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  Hired Hand, The Homeward Bound
Year: 1971
Director: Peter Fonda
Stars: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom, Robert Pratt, Severn Darden, Rita Rogers, Ann Doran, Ted Markland, Owen Orr, Al Hopson, Megan Denver, Michael McClure, Gray Johnson, Len Marsal
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Three men, Harry (Peter Fonda), Arch (Warren Oates) and the youngest Dan (Robert Pratt) have been riding East for some time now, and Dan especially wants to reach California to see the coast. Today, they take a break from their travelling to have a rest and eat a meal, and Dan has been fishing in the river they have stopped by. Once they have finished bathing, they enjoy their food and discuss their options, with Harry saying he is feeling the pull of home and the wife and daughter he has not seen for seven years. Then Dan notices the body of a drowned little girl in the water - could it be an omen?

Well, certainly things do not turn out all that terrific for most of the characters, but some of them do find peace for a while. First, however, Harry, Arch and Dan must have a fateful encounter in the next smalltown stop on their journey. The Hired Hand came out of the success of Easy Rider, the counterculture movie that was embraced by the mainstream for a while in 1969 onwards, and many of the cast and crew involved with that were given a chance to direct their own films in the studio's hope that lightning would strike twice.

Alas, it was not to be and despite the low cost of most of these works, none were huge hits. However, the box office's loss was cult movie fans gain, as every one of those personal and offbeat films that resulted would go on to enjoy small but loyal followings. The Hired Hand was no exception, and over the years some of those who caught it responded to its muzzy, langorous mood and appearance. It seems to have been filmed almost entirely at the hottest time of the day, as everyone in the film looks to be wilting either through the weather or through the onerous burdens they must carry on their shoulders.

Harry and Arch find that responsibility is what ties them down, whether it is to family or friends. This makes itself plain when Dan stumbles into the bar they are drinking in with a fatal gunshot wound to the neck, as local head honcho McVey (Severn Darden) follows soon after claiming that Dan tried to rape his wife. Harry and Arch don't buy this for a second, and the next day when they have buried the body they make a point of ambushing McVey and crippling him by shooting his feet. Now they both have enemies, even if they do think they have heard the last of this.

For the rest of the film, Verna Bloom makes her mark as Harry's wife Hannah, initially wary of his return for she has been getting along without him and is suspicious of his intentions. But all Harry really wants is to settle down after years of peregrination, and they eventually see eye to eye even if he is unhappy about her reputation of an easy woman who sleeps with her hired help. Now Harry is the hired help, and Bloom manages an interesting depiction of a tough-minded but good-hearted mother blossoming under the attention of her returned spouse. Fonda is too keen to be arty with Alan Sharp's script, particularly with his habit of dissolve-heavy montages, but he does build up a strong atmosphere even as we realise this is not going to end happily. If it does not really move, then that is because we can see the conclusion coming a mile off. Music by Bruce Langhorne.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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