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HIRED HAND, THE(director: Peter Fonda; screenwriter: Alan Sharp; cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond; editor: Frank Mazzola; music: Bruce Langhorne; cast: Peter Fonda (Harry Collings), Warren Oates (Arch Harris), Verna Bloom (Hannah Collings), Rita Rogers (Mexican Woman), Robert Pratt (Dan Griffen), Severn Darden (Sam McVey), Megan Denver (Janey Collings); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producer: William Hayward; Universal Pictures; 1971)
“Bloom is excellent as the abandoned wife who aserts her independence even when she’s so vulnerable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This alternative Western serves as the directorial debut for counterculture poster boy Peter Fonda (“Wanda Nevada”); a follow-up to his co-starring role in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider. It’s tersely written by veteran Hollywood writer Alan Sharp. The beautifully photographed Western by Vilmos Zsigmond highlights the rigors of frontier life in the 19th century and the loneliness for a farm woman stuck in a man’s world. It’s not shy about sharing with us the lonely woman’s need for sex. The film opened to mixed reviews but has since been looked upon with a more favorable light.

Arch Harris (Warren Oates) and Harry Collings (Peter Fonda) are cowboy drifters, who are close friends grown weary of their aimless life and are ready to take off in different directions. Harry, after seven years of wandering, yearns for his old domestic life with his abandoned farm wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) and his daughter, who thinks he’s dead, Janey (Megan Denver). His miffed wife reluctantly takes him back as a hired hand and Arch delays his trip to California to also help out as a hired hand. The film’s best scenes have some serious talk between Arch and Hannah, as they suss out their take on life; the unapologetic woman when confronted by her husband, does not back down for having sex with the help in his absence to ease the pain of her loneliness. Harry and Hannah reconcile, but it’s soon learned that Arch, who split for the Pacific Ocean, is held captive by a revengeful man, Sam McVey (Severn Darden). He’s the evil merchant the two drifters severely wounded over killing a brief acquaintance of theirs in a ghost town they stopped off at before coming to the farm. Sam threatens to cut off a finger of Arch’s every day Harry is a no show. Harry, against his wife’s wishes, goes to rescue his friend and meets his fate.

The offbeat Western had something going for it while it tuned into the three good but lost souls trying to wrestle with their inner demons in their barren but beautiful landscape, but when forced to return to its conventional plot device the film felt less interesting. Bloom is excellent as the abandoned wife who aserts her independence even when she’s so vulnerable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”