Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wanda Nevada (1979)

Peter Fonda made some truly inexplicable choices in the years after Easy Rider, and one of the most inexplicable was signing on as director and star of this lifeless Brooke Shields vehicle. Fonda plays a modern-day swindler roaming through the Southwest until he wins 13-year-old Shields in a poker game and gets embroiled in a silly quest for a vein of gold that an old drunk claims exists in the Grand Canyon. It’s hard to discern the intended audience for this movie, because while the plot is nominally a kiddie adventure in which the characters trot about on mules while encountering eccentric characters and evading a pair of incompetent crooks, several scenes depict adult men lusting after Shields. Even the basic relationship at the center of the story seethes with implied pedophilia, because it’s never clear if Fonda is Shields’ surrogate father or her would-be lover. Fonda’s performance is even more lackadaisical than usual, which is saying a lot, and Shields seems more suited to a sitcom episode than a feature film, given her canned showbiz-kid acting and jarring painted-lady makeup. (As Fonda says at one point, “I thought you were a good kid under all that hot sauce.”) The only thing that might have saved this picture is the depiction of colorful people who live and work in and around the Grand Canyon, but these minor characters are all contrived and uninteresting, despite being played by energetic actors. B-movie stalwart Severn Darden plays an incongruently pale bird watcher in a pith helmet and jungle khakis, giving a few moments of amusement with florid dialogue and outright perversion (he tries to buy and then seduce Shields); Fiona Lewis appears rather pointlessly as a photographer who gives Shields friendly encouragement; and an unrecognizable Henry Fonda shows up for a brief cameo as a sun-baked prospector. He’s got the right idea by getting the hell out of his son’s misbegotten movie as quickly as possible. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on

Wanda Nevada: LAME

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I LOVED Wanda Nevada! I enjoyed the characters, the story and the locations. I especially enjoyed the closing scene in that gorgeous 50s convertible with Carol King singing "Morning Sun". Exactly what car was that?