The cowboy is roused by a jet whooshing overhead, and at once you recognize Sam Shepard and Cormac McCarthy. (No place for him in "the age of the steady businessman," says Peckinpah that same year in Ride the High Country, a parallel analysis.) The buckaroo (Kirk Douglas) is a laidback fella, a self-amused rambler who hangs on to some tattered code of the West despite having been demoted to sheepman. But the West has been fenced in, piles of auto carcasses line the graveyard as he rides into Albuquerque atop his trusty mare. Gena Rowlands and a cooked meal momentarily tempt him into settling down, yet heís soon getting himself thrown in jail in order to visit an imprisoned compadre (Michael Kane). Such rugged courtliness doesnít stay caged for long ("Thereís not much music in these bars," Douglas says, gazing out the grilled window), the cowhand breaks out and heads to the Sandia mountains. Sadists (George Kennedyís prison guard) and ninnies (William Schallertís radio operator) comprise the lawmakers in pursuit, Walter Matthau as the sheriff stands wryly in the middle, a more domesticated sort of individualist. The terrain is to be crossed again soon (Hud), though the film is less interested in deglamorizing the myths of the West than in seeing if they can survive barbed wire, helicopters and freeways. David Miller builds sturdily on Philip Lathropís widescreen cinematography, but Douglas and Dalton Trumboís screenplay are the auteurs here. "You know what a loner is? Heís a born cripple." Still, they canít resist granting the fugitive cowboy what the fallen preacher in the slammer calls "a state of grace," a noble-doomed anachronism in touch with horses and mountain lions and dismayed by toilet-carrying trucks. The final tragic irony is leaden, but nothing can take away from the pathos of Douglas broken-backed on the rainy road, surrounded by his horseís anguished whinnying and his pursuerís lingering look of pity (or is it envy?). Music by Jerry Goldsmith. With Carroll OíConnor, Karl Swenson, William Mims, and Bill Raisch. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce