Monday, July 1, 2013

Will Penny

I don’t know why it took me so long to watch this — Will Penny is a very good movie!  Starring Charlton Heston as the title character and Joan Hacket (Alice Bannion in The Legacy of Charlie O’Rourke) as Catherine Allen, this 1968 film also introduces Lee Majors (Joe Briggs in The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone) in his first credited film role.  His face was immediately recognizable. 

Another co-star is Slim Pickens (Mike the bartender in Exit from Wickenburg; and three sheriffs in The Man Who Murdered Himself, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, and The Strange Fate of Conrad Meyer Zulick), whose voice is recognizable anywhere, plays a chuck wagon cook.

The beginning of Will Penny was very reminiscent of 21 Days to Tenstrike: We first see Will on a cattle drive; then at dinnertime around the chuck wagon, where the cook’s personality reminds me of Gantry; the trail boss—who seems to also be the ranch owner—offers the drovers a bonus if they can get the herd to their destination by a certain time; and there’s a fight among some men over nothing important.

But the plot of Will Penny was primarily concerned with what happens after the cattle drive ends.  Will and two friends decide to ride together and encounter some very unfriendly people in the form of a mad preacher, played by Donald Pleasence, and his three sons.  Later Will, who is not a young man, goes his own way and ends up working for a cattle outfit as the caretaker of a line shack for the winter. 

But there’s a surprise: Joan and her young son, H.G., who were abandoned by the guide who was taking them to Oregon to join her husband, are squatting there and refuse to leave.  The remainder of the film is about the burgeoning relationship between Will, Catherine, and H.G..  It is not a spoiler to say things do not go smoothly.

Catherine is a civilizing force on Will, just as Alice was on the boys in ASJ; she even wears her hair in much the same way although otherwise in Will Penny she looks different.  There’s a funny scene where she tries to get Will to take a bath.  He replies that he bathes eight or nine times.  Catherine asks, “A month?”  Will says, “A year!  Well, what’s wrong with that?  It’s as much as anybody.”  To which Catherine retorts, “Well, not everybody.”  Clearly, not all men in the Old West were as fastidious as Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry!

How Will Penny ends is an unexpected surprise but it is a stronger movie as a result.  In one of the two bonus features, the 20-minute long Remembering Will Penny, Charlton Heston says this was the best Western he ever made; other people interviewed also had high praise for the movie.  The other bonus feature, The Cowboys of Will Penny, was much shorter and included reminiscences of the actors who played cowboys in the movie.

The scenery in Will Penny was beautiful and the ending credits stated that part of the movie was filmed in the Inyo National Forest in northern California.  The music was very 1970s; it reminded me, in a good way, of the song Take a Look Around in Return to Devil’s Hole.  At 98 minutes, this is a film not to be missed.