Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hearts of the West (1975)

One of several nostalgic ’70s movies set during the early days of Hollywood filmmaking, Hearts of the West is a flawed but charming romantic adventure boasting clever characterizations and a terrific cast. Jeff Bridges stars as Lewis Tater, a naïve Iowan obsessed with becoming a Western pulp writer in the mode of Zane Gray. Through convoluted circumstances, he ends up making his way to Los Angeles circa 1930-ish, where he falls in with a group of crusty cowboy types who make their living doing stunts for a low-rent production company. The rangy story involves an avuncular veteran stuntman with a mysterious past, an eccentric book publisher, gun-toting con men, a hot-tempered studio boss, a wisecracking secretary, and other colorful types. Even with such an overstuffed plot, writer Rob Thompson and director Howard Zieff try to give every character unique flavor, like the unlucky stuntman who always takes the first bullet in onscreen gunfights. As was the case in many of his early pictures, Bridges is powered by enthusiasm and raw talent rather than refined skill, and it’s unfortunate that the dorky vocal style he adopts makes his work feel contrived in comparison with the naturalistic acting of the other players. Blythe Danner, at her liveliest and loveliest, is endearing as the secretary, and Alan Arkin connives and shouts his way through a funny performance as the mood-swinging studio boss. Donald Pleasence contributes memorable weirdness in his brief turn as the publisher, and the rest of the cast is filled out by impeccable character players including Matt Clark, Herb Edelman, Burton Gilliam, Anthony James, Alex Rocco, and Richard B. Shull. Topping all of this off is the venerable Andy Griffith, giving a loose and authoritative performance as the veteran stuntman; in a series of plot developments reflecting this picture’s surprising depth, Griffith’s character takes Tater under his wing but then grows to occupy an unexpected role in the young man’s life. Hearts of the West has big problems (the cartoonish music score is awful, the pacing is inconsistent, and the story relies on overly convenient plot twists), but it’s thoroughly appealing nonetheless. (Available at

Hearts of the West: GROOVY

No comments: