The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE HIRED HAND (1971) | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - THE HIRED HAND (1971)

After years of drifting, a cowboy returns home to his wife and child.






Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Peter Fonda

Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom



1971's The Hired Hand was an entry in what came to be known at the time as the 'hippy western' sub-genre. It seems an odd designation now, as save for the length of the hair sported by its cowboys and some very dated visual techniques, it's as traditional a western as anything from Hollywood's more conservative past.
Having watched his buddy Dennis Hopper revolutionise American independent cinema with Easy Rider, Peter Fonda made his own directorial debut a couple of years later with 1971's The Hired Hand, an entry in what came to be known at the time as the 'hippy western' sub-genre. It seems an odd designation now, as save for the length of the hair sported by its cowboys and some very dated visual techniques, it's as traditional a western as anything from Hollywood's more conservative past.


When their buddy is gunned down, accused of attempted rape, cowboy drifters Harry (Fonda) and Arch (Warren Oates) decide they've had it with their dangerous lifestyle. Though Arch wants to head for the California coast and catch his first glimpse of the ocean, Harry convinces his friend to accompany him on a belated return to the wife and child he left seven years ago.

Arriving at his former home, Harry is understandably given short shrift by his wife, Hannah (Verna Bloom), who allows the cowboys to sleep in her shed while they work for her as ranch hands, but no more. Gradually, Hannah begins to come around to Harry's not so obvious charms, but this being a western, fate inevitably provides an obstacle that forces Harry to load his six-shooter once again.


With classical cinematography courtesy of the great Vilmos Zsigmond arm-wrestling with the showy and distracting to the point of irritation editing techniques of Frank Mazzola, The Hired Hand is a visually schizophrenic piece of cinema. Presumably under Fonda's instruction, Mazzola creates often ugly mosaics using extended dissolves and freeze frames. Revolutionary at the time, today it resembles the work of a first year film student determined to exploit every feature in final cut. The opening scenes are frustrating as a result, but once the story relocates to Hannah's ranch, the film settles down to a more digestible aesthetic.

It's this section that proves the film's most fertile, thanks not so much to the one-note Fonda, but to his co-stars. Bloom adroitly portrays the inner turmoil of her dilemma between maintaining her pride and accepting the man she still loves back into her bed, while Oates is at his charismatic best.


The relationship between Harry and Arch employs a similar dynamic to that between James Taylor and Dennis Wilson in another of 1971's counter-cultural genre movies, Monte Hellman's road movie masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop. Harry is silent, tortured and introspective while Arch is his happy-go-lucky companion. Ultimately, The Hired Hand reveals itself to be a platonic love story, with Fonda displaying more affection and loyalty to his friend than his family.
Extras:

Fonda himself provides a directors commentary while Martin Scorsese adds a brief introduction. Fonda and Oates are interviewed in archive audio. An hour long doc looks at the making of the film. A doc on Scottish screenwriters. Deleted scenes, including an alternate ending. Stills, trailers, TV and radio spots and a booklet with writing by Kim Morgan. A comprehensive package indeed!

The Hired Hand is available on blu-ray and DVD now from Arrow Academy.



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