Each Monday, I share reviews of Westerns I’m studying to prepare for making 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 Twenty: The Ballad of Cable Hogue & The Kentuckian


The Ballad of Cable Hogue

Peckinpah’s immediate follow up to The Wild Bunch is surprisingly sweet, sexy, and sometimes silly. The film has a tenderness that isn’t found in any other of the director’s work that I’ve seen, including his lighter-weight Junior Bonner.

The movie has some bumpy spots, especially in the second half. I was thrown off when suddenly Cable began discussing with Hildy his desire for revenge against Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones. It comes out of nowhere, nearly forgotten in his character’s journey and I felt Peckinpah could have done a better job to make this something Cable never forgets, perhaps the main reason he can’t leave the desert.

The conclusion is also a little rough. Though it’s certainly clever, I find the device that keeps our character forever in the desert to be exactly that, a device in a movie that otherwise feels quite natural and not contrived. Additionally, I know Robards is playing the last scene of the movie for humor but it really isn’t believable that he’s in this position and the performance could have shown a better balance between his sarcastic wit and pain.

Nevertheless, I think it’s one of the best Robards performances I’ve seen, up there with All the President’s Men and Something Wicked This Way Comes. The rest of the cast is great, especially Stella Stevens. I did not know she was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi (a place I’ve filmed) and I hope to connect with her about my work here in the state.

What I like best are her scenes, combined with the lyrical score. It’s unusual for a Western to be erotic but Peckinpah gets those moments here and shows the director had another side he didn’t explore much.

Seen on DVD.


The Kentuckian

This is a frustrating film. For the first half, I thought to myself, “This is a good Hollywood Western with steady direction from Burt Lancaster as if he were a studio pro.” And then… the film starts to fall apart, clearly never well realized in its script form.

Most of all, The Kentuckian gets lost in its love triangle. I never quite believed that Lancaster would fall for Diana Lynn over Dianne Foster. It’s never established that he has any hidden desire to lead a “normal” life and therefore when he is easily swayed that direction, there’s no foundation to justify it. Furthermore, his swing back is sudden and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either. I wish they’d cut the Lynn character out completely and just focused on his character’s economic struggles to get to Texas. This would have simplified and strengthened the narrative. It also would have made for an interesting and unique Western, one focused on characters trapped by their money troubles. Interesting side note: with no intention, this is the second Western I’ve watched in two weeks that starred Diana Lynn, the first being Track of the Cat.

However, it is Foster that steals the film for me. She is incredibly watchable and made me yearn to be in her presence. It’s her journey that is more interesting than the bumpkin hunter’s. Besides her, the only standout is Matthau but his character is also developed poorly. I don’t buy the way he provokes the eventual whip fight and I also don’t believe his spineless reversal at the end. Also, for crying out loud, our hero wins the fight because someone helps him cheat? The only way to properly do this scene was to either have him lose completely and come back to vanquish the whip in a later scene or have him beat the whip without the trickery. It’s a disappointing climax.

Overall, I enjoyed studying this film but found it flawed.

Seen on Amazon Prime.


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-Travis Mills