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  Bronco Billy Western Wishing
Year: 1980
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Geoffrey Lewis, Scatman Crothers, Bill McKinney, Sam Bottoms, Dan Vadis, Sierra Pecheur, Walter Barnes, Woodrow Palfrey, Beverlee McKinsey, Doug McGrath, Hank Worden, William Prince, Pam Abbas, Merle Haggard
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) runs his own Wild West Show which travels around the United States entertaining the rural folks who usually don't get to see the fancier entertainments of the big cities. Tonight the ringmaster, Doc Lynch (Scatman Crothers), introduces the proceedings as he always does, and Chief Big Eagle (Dan Vadis) performs his snake charming act, but alas once again he gets carried away and one of the reptiles bites him. Bronco Billy saves the day with his sharpshooting, blasting away at plates held by his current assistant, but it's her first night on the job and she makes the mistake of moving around when he throws a knife in her direction...

From this we can see from the beginning that the Wild West Show may not be the most professional operation around, but once we get to know the characters we become aware that they have the capacity to put on a great, crowdpleasing performance if only people would give them a chance. Oddly the people who didn't give this film a chance were the ticket-buying public, and for the first time in ages Eastwood, also serving as director here, had a financial disappointment on his hands - and this was about two years after the megahit Every Which Way But Loose. So why didn't the star's fans turn out in droves to see what was a similarly comedic tale of a motley crew of friends?

Perhaps it was down to the spoofing air of Bronco Billy, where we were not entirely supposed to take the lead character seriously, or at least nowhere near as seriously as he took himself. Although he is just as quick and accurate on the draw as he claims to be, he's a little bit silly, even pompous, about his desire to be an old-fashioned cowboy (something the film simultaneously romanticises), and the fact that we see his business is not exactly packing them into his tent gives him the look of a failure as well. But then, Eastwood was always keen on subverting audience expectations, and many of his most accomplished films did just that, only they didn't wear such intentions quite as prominently as he did with this effort.

To complicate matters, and to make Bronco Billy look less arrogant - a lot less arrogant - his show gets mixed up with an heiress, Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke) who has been abandoned by her new husband John Arlington (Geoffrey Lewis) and is recruited by Billy to be his latest assistant. She is insufferable, disdainful and all round unpleasant to be with, and it's only because she cannot survive alone that the band of showmen have her around, even though they start to believe she is bad luck after a while, considering what happens to them once they meet her. So far, so It Happened One Night (except Claudette Colbert was never so objectionable), but Lily really does bring bad luck to John when he is put away for her murder, in spite of his protestations that she is still alive.

Naturally, these two prickly personalities in Billy and Lily find themselves thawing towards each other, and we can see they are a good match before the end credits roll. Here Eastwood, somewhat surprisingly given his conservative outlook, brings an inclusive nature to side with the misfits in American society, as if the big tent that father figure Billy's band of players congregate under was a protection against the big bad world outside where they can be themselves and shine in the process. There's a true family quality to Dennis E. Hackin's script that grows on you, and by the end you're feeling very warm towards the film and its gently mocking humour - you can understand why Eastwood counts this among his favourites of his own movies, as there's not a mean bone in its cinematic body. Bronco Billy may not be one of his most ambitious projects, and it is a touch too mild to truly move, but it is charming and even sweet, not an adjective often applied to Eastwood's works.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Clint Eastwood  (1930 - )

Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.

Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys, American Sniper and The Mule to his name.

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