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Monday, March 4, 2019

'Wild Rovers' Blu-ray: Blake Edwards' Comic Western

The Warner Archive February 26, 2019 Blu-ray release of the 1971 Blake Edwards comedy-western "Wild Rovers" coinciding with the (reviewed) Archive release of the innovative 1947 audience-participation noir film "The Lady in the Lake" once again shows that Archive is the best friend of lovers of non-cookie-cutter films.

One note regarding both films is that Archive also does its usual expert remastering decades old films.

This early '70s-style western (complete with the ubiquitous old-timey font of the era) centers around Montana cowboy Frank Post (Ryan O'Neal) having a quarter-life crisis at the the same time that 50 year-old co-worker/partner-in-crime Ross Bodine (William Holden) experiences a mid-life crisis. One spoiler is that a scene in an old-style bathhouse gives the audience a look at the paper-white moon of O'Neal. 

The unwritten rule that almost anything goes in the saloon conditioned on paying for your fun also reflects the era. 

Post and Bodine are living quiet lives of moderate desperation working round-ups and doing related tasks at the cattle ranch of Walter Buckman (Karl Malden) when a workplace accident triggers concurrent existential crises in our leads. Bodine fully realizes that he is too old for this stuff, and Post concludes that he wants a lifestyle change before he reaches that point. The underlying theme is the capitalist model that is based on the guy with the gold obtaining and keeping it by exploiting the guys who do the heavy lifting.

The era-apt get-rich-quick scheme of Post and Bodine is to rob the local bank. The many inter-related aspects of that crime of the 19th century reflect the off-beat comic genius of writer-director Blake Edwards. 

Elements that establish our leads as good guys include Bodine playing Robin Hood with a portion of the ill-gotten goods and Post strongly bonding with a newly born puppy. That dog playing a significant role in much of the film contributes strong charm and humor, 

Buckman already is dealing with his horny son being very excited about the arrival of a new whore at the local house of ill-repute. An unrelated cause for consternation is the neighboring sheep herder allowing his flock  to graze on the land of Buckman. At the same time, a two-birds-one-stone solution would save the son a trip into town and a few dollars. 

Buckman believing that his payroll is headed to Mexico with his ex-employees prompts him to send his randy son and the brother of that excitable boy in lukewarm pursuit, 

The wonderful interaction between Bodine and Post that begins with the genesis of their conspiracy gets even better as they bicker, bargain, and bond their way to Mexico. Highlights that are reminiscent of an old married couple include the eternal horse v. donkey debate and Bodine planning to leave Post behind when he goes off for an evening in town.

A precursor to "The Gambler" occurs when Post joins a high-stakes poker game with some bad hombres who are sore losers. 

All of this climaxes with a mixed Silver Age message regarding whether crime pays. This also reflects the waning days of the Hays Code in which a felon does not necessarily end up either in the graveyard or the local jail. 

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