Comes a Horseman (1978)

Comes a Horseman (1978), directed by Alan J. Pakula.

It opens with a little historical disorientation: cowpokes James Caan and Mark Harmon rise and get their herd moving, then pause to remove their hats for a funeral on the hill. We then see we are in the 20th century, 1945 in fact.

Not much has changed: we still have range wars and a land baron who wants everything he can see. In a nice twist, even he is getting muscled by the oil men who want something else from the land. Bad man though he is we like him better because he wants to the land to stay cattle country.

Rich Jason Robards and struggling rancher Jane Fonda have some history; we don't find out what for a long time. She is hard and hard working, always wearing men's clothes. Her one employee calls her a "banshee".

James Caan is her new partner. Half of the story is their laconic, difficult courtship. The actor may seem more of a city guy, but he had done westerns before. You can be a cowboy if you can ride a horse and don't talk too much.

This was the role that helped get Richard Farnsworth from stunt man and background parts into becoming a known face and even leading man. He was 58 and looked older because of weathering.

The film wants to be respectful of the western and takes both the action and romance parts of the story seriously. Lovely photography with a subdued color palette by Gordon Willis (The Godfather (1972), Klute (1971), Stardust Memories (1980)) and traditional score by Michael Small.

The gear and horse-handling seem nicely authentic, hearkening back to the Budd Boetticher films of the 1950s.

I've seen complaints that the plot goes off the rails in the last act. Maybe, but it has action and violence throughout and an action climax does not seem wrong to me.

Filmed in the Coconino National Forest of AZ. A stuntman was killed during production. They retained the scene where he is dragged by a horse but not the fatality itself.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The web page notes:


A NOTE ABOUT THE TRANSFER: While Twilight Time believes Comes a Horseman to be a fine, and generally overlooked hidden treasure from the 1970s, and worthy of a second look by Blu-ray aficionados, we recognize it has not survived in the greatest of shape. We hope that those of you who care enough to buy a copy will forgive the unusually high (for a TT release) level of “speckling” (minus density) and general debris that mar the work of master cinematographer, Gordon Willis, in this hi-def presentation.

We have rejected many other titles and transfers for similar reasons, but after some consideration decided this film was too important to let go. In light of this fact, we are offering it at a reduced price ($22.95 SRP) to encourage those on the fence about it.

TT strives always to strike a balance between a duty to preserve the legacy of film history, as well as presenting the very best version of a film in hi-def as possible under the circumstances.

Given that caution I was expecting some sort of video disaster but the Blu-ray is quite watchable. You do see "debris" and marks from time to time.