Hired Hand, The (1971)

Hired Hand, The (1971)

“Most people who work for the Widow Collings get paid in more than cash and keep.”

When three men — Harry (Peter Fonda), Arch (Warren Oates) and Dan (Robert Pratt) — stop in a small town on their way west, unexpected violence occurs with one of its citizens (Severn Darden), leading to ongoing repurcussions once Harry and Arch arrive back at the homestead of Harry’s abandoned wife (Verna Bloom) and daughter (Megan Denver).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Friendship
  • Marital Problems
  • Peter Fonda Films
  • Revenge
  • Strong Females
  • Verna Bloom Films
  • Warren Oates Films
  • Westerns

Peter Fonda’s studio-financed follow-up to Easy Rider (1969) was helming and starring in this highly artsy, slow-paced western with a haunting score and dreamy cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. It’s difficult to know where things are going (literally) at first, as the film opens on three men wandering (we don’t know how they met or where they’ve been), and we learn that the youngest (Pratt) is interested in finally seeing the Pacific Ocean (though Fonda wants to head back home to his wife).

On their way, after an ominous experience while fishing (their line snags on something they don’t want to reel in), they have the misfortune of stopping by a small town run by bespectacled Darden, who appears innocuous but most certainly isn’t (looks are deceiving in this West).

From there, the bulk of the story focuses on Fonda’s tentative reuniting with Bloom, who has adapted over her years of solitude and isn’t exactly thrilled to welcome her roaming husband back, but is willing to give both him and Oates a try.

There are a couple of unexpectedly violent and bloody sequences, and revenge definitely plays a huge role in this western tale — but even more notable are the look of the film (plenty of slo-mo and double exposure are used throughout):

… and folk musician Bruce Langhorne’s highly eclectic score (utilizing sitar, fiddle, and banjo), which impresses and intrigues from the opening moments; I liked it enough that I’ll be giving it another listen on its own.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Verna Bloom as Hannah Collings
  • Warren Oates as Arch Harris
  • Creative direction by Fonda and editing by Frank Mazzola
  • Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography
  • A highly unique (if overly varied) score by Bruce Langhorne

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


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