Ballad of Cable Hogue, The (1970)

“In all the long, wrought out, back-breakin’, kidney-shakin’, bladder-bustin’ miles from here to Lizard, there’s not one spot of wet relief for man or beast.”

Synopsis:
When robbed and left to die in the desert, an illiterate wanderer (Jason Robards) stumbles upon a spring which he proceeds to turn into a profitable way-station. Meanwhile, he falls for a feisty prostitute (Stella Stevens), receives assistance from a con-artist “preacher” (David Warner), and hopes to seek revenge on the men who abandoned him.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this “simple, bawdy, lyrical film is one of [Sam] Peckinpah’s best” — but I disagree. While Robards is indeed “wonderful” (he alone makes the film worth watching), the story itself leaves much to be desired: after an inspired first half-hour or so — in which Hogue stakes his claim in town, and eyes a busty wench (Stevens) with hilariously unmitigated lust — the narrative devolves into slapstick, and it’s all downhill from there. Warner’s participation in Hogue’s venture is never clearly explained (his smooth-talking attempts to bed married women are irritating, not funny), and Stevens — while undeniably sexy (it’s easy to see why men would go gaga over her) — quickly loses sympathy the first time she throws a conniption fit; this is NOT how a slick business woman would react. Peckinpah’s use of both dated cinematic techniques (including sped-up running) and cloying flower-children songs throughout the soundtrack make matters worse. Jason Robards is really the only reason to sit through this disappointing sleeper.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jason Robards as Cable Hogue
    BOCH Robards
  • Lucien Ballard’s fine cinematography
    BOCH Premise

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look simply for Robards’ winning performance.

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One Response to “Ballad of Cable Hogue, The (1970)”

  1. Not a must – and rather in complete agreement.

    This really is a disappointing film. Seeing it again with fresh eyes after many years hasn’t changed my mind. There’s a strong character in Robards’ role – but I do suspect that a good half of the credit goes to what Robards brings to the part; it takes an actor of his caliber to make something like this work by fleshing Hogue out.

    The rest of the actors – while not bad – can’t really do enough to lift the material as Robards does.

    This is a real mutt of a film; filled with characters in a patchwork situation when they’d be better off with more of a plot. But Peckinpah seems content with letting things be more about character, atmosphere and mood. It’s true, though; try as Peckinpah may in his approach, ‘Ballad’ just starts to sag and run out of steam. The film picks up slightly near the end when the men who did Robards wrong happen back into his life – and that’s a fine sequence.

    This is the director in a rare lighthearted mood. Not outright terrible, but ultimately not that memorable either.

    Most effective moment: the segue in the middle of Warner’s eulogy.

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