his treatment of what could have been a definitive film about cowboys and their lifestyle.
Watched on Amazon