The Hired Hand
After Easy Rider, partners Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper rode off into their separate sunsets -- Hopper to Peru to film his demented classic, 1970's The Last Movie, and Fonda back to the familiar family tradition of the American Western for his directorial debut, The Hired Hand.
Reviewed by Steve Uhler, Fri., Nov. 28, 2003
The Hired Hand
Sundance Channel Entertainment, $39.99
After the breakthrough box-office success of 1969's Easy Rider, partners Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper rode off into their separate sunsets -- Hopper to Peru to film his demented classic 1970's The Last Movie (which very nearly was), and Fonda back to the familiar family tradition of the American Western for his directorial debut, The Hired Hand (1970). Their solo endeavors defined the aesthetic gulf between the two: Hopper fiery, Dionysian, nonlinear; Fonda, elegiac, traditional, and intuitively intelligent. In the battle for artistic supremacy, Fonda won, but nobody noticed or cared, since Universal released The Hired Hand without fanfare or support before consigning it to oblivion. Longtime saddle pals Harry (Fonda) and Archie (Warren Oates) are tired of the trail, and Harry decides it's time to return to the wife he deserted years ago, Hannah (Verna Bloom). When the two show up on her front porch, Harry finds himself torn between loyalties of friendship and love, especially when an old enemy (Severn Darden) abducts Archie, taunting Harry to come rescue his friend. Fonda was intimately familiar with the mythos of both the real West and the Hollywood version, inherited from his father's Fordian classics, particularly My Darling Clementine (1946). Fonda's direction is at once solid and ethereal, enhanced by Vilmos Zsigmond's (Blade Runner) breathtaking cinematography and Bruce Langhorne's haunting, high-lonesome score. The fledgling director drew miraculous performances out of his ensemble. Bloom is a revelation, reticent and vulnerable, but the soul of the movie belongs to weathered Warren Oates -- in a role as close to leading man as he ever got. DVD extras on the deluxe two-disc version include a making-of documentary, deleted scenes (including Larry Hagman as the town sheriff in a role eliminated from the final cut), outtakes, and Fonda's engaging audio commentary.