"Your idea of light comedy is to burn down a whorehouse" (Jack Pickford to Raoul Walsh). Sam Peckinpah facing the sands, the Book of Genesis in one hand, William Carlos Williamsí Venus Over the Desert (or perhaps John Fordís Tobacco Road) in the other. Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) is on the ground with the lizards and the rattlesnakes, and on wry terms with God; abandoned and parched, he stumbles upon a spring of water and readily claims the miracle as his own. The site is a stagecoach route between towns, he sets up business in this "cactus Eden" with the help of a lecherous preacher with a revolving collar (David Warner). His sanctuary accommodates the exiled blonde (Stella Stevens), but the damn fool is too wrapped up in vengeance and ornery macho pride to hang on to his beloved, the epoch-squashing automobile has the final word. "That sorta grabs ya by the short hairs, donít it?" A fairy-tale and a parable, a comic side-piece to The Wild Bunch (L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin play practically the same pair of scuttling peckerwoods), the calm between Peckinpahís tempests. The humor is both bellicose and lackadaisical, zooms into cleavages and collapsing tents and the like, maybe to paper over the fact that it is a sad tale -- about the instability of relationships, the elusiveness of independence, the Wild Westís fresh start coming to an end, and a filmmaker who envisions himself as a cheerfully sinning, salty Walter Huston prospector yet needs to be regularly reassured that "Iím worth something, ainít I?" Balzac for Stevensí verdant gown, Twain for Robardsí serene, open-air deathbed. Asked once to write about a picture that had moved him, Samuel Fuller picked this "sensitive, emotional, surgical job on an American desert hermit without familiar sagebrush stuffing." Cinematography by Lucien Ballard. With Slim Pickens, Peter Whitney, R.G. Armstrong, Susan OíConnell, and Gene Evans.
--- Fernando F. Croce