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BRONCO BILLY (director: Clint Eastwood; screenwriter: Dennis Hackin; cinematographer: David Worth; editors: Ferris Webster/Joel Cox; music: Snuff Garrett; cast: Clint Eastwood (Bronco Billy), Sondra Locke (Antoinette Lily), Beverlee McKinsey(Irene Lily), Geoffrey Lewis (John Arlington), Scatman Crothers (Doc Lynch), Bill McKinney (Lefty LeBow), Sam Bottoms (Leonard James), Hank Worden (Station Mechanic), Dan Vadis (Chief Big Eagle), Sierra Pecheur(Lorraine Running Water), William Prince (Edgar Lipton), Woodrow Parfrey(Dr. Canterbury), Walter Barnes (Sheriff Dix), Douglas McGrath (Lt. Wiecker); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Dennis E. Hackin/Neal Dobrofsky; Warner Home Video; 1980)
Charming offbeat Western satire about a modern-day cowboy,directed and starring Clint Eastwood.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Charming offbeat Western satire about a modern-day cowboy, directed and starring Clint Eastwood(“Gran Torino”/”Hereafter”/”Million Dollar Baby”). The witty script is by Dennis Hackin. It sends out the rosy message ‘that you can be anything you want, all you have to do is become it.’

Bronco Billy McCoy (Clint Eastwood) was raised in a New Jersey tenement and at age 31 quit his job as a shoe salesman to go West and become a cowboy star attraction (advertised as the fastest gun in the West) in a struggling hokey traveling Wild West Show he runs, that employs wannabe cowboys who are ex-convicts like himself (Billy served seven years for shooting his unfaithful wife), misfits, dreamers and those disenfranchised souls looking for a break in life. While touring in Idaho and in need of an assistant, Billy encounters on the highway Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke) in need of help after her idiotic fortune hunter husband, John Arlington (Geoffrey Lewis), couldn’t take her bitchiness and frigidity after one night of marriage and ran away with her purse and the rental car leaving her stranded in the sticks without any money. Billy doesn’t realize his new assistant, who is spread-eagled on a turning wheel while a blindfolded Billy shoots for targets on the wheel from his horse with both a gun and a knife, a wealthy heiress from NYC, who makes the newspaper headlines as the missing heiress. When Arlington is apprehended in Arizona with the jewelry he stole from his bride, he’s visited by the oily Lily family lawyer Edgar Lipton (William Prince) and offered a sum of a half million dollars if he confesses to murdering his wife and is promised it will be arranged that he will only do three years in a country club mental institution. The sleaze lawyer, working for Antoinette’s scheming step-mother Irene (Beverlee McKinsey), wants Lily out of the way so the step-mom can inherit her deceased father’s fortune.

The Wild West troupe consists of the following rejects: the ringmaster named Doc Lynch (Scatman Crothers), who served prison time for practicing medicine without a license; the one-armed bank teller who was imprisoned for robbing his own bank, Lefty LeBow (Bill McKinney); the lasso expert army deserter from the Vietnam War, Leonard James (Sam Bottoms), and the snake dancing Indian unpublished writer Big Eagle (Dan Vadis) and his squaw Lorraine Running Water (Sierra Pecheur).

At first Billy can’t stand the nasty bitch, but that changes when Miss Lily sees no other way out of her predicament and she slowly changes her arrogant ways and falls for Billy’s good-guy fantasy cowboy act. When the Big Tent burns down in an accidental fire, Billy heads for the home for the criminally insane, where he arranges with the doctor in charge (Woodrow Parfrey) for the inmates, who make American flags for the military, to make him for free a Big Tent out of a patchwork of American flags. When it’s discovered Arlington is one of the inmates and was framed by the lying lawyer Lipton to receive a life sentence, things change for the better for Arlington, the show, Billy and Miss Lily.

Remarkably it never falls to sentimentality or bathos, and though some subplots are superficial and Locke’s rich bitch role is strained, the almost plot-less character-driven pic holds a certain fascination throughout in the way it plays games with the Hollywood cowboys, of which Clint is a shining example.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”