Synopsis

Harry Collings returns home to his farm after drifting with his friend, Arch. His wife, who had given up on him, reluctantly allows him to stay, and soon believes that all will be well again. But then Harry has to make a difficult decision regarding his loyalties and priorities.

Cast

Peter Fonda
as Harry Collings
Warren Oates
as Arch Harris
Verna Bloom
as Hannah Collings
Ann Doran
as Mrs. Sorenson
Robert Pratt
as Dan Griffen

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by faith_b 10 /10

Heart-Breakingly Beautiful Film

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.

Reviewed by Derek-31 N/A

Fonda's overlooked masterpiece

This is not only an overlooked western, but a sorely overlooked piece of filmmaking, beautifully shot by Vilmos Zsigmond (who uses some of the slowest dissolves anywhere in cinema) and directed by Peter Fonda, who seemed bent on capturing an authentic period flavor often missing from westerns of that time. His eye for detail, and his refusal to insert too much of it, is impressive for a young director. That is, the visual authenticity, like the acting performances and dialogue, work by way of understatement. This is a very understated film, at a time when few coming from the American market were.

Ultimately, it is a sort of 'buddy' film about the deep friendship between two characters played by Fonda and Warren Oates. It also has in common with EASY RIDER the tragic, "backward" movement from West to East, which goes against the "natural" flow of American history and literature, and which ends in death here as in the earlier film, when the "hired hand" of the title takes on a sadly ironic new meaning.

Fonda directs his actors in an understated, low-key, highly naturalistic style; Warren Oates was never warmer or more at ease seeming on camera. It is good to see him relaxed and even jovial. His character is genuinely disturbed when forced to shoot in self defense a menacing drunk taking shots at him. Larry Hagman even gives a good performance here in an uncredited role as a town sheriff, caught in an awkward spot when peace in the community demands he ask Oates to leave his jurisdiction. The off-beat comedian and actor Severn Darden (memorable from THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST, 1966) appears here in an uncharacteristic role as a malignant villain. Bruce Langhorne's music is among the most haunting anywhere in film. It will stay with you.

This film is a work of true film ART, where most westerns of its day (e.g. John Wayne's) were little more than loud, mass-market entertainments. The understated THE HIRED HAND will probably not satisfy western fans looking for action and violence in the Wayne or Eastwood mold. It is closer in feel to, say, Jan Troell's ZANDY'S BRIDE, made in the mid-70s, or HEARTLAND, the highly realistic drama of frontier struggle that closed the 70s. Yet even those who favor Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH (1969) should appreciate the literate script of THE HIRED HAND, written by Alan Sharp, whose credits include Arthur Penn's NIGHT MOVES (1975), and the equally overlooked Robert Aldrich western, ULZANA'S RAID (1972), which presents even more intense moral complexities.

THE HIRED HAND is, alas, now difficult to see. But make the effort, and you will be greatly rewarded.

-- Derek Bousé

Reviewed by JDWalley 10 /10

Practically the definition of "neglected masterpiece"...

I saw the last half or so of this film many years ago, on a small black-and-white television. Even then, I was impressed by a film I had only heard described as a commercial flop and a come-down after "Easy Rider." Maybe people were expecting another "counter-cultural" demythologizing of America's past, as was common in those days, and didn't know what to make of a surprisingly traditional and sensitive drama about loyalty, love, and the desire for new horizons versus the call of home.

Finally, thanks to the 30th Anniversary restoration, I was able to see the entire work, and was not disappointed. Not only is this a well-told and -acted drama, it's easily one of the most stunning-looking films I've ever seen. Nor is it merely "pretty photography," but key to the inner life of the characters, in that you can see how one could be drawn by such beauty into either wandering off through the world in search of new wonders, or returning to those which you've already known.

It's a shame, to me, that Peter Fonda only went on to direct two more (relatively obscure) films. In a decade now recognized as one of the greatest in American filmmaking, "The Hired Hand" is worthy of being considered among the classics.

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