Jolly Cinema > 21:30


Hugo Fregonese


Wednesday 29/06/2022


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

“Earth and sky and a horse… what more could a man want?” proclaims Joel McCrea, in a rare example of first-person voiceover in a western – before Fregonese, in one of his essential American films, shatters that dream with wit, wisdom and warmth.
This deconstruction of the myth of freedom in the Old West begins when Chuck Conner (McCrea), a good-natured and gentle cowboy on his way to California, stops by to visit an old pal who dies in an accident that same night, leaving Chuck with four children to care for. Chuck has to hide his new family’s existence when he is hired by a rancher with a hatred for children – and whose feud with the neighbouring cattle owner complicates Chuck’s guardianship.
The film belongs to a small cycle of westerns in which the cowboy’s time in the blissful presence of children chimes with the end of the frontier and the beginning of settlement (3 Godfathers, Bad Bascomb). But Fregonese gives this familiar theme an extra depth, as well as a twist: by showing the children to be as infatuated by the myth of the wanderer as the cowboy is himself. It’s up to the cowboy, in what amounts to an act of self-sacrifice, to bring the children to their senses by rejecting the only way of life he knows. McCrea does this in a glowingly natural manner and plays the role with a rustic grace.
One of the very last scripts penned by the veteran, albeit undistinguished, western writer Harold Shumate, the B-movie yarn is transformed by Fregonese into a contemplation on the individual and society. Be it a pacy action scene or a tender comedy situation, his refined direction maintains a lyrical quality throughout. Despite the sappy story, Fregonese’s typically dark fascination with fate resurfaces in a surprising way: the trained rodeo horse that bucks every time a shot is fired is both a source of comedy and tragedy.
Fate is not what you are; it is what you ride on. The myth of the Old West is destroyed, but another – the myth of civilisation – is subtly established. Fregonese’s world is inconceivable without a myth of some kind or another.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Sog., Scen.: Harold Shumate. F.: Charles P. Boyle. M.: Frank Gross. Scgf.: Bernard Herzbrun, Richard H. Riedel. Int.: Joel McCrea (Chuck Conner), Wanda Hendrix (Della), John Russell (Rocky), John McIntire (Jess Higgins), Jeanette Nolan (Ma Higgins), Russell Simpson (Pop), Ed Begley (Hartnagle), Jimmy Hunt (Robbie Stevens), Orley Lindgren (Tommie Stevens), Gordon Gebert (Johnnie Stevens). Prod.: Leonard Goldstein per Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc. 35mm. D.: 76’.