Plot. It’s the 1930s. Jeff Bridges is an Iowa farm boy with aspirations and an imagination much like Robert E. Howard’s. “I’m a writer,” he tells everyone, with a confident grin. “Western prose,” he clarifies.
Going to Nevada for inspiration, he gets tangled up with two crooks running a bogus school for writers. On the run from them, he stumbles into a movie crew shooting a western. He befriends a director’s assistant (Blythe Danner), who helps him get a job as an extra, and he rises quickly through the B-movie ranks to near-stardom.
Holding out for more money on the bad advice of another actor (Andy Griffiths), he finds himself out of work. Desperate to get his writing career back on track, he hands a manuscript for a novel to Griffiths, who then passes it on, claiming he’s the author. The two crooks finally catch up with Bridges; there’s an exchange of gunfire; and he is last seen on the way to the hospital, turning over what’s happened into yet another western story.
|Andy Griffiths, Jeff Bridges
Good, but. The bare bones of this plot are enough to hang an entertaining film on about the movie business. It’s predictable in maybe too many ways, but a good cast, clever writing, good direction, and editing can make you forget all that.
And you can’t fault the cast. The performances are great, and the young Jeff Bridges is a delight. Also in the cast are Donald Pleasence and Alan Arkin. So you wonder about the rest, because long stretches of the movie seem flat and slow and won’t come to life.
It doesn’t help that the film, which is supposed to be a comedy, runs over 100 minutes. A seduction scene in which Danner tries to maneuver Bridges into bed takes forever. Maybe it’s that muddled feeling about a lot of 1970s movies that were reluctant to ramp up the stakes for the characters. Indifferent to plot, they count on the patience and attention span of the audience and end up seeming aimless.
Meanwhile, for someone interested in getting a behind the scenes look at B-movie cowboy pictures, there is too little of that. For those interested in the period, there are some vague references to the 1930s. A poster for a Garbo movie adorns a wall; there are old pop songs on the radio; the characters drive vintage cars; and there are art deco credits at the end. That’s about it.
Wrapping up. I’m not an insider, and you get the feeling that maybe the film has a lot of insider jokes that would amuse a Hollywood audience. Anyway, it would have been better to go on thinking this was a great little sleeper film that somehow disappeared. Now I wish I’d left the memory of a much better movie undisturbed.
For a more entertaining alternative, Blake Edwards’ Sunset (1988), with Bruce Willis as Tom Mix and James Garner as Wyatt Earp, is far-fetched but far more fun. For more of Tuesday's Overlooked Movies, click on over to Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom.
Coming up: Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains (1903)