HEARTS OF THE WEST (director: Howard Zieff; screenwriter: Robert E. Thompson; cinematographer: Mario Tosi; editor: Edward Warschilka; music: Ken Lauber; cast: Jeff Bridges (Lewis Tater), Andy Griffith (Howard Pike), Blythe Danner (Miss Trout), Alan Arkin (Kessler), Donald Pleasence (A.J. Nietz), Richard B. Shull (Fat Crooked Man), Anthony James (Thin Crooked Man), Frank Cady (Pa Tater), Alex Rocco (Earl), Candy Azzara (Waitress), Matt Clark (Jackson); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Tony Bill; MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1975)
“For all its flaws, this is still a very entertaining film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Howard Zieff (“Slither”) shoots a valentine to the B-movie Westerns of the 1930s. The comedy is written by Robert E. Thompson. It’s a gentle satire on Hollywood, showing an insiders take on the narcissism, backstabbing and corruption infecting Tinseltown during the early days of sound. What this enjoyable trifle can’t do is tell it like it is in making B-films during the 1930s. The filmmakers know zilch about genuine B Westerns, the last of which was made in the 1950s. This film sinks its teeth into the more contemporary Hollywood, as it builds in too many modern references to be thought of as a realistic depiction of the older period. It would have helped greatly if it could have found some players of that era still around.
Lewis Tater (Jeff Bridges) is the Iowa farmer in the 1930s who is an aspiring western writer, in the style of Zane Grey, who signs up for a correspondence course, only when he travels to Nevada to see if he can pick up some local color he finds out he’s been taken by two scam artists (Anthony James & Richard B. Shull). The “college” is just a post office box, as the owners never expected any applicant to appear in person. While sleeping in his hotel room, one of the crooks tries to kill Lewis. Lewis escapes and steals his car, but the car runs out of gas in the desert. Lewis steals a box in the trunk with all the stolen money the crooks swindled from the students, and crosses the desert on foot. He’s rescued by a film crew of cowboys and brought back to Los Angeles. They hook him up with a dish washing job in the Rio Cafe. The likable Lewis manages to get work as an extra on a B-film being shot by Kessler (Alan Arkin). When he takes on a stunt of jumping onto a horse from a building, a stunt that was Ken Maynard’s favorite, he endears himself with the tyrannical Kessler. He’s then groomed as a Western star of B-pictures directed by the talentless Kessler. Lewis’ cowboy career is interrupted by the crooks arriving in LA to get their money. He also finds the time to complete his first novel, which he calls Hearts of the West, and fall in love with the script girl. It leads to a crowd-pleasing but hardly plausible contrived ending.
The film overstretches its bit about its innocent hero, and wanders around in a way that no B-picture ever did. They just shot films quickly on the run. Too many subplots were developed that nothing came of, as characters appear and disappear. Nevertheless for all its flaws, this is still a very entertaining film. The large supporting cast includes solid performances by Blythe Danner (script supervisor) and Andy Griffith (cowboy extra).
REVIEWED ON 6/3/2007 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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