Wild Rovers Review

[Editor's Note: While the Amazon link to the left will work, Wild Rovers is a made-to-order DVD offered primarily through the WB Shops Archive Collection.]

Blake Edwards appeared to be in love with the John Ford and John Sturges westerns and made Wild Rovers as a way get the itch out of his system. Edwards wrote, directed and produced this dream epic of his—the only western he’s ever directed in his celebrated career despite writing a couple of them very early on. Wild Rovers is not one of his more remembered achievements, but that perhaps has more to do with its history of mishandling than its quality. That’s not to say, however, that the film’s quality is worthy of reverence. It’s pleasant to watch, but never goes any further than scratching its surface. In the long list of worthy westerns, it simply doesn’t place.

If you see the exultant DVD cover and assume that this is some kind of proto-Brokeback Mountain, then first of all, you’re pretty immature; but secondly, you’re not too far off. While William Holden and Ryan O’Neal do not consummate at any point in the movie, it is for all intents and purposes a love story, in which an odd couple refuse to quit on each other. Their dynamic is classic buddy movie: Holden is the old guy, Ross, who just wants to retire in peace. O’Neal is the excitable young buck, Frank, who drags Ross into murky situations. Frank is the one who proposes the idea of robbing a bank, while Ross goes along only after realizing that the life of honest hard work he’s led doesn’t leave him with much to show for it. So off the two ranchers go to earn their Mexico retirement fund.

What’s most interesting about the script is that it follows almost none of its projected plot points. The outlaw cowboys have people after them, but they fatally get into trouble independent of the chase. Meanwhile, the person who wants to catch them runs into his own problem far, far away. The film seems to relish in being an elegy, showing moments of good people enjoying the little things in life before things go quickly and unexpectedly wrong.

There are few times where I would agree to cut a film down from the director’s vision, but while I still believe that the filmmaker should ultimately have a final say in how to cut his film (respect for creative control and all that), I can’t help but wonder if maybe MGM was onto something when they edited the film down significantly from Edwards’ original cut for its original 1971 theatrical release. Almost 30 minutes were trimmed, which is reasonable given but more scandalously, the ending was recut into a happy one, leading Edwards to disown the movie.

That theatrical version was never released, which is a shame just from a curious comparison standpoint. This DVD-on-demand by Warner Archives restores Edwards’ original conception of the movie as a roadshow presentation thoroughly, which means including the overture, intermission and exit music. Obviously, they’re completely unnecessary on a home video and don’t really add anything to the experience.

Wild Rovers differs from Edwards’ typical output in that it feels dirge-like despite a lighthearted tone. Of course, just because it’s Edwards, there’s plenty of humor to go around, even if they’re fittingly less broad compared to, say, the Pink Panther movies he did with Peter Sellers. Wild Rovers is more of a traditional western with goofy characters—not entirely nostalgic, but doesn’t even feel as revisionist and fresh as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, either, which came out two years prior. Wild Rovers comes off as Edwards wanting to do a western as his sensibilities would produce, but reeling back as if he’s afraid of offending the classics of yesteryear. It feels out of duty, rather than affection, that the film sets its climactic scene in Monument Valley, the place where cowboys go to be immortalized by the silver screen.

"Wild Rovers" is on sale February 22, 2011 and is rated PG. Western. Written and directed by Blake Edwards. Starring Karl Malden, Ryan ONeal, Tom Skerritt, William Petersen, Joe Don Baker.

Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.


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