The inspiration is to give Gabby Hayes his own romantic fable, the pas de deux with the schoolmarm is a lowdown jig. "Buzzards, huh?" "Well, buzzards can fly!" The first shot might be Hellman's last in The Shooting, Jack Nicholson as the stumbling outlaw in the desert rides away into the horizon and the composition holds still until it suddenly vanishes in the dust of the pursuing posse. Ain't no sanctuary beyond the Rio Grande, the prisoner on the gallows is a bachelor hoping for an ordinance bride, the headstrong rancher (Mary Steenburgen) skips the honeymoon and gets him right to work. Faced with the goatish goofball's leers, the virginal heroine can only blink at a friend's advice on wifely duties: "Just think about canning apricots." Boccaccio out West or nearly, Nicholson's rambunctious sagebrush caricature is as starkly revealing of its star-auteur as Carnal Knowledge or The King of Marvin Gardens. (The African Queen is recognized in the scratchy rake's progress, though the closer Hustonian model is The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.) Pick-axing at the rocky walls until striking gold is the crux of the matrimonial farce ("tunneling" is the motif), the jealous deputy doused in equine urine (Christopher Lloyd) and the Frito-Bandito sidekick (John Belushi) have their parts to play. The after-hours shivaree offers "Beautiful Dreamer" with Danny DeVito on his fiddle and Veronica Cartwright with her best impression of a coyote mating-howl, Nestor Almendros shoots it all in delicate oil-lamp shades to set off the black-out slapstick. "One thing for sure—we ain't had a boring marriage." The "damn black goo" bubbling in the farm points to The Two Jakes, Eastwood in Bronco Billy has his own persona to wrangle. With Richard Bradford, Jeff Morris, Tracey Walter, Luana Anders, and Ed Begley Jr.
--- Fernando F. Croce