Long unseen and an outlier in Blake Edwards long career as a director, 1971's WILD ROVERS is a funny, old fashioned western with dramatic undertones.
William Holden (Sunset Boulevard, Network) delivers star power as Ross Bodine, a lifelong Montana cowboy working as a rustler for the Buckman ranch. Karl Malden (Patton) is Walter Buckman, the owner of the spread. His son Paul (Joe Don Baker) is hard working and committed, while his other son John (Tom Skerritt of "Alien" and "Contact") is a hair trigger, wildcard around town.
Bodine's best friend at the ranch is a much younger cowboy, Frank Post (Ryan O'Neal). They're an odd pair but a funny one, with Bodine seeing a lot of his younger self in Frank's goofy ways.
This is one of Ryan O'Neal's better roles, letting him show off the easy wit of his performance in "What's Up Doc?" while offering some dramatic moments as well.
The drama comes later in the story, after Bodine and Frank decide to shake things up and rob the bank in town.
The robbery is nothing like you'd expect going in. It's a clever approach, but when the town is so small everyone knows your name, how exactly are you going to pull that off?
Combine that with the fact that Bodine just doesn't quite have the DNA to be a thief and you've got some solid laughs.
Writer/Director Edwards knows laughs. As the creator of all the Pink Panther films, along with some modern classics like "10" and "Victor/Victoria" he's at home crafting plenty of humor and physical comedy on the big screen.
But like Butch and Sundance before them, the folks on their trail after the robbery seem very committed to tracking them down.
The entire film is very laid back, not in a huge hurry to saddle up and perfectly enjoyable in a very 70's fashion.
Jerry Goldsmith composed a great score that blends the action and the romance of the old west. Combined with the great Arizona photography by long time Edwards collaborator Philip Lathrop (The Americanization of Emily, Earthquake) the atmosphere is set for an enjoyable, old-school western.
Anytime a film opens with a scene of Malden, Skerritt and Baker as secondary players, you have my attention.
WILD ROVERS saddles up a B.
Available on Warner Archive and on Apple TV (where we enjoyed it) in full original roadshow version with Goldsmith's pre-film Overture, Intermission and Exit Music fully intact.