- Movie Rating -

Comes a Horseman (1978)

| October 25, 1978

A good follow-up is hard to come by, and that’s what happened with Alan Pakula who followed his great 1976 Watergate thriller All the President’s Men, with a dour, unsatisfying and oddly-titled western drama Comes a Horseman that has all the pieces for a great movie, but none of the energy or investment that we really want.

The setting is Montana circa 1945.  Jane Fonda plays Ella Connors, a second-generation cattle farmer whose business is sputtering and who finds herself and her heritage under threat from a wealthy land owner Jacob Ewing (Jason Robards) who wants to buy her ranch for no other reason than the fact that he doesn’t own it.  Into the struggle comes a horseman (!) named Frank Athearn (a miscast James Caan) who helps Ella get the ranch back on its feet and who gets into a violent shootout with Ewing and his men.

The admirable part of Comes a Horseman is the idea of melding Pakula’s meditative style with a classic American genre piece.  The problem is that the two don’t mesh as well as you might hope.  The movie is dull, predictable and goes on far too long for a simple western.  The Robards character is just another mean bully with a lot of money and influence.  And, again, what is James Caan doing on the back of a horse?  He looks more comfortable getting a hot dog from a vendor on 5th Avenue.

What nearly saves the movie is the fourth player in this story, a wise old Yoda-like cowpoke named Dodger played by former stuntman Richard Farnsworth.  He seems born into this Montana setting with his weathered face and wisdom-filled voice.  He scored the film’s only Oscar nomination for this picture and he’s so perfect that he seems to stand apart from it.  More of him and less of the conventional action plot might have helped to make this faulty movie into a great one.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1978) View IMDB Filed in: Drama