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BOTTOM LINE: I think WILL PENNY is a great little film which strives to capture the authentically unglamorous look & feel of the what the Old West was really like, in ways most other westerns never did; (although, in all fairness, most never tried). I really enjoyed this film and Charlton Heston's restrained, moving performance. 4 STARS

THE STORY (contains major spoilers): Charlton Heston does a marvelous job in the title role of WILL PENNY, a loner cowboy who's pushing 50, and at the end of a lifelong career of roaming from job to job. Will has just completed another long, grueling cattle drive. After picking up his pay, Penny secures a winter job with the cattle baron who hired him for the drive, which also guarantees him a free ride north, back to the owner's ranch. Then, In a moment of compassion, Will gives up the job to a much younger cowboy who also needs to return north in order to visit his ailing father, before the old man passes on. Now without a grubsteak, Will throws in with two other cowpunchers from the drive, in hopes of finding honest work before winter sets in. This decision triggers a chain of events which place strong but soft-spoken Will Penny and his two companions squarely in the sights of a bunch of ruthless cutthroats, led by a loony self-proclaimed preacher, (wonderfully played by a manic Donald Pleasance). Arguing over who killed a downed Elk, the bandits suddenly open fire. Will kills one of the men in the exchange and one of his companions, "Dutch" (a nice turn by character actor Anthony Zerbe, who usually played greasy weasel types), is mortally wounded in the brief skirmish. The preacher vows vengeance for the death of one of his sons and both parties retreat and go their separate ways. Upon arriving at a small outpost town with a doctor, Will parts ways with his two friends and strikes out on his own.

Eventually Will is hired as the remote 'line man' for the Flat Iron Ranch, where he will routinely scout the outer boundaries of the expansive property, chasing down stray cattle and patrolling for rustlers. He strikes out for a tiny cabin on the edge of the range where he will live & work, alone, until the following Spring. When he arrives there Will is surprised to discover a woman and her young son whom he encountered a few weeks before while transporting his wounded friend for medical attention. She and her son were on their way west. (Her husband had moved ahead of them in secure a lucrative job, buy some land and establish their homestead.) En route to their new home, the guide hired to deliver the wife & child safely to Seattle abandoned them. They are now squatting at the remote cabin, forced to hole up there for the winter. Will tells them that while he sympathizes with their plight, they cannot stay. He leaves to familiarize himself with the territory he's charged with overseeing and tells the woman that she and her boy must be gone by the time he returns.

While high up in a remote mountain pass Will is ambushed by the crazed holy man and his vengeful sons. Will is stabbed, beaten, stripped of his belongings & clothing (except his longjohns) and left to die of exposure. Though badly injured, Penny manages to make his way thru the bitter wilderness back to the small cabin. There, he's nursed back to health by the woman and her son. During the days and weeks that follow, Will is exposed to a kind of life he never dreamed existed, and feels himself unintentionally falling into the role of both surrogate father and fill-in husband, (minus the whoopteedo). But the crazed killers are still out there... somewhere. The final showdown changes the lives of the main players in ways you don't traditionally expect.

THOUGHTS: This movie's ending will likely be a tough one to swallow for those who are used to (and/or prefer) a happy Hollywood-type finale. This film is played very real and in that respect the ending that we get, while not particularly upbeat nor happy, certainly feels far more true to life. WILL PENNY is a wonderful character study and the different people we encounter throughout feel absolutely authentic. Charlton Heston, often associated with playing larger-than-life characters and well known for his rather stilted, blowhard acting style, shatters traditional expectations here and gives us what may very well be his best motion picture performance. He delivers a subtle yet very strong, believable character. The rest of the film is equally well-cast, with all of the actors fitting their respective roles to a "T" in every way; from their dress to their speech to their mannerisms. A cast of truly great actors fill the call sheet for this motion picture: Slim Pickens, Anthony Zerbe, Ben Johnson, Bruce Dern, Joan Hackett, a very young Lee Majors, G.D. Spradlin, William Schallert (a terrific bit part!), Clifton James, and more.

