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Wild Rovers

Wild Rovers(1971)

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teaser Wild Rovers (1971)

The only thing they can stick to is each other.

Tag line for Wild Rovers

Blake Edwards returned to his roots for Wild Rovers (1971), a tale about two would-be bank robbers; one, an aging cowboy, the other, a naive tenderfoot. Edwards had startedhis acting career with a role in the 1942 Western Ten Gentlemen From WestPoint, then broke into writing and producing at Allied Artists in 1948and 1949 with a pair of low-budget oaters, Panhandle andStampede. In addition, Wild Rovers gave him the chance towork with William Holden, something he had wanted to do for years. The twohad met in the '40s, when both were working at Columbia Pictures, but hadnot become friends until 1964, when they were briefly attached to TheAmericanization of Emily (both would drop out before filming).

Edwards was coming off the biggest failure of his career, the expensivemusical flop Darling Lili (1970), when he went to MGM for this pictureabout dealing with age and changing times. He was so personally involvedin the film that it marked the first time in his career that he wrote anoriginal screenplay without a collaborator. Following the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, buddy picturesand westerns were considered surefire box office. With Holden's recentsuccess in The Wild Bunch (1969), the film seemed like a solid investment.But Edwards wasn't interested in directing a conventional western. Hisfilm focused more on the friendship between Holden's aging cowhand, RossBodine, and a young innocent, Frank Post, played by rising star RyanO'Neal, who had just finished Love Story (1970). Feeling they'veaccomplished little with their lives, the two decide to rob a bank, thenhave to escape a posse relentlessly led by the sons (Tom Skerritt and JoeDon Baker) of their former boss (Karl Malden). Their voyage takes themthrough scenes of changing times in the West as they fall prey to a seriesof accidents that had critics calling the picture the first existentialistWestern.

During production, the two stars forged a close relationship, particularlyafter they decided to drive together from Arizona to Utah during locationshooting. O'Neal was fascinated with the older actor and begged forstories about his career, his working methods and his life. For his part,Holden took a liking to the young actor and, according to Edwards' wife,Julie Andrews, "held out his hand and gave the picture to Ryan." WhenO'Neal won an Oscar® nomination for Love Story during shooting,Holden even convinced him to attend the Academy Awards® as a show ofrespect for the actors who had voted for him.

Unfortunately, Edwards' thoughtful, slow-moving film wasn't quite whatstudio executives had expected. Although he considered it his best workever, the studio cut 24 minutes out of the film before its release, a movethat left him understandably bitter. And though Holden got strong notices, most of the reviewers complained that the film departed too much from genre formulas. As a result, Wild Rovers was one of the year's biggestbox-office disappointments, contributing further to Edwards' career slump.He wouldn't bounce back until the mid-'70s, when he re-united with PeterSellers for a series of sequels to their original The Pink Panther.Yet the very characteristics that alienated critics and audiencesinitially, led to the birth of a Wild Rovers cult. In more recentyears, fans have come to treasure the film for its thoughtful pace andfocus on the growing relationship between Holden and O'Neal, elements thatwere strengthened when Edwards produced a 136-minute directors cut yearslater (TCM will be showing this version). Surprisingly, the film also developed a core of gay fans who read aromantic subtext into the relationship and even used one of the film'sstrongest images -- O'Neal with his arms around Holden's waist as theyshare a horse -- on posters for gay rights rallies.

Producer: Blake Edwards, Ken Wales
Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: Blake Edwards
Cinematography: Philip Lathrop
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Addison Hehr
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Principal Cast: William Holden (Ross Bodine), Ryan O'Neal (Frank Post),Karl Malden (Walter Buckman), Tom Skerritt (John Buckman), Joe Don Baker (PaulBuckman), James Olson (Joe Billings), Leora Dana (Nell Buckman), Moses Gunn(Ben), Victor French (Sheriff), Rachel Roberts (Maybell).
C-136m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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