Will Penny (1968)

Will Penny (1968), written and directed by Tom Gries.

A fine western partly in the new realism trend of the time but also with more traditional action segments and a big romance plot. To its great credit we do not get a Hollywood ending: love does not conquer all, sometimes it tears us apart. Again.

Penny is an aging cowboy (nearly 50!), illiterate and with no other prospects. His life is cold and dusty and he works hard. He doesn't look for trouble but handles it when it comes. He crosses paths with a bizarre clan of sadistic "rawhider" degenerates, and later winters over with a widow and her son way up in the mountains. Got to kill the rawhiders before it's over.

Charlton Heston is the star and this was said to be his favorite role, but the other actors get plenty of time and we have great ensemble performances: Joan Hacket, Donald Pleasence, Ben Johnson, Lee Majors, Bruce Dern, Slim Pickens, and Anthony Zerbe (last seen with Heston in The Omega Man (1971)).

Jon Gries was the director's son and on the DVD extras describes how he was drafted to play the little boy. He was honestly afraid of Bruce Dern, who was seriously into his role.

Gorgeous mountain landscapes. The David Raksin score is unusual for a western, but that's good because standard cowpoke music becomes tedious.