Sunday, June 11, 2017

THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE (1970) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 121 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English SDH Director: Sam Peckinpah
Cast: Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, David Warner, Strother Martin, Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, Peter Whitney, R.G. Armstrong, Gene Evans, William Mims, Kathleen Freeman, Susan O'Connell, Vaughn Taylor, Max Evans, James Anderson1.

It's 1908, a trio of grubby desert rats are scouring the Western frontier looking for a water source, we have Cable Hogue (Jason Robards, Something Wicked This Way Comes), Taggart (L.Q. Jones, A Boy and His Dog) and the dim-witted Bowen (Strother Martin, The Brotherhood of Satan). Water rations are running low for the weary trio and Hogue's desperate partners turn on him, taking his share of the water and abandoning him for vulture meat. He wanders the desert lost and alone for days, parched, blistered and weary from dehydration he falls to the ground during a particularly nasty dust storm, leaving his fate in the hands of the Lord, only to find a natural water spring bubbling up to the surface right below his feet. 

Discovering that his new found spring is the the only watering spot on the forty-mile stretch of road between the towns of Gila and Dead Dog, he manages to scrape up a few bucks to purchase the 2 acres of land around it, and immediately begins to set-up a humble looking roadside watering hole called Cable Springs. The plan is to sell water to stagecoach passersby for 10 cents a head, only his first customer doesn't want to pay, though he does in the end, with his life. His second customer, and first to pay (though reluctantly) is a wandering man of the Lord, the lustful Rev. Joshua Duncan Sloane (David Warner, Time After Time) who is part man of the cloth, and part unrepentant sinner, and the two men strike up an uneasy friendship. 

On a supply run into Dead Dog Cable runs into Hildy (Stella Stevens, Chained Heat), the town whore, a busty blond eyeful who stops him dead in his tracks, and the two begin a quirky courtship of sorts. What follows is a quirky love story between Cable and Hildy, and also the story of how a penniless man embodied the American dream, finding water where there wasn't any to find, prospering, and also a tale of revenge. Eventually the two men who double-crossed him return, there's some revenge, but the outcome is not your standard old west revenger.

The Ballad of Cable Hogue is the story of a man who pulled himself up by the bootstraps and made a name for himself in the middle of nowhere with almost nothing, it's almost a character study more than a Western, and maybe that's why it flopped when it was initially released, it's not the usual western, it's wasn't even what you would call a new western, it was different, and that's probably why it still resonates today. Robards in in good company with his co-stars, his friendship with Joshua is fun, the preacher has an overactive libido, he's not too trustworthy, and it seems no vulnerable woman is safe from his lecherous advances in the name of the Lord, and while he and Hogue are at odds now and again, somehow the friendship remains true right up till the very end, capped off with a striking eulogy. Hogue's infatuation with the town prostitute offers plenty of comedy and more than a few well-deserved tugs on the old heartstrings, the movie is almost as poignant as it is funny, at a certain point their relationship seems cemented and bound, but some poorly thought words over the dinner table throws it all into disarray in a heartbeat, it's such an effective scene you can see both their thoughts written across their faces. 

The dusty Western locations look great, with attractive cinematography and some novel editing tricks, we get split screen and sped-up cameras which give a few comedic moments a bit of vaudeville zing, perhaps even a bit too silly for some tastes, but it works, though I must say that the humor is not something I expected in such abundance my first go round with this movie, it's more a comedic fable than a western, especially at the end when the the invention of the gas powered motorcar threaten to doom Cable's watering hole, he's sees the change coming, but still somehow manages to get thrown under it's wheels. 

Memorable scenes abound, from Cable refusing to pay Hildy, the hooker with heart of gold, for her services, what transpires is a comedy of errors with Hildy launching a porcelain wash basin off her balcony, aiming for his head, but he ends up bringing down a tent full of church goers who are none too pleased, running Cable out of town. I also loved his revenge against the duplicitous duo who left him for dead, they find themselves in a pit while Cable throws  in rattlers! But there's more to it, there's a certain revenge but there's also forgiveness and compassion, which was unexpected.  

Aside from the fantastic main cast the movie is loaded with memorable western faces in supporting roles, Slim Pickens (1941) shows up as a stagecoach driver, Peter Whitney (The Rough Riders) as a banker who finances Cable's watering hole, R.G. Armstrong (The Car) as the proprietor of the stage coach company, and the previously mentioned L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin, both of whom featured in Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch

Audio/Video: Warner Archive step up to the plate with another Peckinpah platter with The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)after their handsome release of Ride The High Country (1962), presented in the 1.78 widescreen aspect ratio with a freshly minted 2017 2K scan from the interpositive. The Lucian Ballard (The Wild Bunch) cinematography looks fantastic, full of dust and grit, the colors are mostly earth tone and not too colorful, with just a few exceptions at the whorehouse and some later scenes, but the colors look accurate, nicely saturated and the grain structure looks tight. There's an abundance of pleasing detail to the image within the period dressing and clothing textures, Hogue's face is nicely rendered, a dusty and whiskered face full of character. The disc has an English DTS-HD MA Mono audio track, the desert sounds come through authentically and well-balanced, the score from Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen) suits the poignant Western romantic comedy, as do the songs of Richard Gillis. At times the movie turns into a musical of sorts with both Cable and Hildy launching into folksy song at one point. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Onto the extras Warner have ported over all the extras from their 2006 DVD edition, we have the commentary from Twilight Time's Nick Redman, and Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. It's a nice appreciation of the director and of the film, commenting on the various themes and on the music, cinematography and cast and crew. There's also a vintage 27-min interview with star Stella Stevens, speaking about her early career in the studio system and working with Peckinpah, she's very upfront on her feelings for the man, she speaks more fondly of Jason Robards. we also get a three-minute HD trailer for the film. 

Special Features: 

- Commentary by Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle
- Featurette The Ladiest Damn'd Lady: An Afternoon with Stella Stevens (27 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD

The more I watch The Ballad of Cable Hogue the higher it ascends as my favorite Peckinpah movie, which may have something to do with my own advancement in age. In my 20s I was drawn to the bloody violence of The Wild Bunch and the visceral machismo of Straw Dogs, but this comedic Western fable of a desert rat turned scrappy entrepreneur with it's quirky love story keeps winning me over, again and again, and the new HD presentation from WAC is wonderful, highly recommended.