Hearts of the West (1975)

“There’s no such thing as wasted time for the writer; he’s always thinking.”

Hearts of the West Poster

Synopsis:
An aspiring western writer (Jeff Bridges) accidentally steals money from a pair of crooks (Richard B. Shull and Anthony James) running a sham correspondence school in Nevada, and escapes to Hollywood, where he finds work as an actor for a skinflint producer (Alan Arkin), falls for a pretty script girl (Blythe Danner), and receives advice from a grizzled performer (Andy Griffith).

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Review:
This humorous tale of an innocent Iowa farmboy fleeing from the clutches of villainous crooks and landing smack-dab in the middle of Depression-Era Hollywood remains a hidden treasure, one film fanatics will be pleased to discover. Bridges’ “Lewis Tater” is eminently likable: we care about his travails from the moment we first see him acting out a western scene playing in his head, and talking earnestly to whoever will listen about the craft of writing. He refuses to let any obstacles get in his way, instead viewing whatever happens to him — and my, quite a bit happens! — as welcome fodder for his prose. Director Howard Zieff and screenwriter Rob Thompson affectionately evoke the milieu of ’30s Western matinees, taking us behind the scenes to expose the business side of this kiddie-fantasy world, complete with both fond camaraderie and bitter bargaining. All supporting actors on board — Arkin, Danner, Griffith, and others — give fine performances, rounding out this consistently enjoyable coming-of-age tale, which never takes itself too seriously (viz. the comedic omnipresence of Shull and James, complete with their own theme music), yet maintains an unexpected level of poignancy throughout.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jeff Bridges as Lewis Tater
    Hearts of the West Bridges
  • Andy Griffith as Howard Pike
    Hearts of the West Griffith
  • A fun look at film-making in old (young?) Hollywood
    Hearts of the West Old Hollywood
  • Excellent period sets
    Hearts of the West Sets
  • Rob Thompson’s smart, affectionate screenplay

Must See?
Yes. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book — a perfect designation.

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One Response to “Hearts of the West (1975)”

  1. A must – as a real find (as well as a bizarrely neglected film) and a gem for ffs.

    I’m in total agreement here. This is one great flick – uniquely lighthearted and complex simultaneously. Yes, indeed, a lot does happen to Bridges in this movie, as it focuses on the behind-the-scenes of the nitty-gritty of the lower rungs of the old-style movie business. It doesn’t pay to be gullible, we learn, and you don’t know who to trust. Gee, just like life in general, after all.

    Director Howard Zieff knows all of these characters quite well and has perfectly clued his cast into how to bring them to life – with all the quirks required to do so. There’s much gentle humor throughout, even as things get a little intense as the script reaches its several-times-surprising conclusion.

    It’s charming watching Bridges as such a total innocent, and especially nice to see former hard-nosed babe Marie Windsor in the earlier part of the film. But it’s Arkin who really runs with this one. In the early part of his career, Arkin proved himself a master of character roles – whether comic or dramatic – and it’s sheer entertainment watching him having a ball as the cranky film director here. I laugh myself silly when I see the sequence in which Arkin attempts to negotiate Bridges’ salary as an actor. I’ve always admired Arkin so much, as one of the best among modern male film actors.

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