(director: Sydney Pollack; screenwriters: from the story by Shelly Burton/Paul Gaer/Robert Garland / Alvin Sargent; cinematographer: Owen Roizman; editor: Sheldon Kahn; music: Dave Grusin; cast: Robert Redford (Sonny Steele), Jane Fonda (Hallie Martin), Valerie Perrine (Charlotta), Willie Nelson (Wendell), John Saxon (Hunt Sears); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Raymond Stark; Universal Studios Home Video; 1979)
“Loved Redford’s garish cowboy costume!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A well-intentioned but misplaced feel-good triumph of the spirit flick disguised as a romantic comedy and a contemporary Western. It’s in the same vein as the 1962 Lonely Are The Brave, as far as how manipulated the scenario turned out. Director Sydney Pollack (“The Firm”/”They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”) goes preachy, something he is too often in the habit of doing. This ruins what might have developed into a sound picture. In any case … I loved Redford’s garish cowboy costume!

Robert Redford is Sonny Steele, the cowboy turned huckster who has traded in his star name to a giant corporation, Ampco Breakfast Cereal Corporation, which uses him as spokesman for their product Ranch Cereal.

The once clean-cut American icon and champion rodeo rider has lost his self-respect in this dishonest gig–hawking breakfast commercials for the company’s heavily sugar-coated product on the innocent children of America. The greedy corporate boss Hunt Sears (John Saxon) merely considers him a piece of property rather than respects him as a human being, which contributes to Sonny’s growing alcohol problem and sense of failure in life. Sears’ cereal company is negotiating a windfall merger with another firm which brings the cowboy to Las Vegas for a publicity stunt, in which he is garbed in a garish cowboy outfit complete with blinking lights. He is to ride onstage at Caesar’s Palace aboard the $12 million prize-winning thoroughbred stallion Rising Star, but discovers that Sears’ hired help have drugged the horse to mask an injured leg so he will be able to walk onstage even though hurting. The cowboy instead rides Rising Star off the stage at Caesar’s and into the Nevada desert and the wide open spaces of freedom, as he intends to set him free in the foothills of the Rockies where there’s plenty of grazing land.

When Sears learns of this theft, he files charges against Sonny and posts a reward for Rising Star’s safe return. But he’s shrewd enough to realize the potential for bad publicity if he doesn’t handle things right.

This news item gets the attention of Hallie Martin (Jane Fonda), a crusading television journalist covering Sonny’s Vegas appearance, and she smells something is not kosher and catches up with the cowboy in the desert. As Hallie tries to get Sonny to tell her his story, the sincere cowboy wins the heart of the toughie city-girl reporter who turns all mushy and they fall in love. But everything was so predictable, that it hardly raised an eyebrow about nutrition and business integrity or caused even a flutter in the heart.

The film marked the acting debut of country singer Willie Nelson, who when not belting out some tunes turns in a satisfactory performance as Redford’s cynical manager.

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