Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wild Rovers

Article first published as DVD Review: Wild Rovers on Blogcritics.

Director Blake Edwards is most known for ostensible classics like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther series, but there’s a wide swath of banal comedies that make up a big chunk of the rest of his filmography. And if we’re really being honest, even his most recognized work doesn’t hold up extremely well, with the talents of Audrey Hepburn and Peter Sellers really propelling the aforementioned films more than anything else.

Many of his films are bathed in a sheen of safeness — technically sound, but without any real sense of invention or adventure. Still, as somewhat status quo filmmakers go, you could do a whole lot worse.

Warner Archive’s release of Wild Rovers highlights a different side of Edwards, and though some of his tendencies pop up throughout the picture, it’s a solid western that features some truly beautiful compositions. The film feels a little behind-the-times for its era, coming on the heels of game-changing westerns like The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but even if Wild Rovers hews closer to a more traditional brand of western, it’s got enough of a spark to not feel too derivative.

William Holden and Ryan O’Neal star as Ross Bodine and Frank Post, cowboys on the ranch of Walter Buckman (Karl Malden). When they witness a fellow cowboy get killed in a freak accident, they begin to evaluate their lives, with the younger Post not wanting to get stuck in the profession and the older Bodine wanting to make the most out of the rest of his life.

They decide their best bet is to rob a bank and head to Mexico, and the manner in which they pull off the heist sets the pace for the rest of the film. They don’t enter the branch with guns drawn in broad daylight, but instead kidnap the bank manager at night and force him to give them the money long after the bank is closed for the day. After discovering the crime, Buckman’s two sons, John and Paul (Tom Skeritt, Joe Don Baker), head out in pursuit.

The lack of a rousing robbery and the quiet manner in which Bodine and Post leave town occasionally makes the film seem as if it lacks urgency, but in its best moments, Wild Rovers is a more thoughtful kind of western, exploring the friendship between two men at very different points in their lives. O’Neal, with his slightly urbane sensibility, seems a little miscast as a rough-riding cowboy, but Holden is magnificent in his role, exuding both gruffness and tenderness in his relation to the younger man.

Edwards’ widescreen Panavision images are often quite striking, capturing the great blue expanse of the sky, horses’ hooves beating a snow-covered ground and the glint of a nighttime fire with expressive beauty. Wild Rovers has some problems with tone, and Edwards unsuccessfully tries to inject a few jokey moments throughout, but when the film isn’t trying to be a comedy, it’s a rather impressive ode to the wide-open spaces of the West.

The Archive DVD is quite good, presenting the non-remastered image with only minor print damage and a bold, well-defined color palette. The 2.4:1 widescreen image is enhanced for widescreen TVs. The DVD also includes the film’s theatrical trailer.

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