Sam Peckinpah's light-hearted, rambunctious ode to the dying Wild West, with Jason Robards as a rascally prospector who transforms a desert water-hole into big business. Year: 1970 Director: Sam Peckinpah Starring: Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, David Warner
What does it tell us that Sam Peckinpah's most joyous and life-affirming movie is also his most underappreciated? The Ballad of Cable Hogue
was made in that singular moment when, having just completed The Wild Bunch
, Peckinpah knew he was back in the game as a feature-film director; and before anyone (including Peckinpah himself?) had an inkling of how completely he was about to redefine the Western genre, contemporary American filmmaking, and his own personal legend.
Cable Hogue is a splendiferous entertainment: a grufty Western tall tale, a lusty comedy, and also (in critic Kathleen Murphy's phrase) "a musical about the economic and emotional complexities of capitalism." Its title character--Jason Robards in a great, exuberant gift of a performance--is an ornery varmint left by two scurrilous partners (L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin) to die in the desert. Through pure cussedness and what may be dumb luck, may be divine intervention, he "finds water where it wasn't" and survives. Nothing to do now but settle back, let his waterhole--the only one on the stage line between Deaddog and Gila--make him a rich man, and await the day those two old partners drop by his waystation.
Besides such Peckinpah regulars as Slim Pickens, R.G. Armstrong, and Gene Evans, the movie features Stella Stevens in her career-best role as Hildy, Hogue's best reason for getting into town now and again, and David Warner, an itinerant preacher and full-time lech who becomes his soulmate. Lucien Ballard photographed, and there's a charming song score (by Richard Gillis) whose neglect is as mystifying as that of the film. Above all, there is Sam Peckinpah exulting in the lyrical, heart-filling possibilities of making a motion picture, trying just about anything, and finding it beautiful. This film was his personal favorite. --Richard T. Jameson