Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Thirty Eight: Will Penny
Tom Gries proves once again to be one of this era’s most reliable directors. He also is overlooked in the conversation of Western filmmakers, making two solid entries in the genre from this film to Breakheart Pass. What’s even more impressive is how different those two Westerns are: one an Agatha Christie-style mystery on a train and this one a sensitive yet tough romance.
Heston is as good as he’s ever been as Will Penny, the cow hand who eventually takes up with a single mother and her boy. The boy is played by the director’s son and ironically, I worked with him many decades later on my movie Durant’s Never Closes. Most of you know Jon Gries from Napoleon Dynamite. He’s a fantastic character actor and it’s humorous to see him here in one of his first roles.
Back to the movie, I loved how sensitive and true this feels to the characters. There’s no action for action’s sake. The romance plays perfectly and if anything I wish there was another half hour of it. The only thing that doesn’t work well for me are the villains. Yes, Donald Pleasance delivers a wonderful maniac performance but sometimes it’s just too much; it sends the movie into grindhouse terrority when it needs to stay grounded. The ending with these bad guys feels a little rushed and I think the movie would have benefited from a longer final section to develop these people and their evil ways.
The conclusion is heartbreaking. This is one of the only films I’ve ever seen where I wished for a happy ending instead of a sad one.
Seen on DVD.