Hearts of the West (1975)

Toronto Film Society presented Hearts of the West (1975) on Monday, June 27, 1983 in a double bill with Bajecni Muzi S Klikou [Magicians of the Silver Screen] [Those Wonderful Men with a Crank] as part of the Season 36 Summer Series, Programme 2.

Production Company: MGM.  Producer: Tony Bill.  Director: Howard Zieff.  Screenplay: Rob Thompson.  Cameraman: Mario Tosi.  Colour by: Metrocolor.  Editor: Edward Warschilka.  Art Director: Robert Luthardt.  Set Decoration: Charles R. Pierce.  Music: Ken Lauber.  Special Musical Artists: Nick Lucas, Roger Patterson, Merle Travis.  Costumes: Patrick Cummings.  Choreography: Sylvia Lewis.  Sound: Jerry Jost, Harry W. Tetrick.  Sound Effects: John P. Riordan.

Cast:  Jeff Bridges (Lewis Tater), Andy Griffith (Howard Pike), Blythe Danner (Miss Trout), Donald Pleasance (A.J. Nietz), Alan Arkin (Kessler), Richard B. Shull (Fat crook), Anthony James (Thin crook), Herbert Edelman (Polo), Alex Rocco (Earl), Frank Cady (Pa Tater), Burton Gilliam (Lester), Matt Clark (Jackson), Candy Azarra (Waitress), Thayer David (Bank Manager), Wayne Storm (Lyle), Marie Windsor (Woman at Nevada Hotel), Anthony Holland (Guest at Beach Party), Dub Taylor (Nevada Ticket Agent), Raymond Guth (Wally), Herman Poppe (Lowell), William Christopher (Bank Teller), Jane Dulo (Mrs. Stern), Dave Morick (Cameraman), Jacques Foti (Musical Director), Stuart Nisbet (Lucky), Tucker Bell (Man in Pith Helmet), Richard Stahl (Barber), Linda Borgeson (Western ingenue), Titus Napoleon (Native Drummer), Barbara Brownell (Nietz’ Girlfriend), Granville Van Dusen (World War I Pilot).

Unlike The Day of the Locust which will be seen later in the series, Hearts of the West takes a gentler look at the seediness and grand vulgarities of Hollywood of the 1930s.  The film appeared in 1975 to the applause of critics and the disinterest of the public.  It is now somewhat of a cult classic, especially enjoyable to the film history buff.

The story concerns ‘the coming of age’ (or loss of innocence) of a suitably starry-eyed young man from Iowa, Lewis Tater (played by Jeff Bridges), an aspiring Western writer.  After escaping from the clutches of a pair of crooks running a bogus “university” in Nevada, and inadvertently taking their cash which is kept in a strong-box, he hitches up with a team of Western movie-makers and eventually ends up as a movies extra for Tumbleweed Productions.  In his spare time he works on his novel “Hearts of the West.”  He is befriended by Miss Trout (Blythe Danner triumphing over a conventional Girl Friday part) and by Howard Pike (Andy Griffith) who was once a star and is now reduced to bits (like so many grade B Western stars in real life).  He shows the novel to Howard who he finds out is one of his favourite Western authors.

Using the cash found in the strong-box, he hopes to promote interest in his novel with a publisher, but when he submits it, he finds that friend Howard ha submitted the book under his own name.  To add to this misfortune, the two crooks finally track him down to get back their money.  However, a wacky shoot-up resolves the vagaries of the plot to ensure that all’s well that ends well.

Hearts of the West is both a happy and hopeful film, aided in no small way by a fine performance by Jeff Bridges.  In Films and Filming, July, 1976, the reviewer commented:  “A rambling tale but never a boring one, greatly sustained by the personality and talent of Jeff Bridges as the put-upon but resilient Lewis, neither too cute or too dopey, forever dodging those pitfalls with an easy-seeming amiability.”  Although Bridges’ first film Halls of Anger (1970) was quickly forgotten, his second picture The Last Picture Show made him a star and his subsequent performances have been consistently fine.  He radiates ‘likability’ even in the role of a beach bum in Cutter and Bone and Hearts of the West in particular, belongs to him.

Director Howard Zieff expertly captures the feel of the era and in particular, the sleazy quality of Hollywood’s Gower Gulch.  Rob Thompson’s script is excellent and adding further authenticity are vintage songs on the soundtrack.  As a purveyor of a portion of bygone Hollywood as it really existed, Hearts of the West has few equals.

Source material:  Hollywood on Hollywood by Robert Parish & Michael Pitts, Scarecrow Press, 1978.
Films and Filming, July, 1976.

Notes by Barry Chapman

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