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The Hired Hand
cast: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom, Robert Pratt, and Severn Darden

director: Peter Fonda

86 minutes (15) 1971
widescreen ratio 16:9
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail
[released 10 October]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Andrew Hook
This is a budget priced (�5.99) edition of a movie that was recently released both in the UK with numerous interview extras, and also as a director's cut version in the United States, featuring restored footage and a one-hour documentary. The version here is the bare bones, original cinematic release, with only a trailer as accompaniment. There must be some reason why The Hired Hand is back in fashion, suddenly, but if there is then I failed to find it. The movie, whilst intentionally slow moving, is rather lacklustre in its treatment, with montages and slow dissolves dating it considerably with the trappings of an experimental 1970s' period piece.

In the late 1800s, Harry Collings (Peter Fonda) and Arch Harris (Warren Oates) head towards California with a younger companion, Dan (Robert Pratt). Harry and Arch have been drifting for some time, and whilst Arch and Dan are excited about reaching the ocean, Harry makes a sudden decision to return home to the wife and child he left seven years ago. Before they separate, Dan is killed after appearing to violate a big shot's wife in a one-horse town (McVey, played by Severn Darden), and in retribution Harry and Arch shoot McVey in the feet before making their getaway. This act eventually comes back to haunt them.

The film then shifts emphasis as Harry is reunited with his wife Hannah (Verna Bloom). Acknowledging that he cannot simply return to the life he left, he offers to work as a hired hand "to see how it runs." A curious relationship develops between them as she admits she succumbed to desire in his absence, and Harry has to come to terms with the responsibility for his inadequacies as a husband. Interestingly, the relationship between Harry and his daughter is glossed over to the point of non-existence - perhaps emphasising the unimportance of children in the Wild West rather than taking an easy path through the plot. When Arch realises that his place beside Harry has eroded and he returns east, he becomes embroiled with McVey once again, and Harry has to choose between friendship and family once more.

This is not a bad film, but it will strain the patience of anyone watching it. Whereas it believes that it relies on subtlety to propel the story, the fact is that the story is so slim that to compact it would grant the movie 20 minutes running time. Fonda's character needs a good slap, although both Bloom and Oates are impressive, with Bloom's role surprisingly honest and feminist for a western even in the early 1970s. The aforementioned dissolves and montages clutter the screen and detract from some otherwise interesting cinematography. Overall, this movie is a worthwhile examination of the nature of consequences, and whilst it's probably for Fonda or western completists only, at this price it's deserving of adding to your list of might-see movies.

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