Wanda Nevada (1979)

wanda nevada

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Go for the gold.

Wanda Nevada (Brooke Shields) is a 13-year-old runaway from an orphanage. Beaudray Demerille (Peter Fonda) is a drifter/con-man who ‘wins’ her during a poker game. The two don’t get along at first, but then they come into contact with an old prospector (Paul Fix) who tells them of gold that can be found in the Grand Canyon. They follow his map, but find weird unexplained events begin to occur the closer they get to the treasure.

Uneven mix of gritty western/comedy doesn’t ever gel. This is a far cry from The Hired Hand, which Fonda directed 6 years earlier. Although that was not a perfect film it still had a great cinematic style and moody flair that this one completely lacks. The story is slight and predictable and goes on much too long with a laid back pace that while not completely boring is never very interesting either. The biggest hurdle though is the fact that we have a 13-year-old girl and a man in his 30’s not only expressing their love for each other, but forming a relationship, which many viewers will probably find quite creepy.

Shields is great and helps give energy and flair to an otherwise lackluster production. She displays a nice sassy attitude and her facial expressions are amusing. She looks ready to blossom into late adolescence and many times seems to show more acting ability and charisma than her older counterpart.

The supporting cast is good although they appear much too briefly. Unique character actor Severn Darden is on hand who tries to steal Wanda away from Beaudray, but just when his character starts to get interesting they have him killed off. Peter’s dad Henry appears in a cameo looking almost unrecognizable in a long beard and bug-eyed goggles. Brooke’s real-life mother Terri has an amusing scene as a hotel clerk. Fix is also good in what turned out to be his last film.

On the flip side Luke Askew and Ted Markland are boring as the bad guys who chase after Wanda and Beaudray through the canyon. Their comical banter is unfunny and their bumbling ways allows for no tension.

The scenery is gorgeous and if you’ve never made it out west you’ll feel like you have after you’ve seen this. The best views are the bird’s-eye shots of the two rafting down a river. The color is bright and vivid and an overall excellent transfer from MGM’s Limited Edition library.

In some ways this film reminded me of Mackenna’s Gold as both films had a similar plot and both also added in a mystical element at the end. However, like in the other one the special-effects look cheap and hokey. The light pleasing quality is hampered by an otherwise bland execution. Why it was chosen for the setting to be the 1950’s instead of the present day I am not sure as it doesn’t add anything to the plot.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Fonda

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Import)

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