You know a film has impact on you when you remember it 30 years later. Those that are mediocre all merge together and fade from memory quickly, but a good one you're still thinking of a week later --a great one, years later. The Hired Hand is like that. I saw the movie in 1971 and thought it mesmerizing. The other night I was delighted to see the remastered copy in Blockbuster, and I had to rent it right then and there! It was even better than I had remembered. The cinematography was nothing less than stunning -- especially the sunsets. It has the most unusual and haunting soundtrack of any movie I've seen.
I have to laugh at the reviewer who thought Verna Bloom was ugly. Verna was perfect for the role of the quintessential pioneer woman -- strong and direct, with an amazing presence and an inner beauty. I guess that "beautiful Hollywood people" have been playing the guys and gals next door for so long that average looks have become "ugly" to us. Heaven help us all.
Some of the scenes in the movie are quiet but powerful. One is strangely erotic -- Verna Bloom is sitting in her rocker on the front porch and Warren Oates on the step near her. As she explains to him that it wouldn't really matter who she slept with that night (either he or Harry would be interchangeable), Warren Oates character is visibly moved and caresses her bare foot for a few seconds before the scene fades to black. This is a example of a how "less can be more" in an erotic scene -- it was brillantly done.
I give this movie my highest recommendation.