THE DVD: Paramount's DVD release for WILL PENNY is a simple but respectable effort. Surprisingly, the video portion of the film looks quite good. Some initial dirt & grit during the title sequence quickly give way to a very clean, crisp overall picture for the rest of the film. The sound is a little on the soft side though; I had to crank the volume up quite high in order to hear all of the dialogue. There are a couple of decent bonus features for this movie and they're a nice touch. Often, lesser known films (especially westerns), are just paired with a copy of the film's theatrical trailer for a DVD release. With WILL PENNY however, Paramount offers up a short but nicely done retrospective piece featuring Charlton Heston, Jon Gries, (son of writer/director Tom Gries) and others, along with a second featurette that briefly discusses the cowboy actors in the picture. A solid release, but this deserves a hi-def Blu-ray remastering.
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on July 24, 2014
I figured out why these old westerns are so enjoyable. It's not just the actors. I pay a lot of attention to how things are filmed.
The trouble with so many filmmakers today, is, they are always jumping from scene to scene. These older films always made the
characters fit into the landscape. Makes you feel as if you are there. Today they got it backwards a lot of the time. They make the
landscape secondary to the characters. What makes the old west so refreshing to many of us, is, we feel we are still in the old
west. Untamed, unspoiled, wild and beautiful, all the same time. All we have left is fragments of that time. And I'm sure the
corporations are lusting after what's left. Damned environmentalists.
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on October 4, 2013
I never much cared for Charlton Heston as an actor, but he is really superb in Will Penny. An unsentimental portrayal (for the most part) of the real life of 19th century cowboys, Heston plays the lonely, aging, illiterate Will Penny with subtlety, grace and a sense of humor. The scenes with Joan Hackett are wonderfully restrained, their hesitation touching as they both grapple with feelings that astonish them both. The supporting cast are wonderful: Donald Pleasence as a lunatic preacher, Bruce Dern as his menacing son; Lee Majors & Anthony Zerbe as Penny's temporary sidekicks; Roy Jenson who Penny beats up with his hat and a skillet - "Hands are for work," Penny says; Slim Pickens as the chuck wagon cook; and Ben Johnson, dominating the screen in the 3 tiny scenes he's given. Script and direction by Tom Gries, cinematography by the great Lucien Ballard. Heston may be remembered for Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments & Planet of the Apes, but Will Penny is his finest achievement. Four stars only because I'm really a hard grader. Worth a look if you've never seen it, worth a second viewing if you've seen it before. Rent it for 3 bucks, own the DVD for 6. A deal.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 21, 2013
I have seen just about every classic western ever made. I love the western genre so much. I found "Will Penny" on an internet search of popular westerns, and since I respect and admire Charlton Heston's work, I figured this would be a good film. My assumptions were correct; this is a very good film, certainly not a classic by any means, but an entertaining one that held my interest from the opening scene to the last. Heston plays Will Penny, an aging cowboy who lives a simple life trailing cattle. His once simple life radically changes when he gets involved in a gunfight with a band of no-good scum led by a religious fanatic named Preacher Quint (wonderfully acted by Donald Pleasence). Quint vows to kill Will Penny (for the death of one of his men) and comes very close to doing so. Hurt badly and nearly dying, Penny falls into the care of a husbandless woman (Joan Hackett) and her son, who are wintering in a line shack in the wilderness. Penny sees for the first time in his life what life would be like married and with a family. He is torn to choose between his simple cowboy existence and becoming a married man. I won't reveal the ending, but it is quite surprising.

I truly enjoyed this story. Heston acts like he is pining for an Academy Award. He is truly brilliant in his role at Will Penny. A very strong supporting cast (including a fine performance from Lee Majors) makes this film one that I will remember for a long time.

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on January 20, 2013
I really appreciate this kind of movie-sort of low-key-it sneaks up on you. Beautifully written and acted. It doesn't depend on needless violence-but there is violence. It seems like a real story. And it portrays that living in those days was no picnic. The harshness of life is there. The scenery is just gorgeous, yet it also is obvious that it was a pretty rugged existence to live there in those mountains. Heston's Will Penny is sensitive and kind. He's no push-over though. He can defend himself pretty well-suggesting that he might have done that a lot when he was young. He knows his limitations. Perhaps his best days are behind him-and he knows it. Yet, he has a quiet resignation about it. He doesn't aspire to greatness-he just wants to live his days out. He is an "old man" for his day. Probably never thinking he would find love- he finds it. Should he dare love? Should he be vulnerable? Then there is the evil-the "preacher" and his family. How will they change things for Will Penny? Watch the movie to find out!
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on November 5, 2016
This was a movie that Charlton Heston originally did not want to make. His agent had to persuade him to take the job as he felt westerns we're no longer in demand. I'm so glad he made this movie! It speaks to a time when Cowboys were no longer required and jobs were few and far in between. I'm a huge fan of Charlton Heston and I cannot think of a movie that he has made that I have not enjoyed thoroughly.
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on March 7, 2015
This is a fine Western from a time when the traditional Western films, like so many of those John Wayne westerns I saw growing up, were changing and instead of a hero there'd be an anti-hero. Even though "Will Penny" seems a bit dated now--not holding up as well as two great Westerns from the following year, "Butch Cassidy" and "The Wild Bunch"--I see an influence on later films. I wouldn't be surprised if William Munny, Clint Eastwood's protagonist in "Unforgiven," got his name from Will Penny, Charlton Heston's character's name.
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on March 7, 2017
Great movie.
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on September 6, 2016
What a day great cowboy movies I watched it when I was young is a great But maybe end to make that poor guy he didn't know anything when he was child he grew up Cal Cal puncher he knew nothing about family and when he did you're so sad at the end that he walked away when he could've stayed.
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on October 2, 2013
"Will Penny" is not idealized as many westerns are. It is breathtaking, but gritty and tough, more as the old west probably was during the time of the great cattle drives. Every aspect of this film is superb: acting, casting, cinematography, costuming, directing, setting and set decoration, writing. This almost ultimate product of its genre finally reaches the ultimate in drama, in that it bears comparison to classical tragedy.
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