By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Budding writer travels west.
Lewis (Jeff Bridges) is a young man who dreams of becoming a famous western writer. He applies for and is accepted into a college that will supposedly teach him all he needs to know about the western-style novel. Unfortunately when he travels to where the college supposedly is he finds that it doesn’t really exist and is nothing more than a big scam run by two con-men (Richard B. Shull, Anthony James) who fleece thousands of dollars from unsuspecting people just like Lewis. They even try to rob Lewis further when he temporarily stays at a boarding house and is asleep, but he manages to escape from them by jumping into their running car, which has all of the money that they’ve stolen inside of it, and drives off into the desert. There he comes upon a western movie set and soon lands a job as a stunt man before quickly moving up the ladder into a western star while the bad guys continue to tail him and are determined to get back their money.
The film’s charm comes from its ability to mix the harsh realities of the movie business with a terrific sense of quirky comedy. Even better is that it avoids the condescending attitude that some period pieces have. The characters are not portrayed as being overtly naïve, sheltered or uneducated and instead come off as real people who just so happen to have lived in a different time period and although the recreation of the period isn’t exactly authentic it still gives one a good, general sense of the way things most likely were.
Bridges gives one of his best performances in a role perfectly suited to his persona as a naïve, wide-eyed young man full of ideals, but lacking in real-world sensibilities. The part where he is in a bathtub when the bad guys burst in on him reminded me of his similar scene in The Big Lebowski.
Blythe Danner makes for a solid love interest and I was amazed at how in certain shots she does very much look like her more famous daughter Gwyneth. Andy Griffith is great as well and becomes one of the more memorable parts of the film as Lewis’ duplicitous friend Howard.
The supporting cast is filled with recognizable faces that are on top of their game and make the most of their small roles including the always engaging Dub Taylor as a postal employee. There is even Woodrow Parfrey as a film producer, who for some reason appears unbilled.
The comedy is consistently amusing and directed by a man who had a flair for this type of material. The script, by Rob Thompson, remains fresh by introducing different twists along the way in a period piece that wipes away the nostalgic charm just enough to keep it real, but still remains cute.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: October 8, 1975
Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes
Director: Howard Zieff
Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube