Thursday 20 August 2020

Movie Review: The Rounders (1965)

A comedy western, The Rounders is the shallow story of two contemporary bronco busters and one stubborn horse.

In rural Arizona, best friends Ben Jones (Glenn Ford) and Howdy Lewis (Henry Fonda) break wild horses for a living. Despite creeping age they love what they do and accept another job from shrewd businessman Jim Ed Love (Chill Wills) to break in his latest batch of horses. Included among them is an ornery and unpredictable roan horse that resists all of Ben's attempts.

The next assignment is to spend the winter on a high plain rounding up hundreds of stray cattle heads. Along the way Ben and Howdy reconnect with moonshiner Vince Moore (Edgar Buchanan) and his two daughters (Kathleen and Joan Freeman). Try as they might to get rid of the roan, the horse always ends up back with Ben and Howdy, and although Ben continues to talk about his wish to destroy his nemesis, an affinity develops between man and untamed beast.

A laid back modern-day western, The Rounders is more about lifestyle, landscapes and a love of the great outdoors than any specific plot. Written and directed by Burt Kennedy as an adaptation of a Max Evans book, the film starts slowly and maintains a disinterested attitude towards anything resembling narrative momentum. Instead, Kennedy captures impressive vistas of wide open landscapes, the type of terrain men like Ben and Howdy will always call home.

Too many scenes feature bucking wild horses with cowboys hanging on before being thrown off, and the overdependence on stuntmen is obvious and distracting. Colours, light levels, textures and horses constantly switch as Kennedy intercuts distant shots of professionals riding bucking horses and close-ups of movie stars landing in the dust. Many other shots zoom in on the mischievous roan, giving the horse some personality but in a mystifying move, not a name.

Glenn Ford is the more animated and hot-headed of the two men, Henry Fonda agreeably taking a back seat, his passivity almost transporting him to the distant mountains. The men exchange easy banter, but plenty of the attempted humour is utterly juvenile, including the late arrival of a couple of dimwit party girls (Sue Ane Langdon and Hope Holiday) used for mid-1960s era cheap shock value derived from partial nudity.

The Rounders metaphorically compares Ben and Howdy adhering to their rustic way of life with one horse equally resisting any forced domestication. It's a simple message, delivered in lackadaisical packaging.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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