Comes a Horseman (1978)

Comes a Horseman (1978)

“She was tough in the old days — but the two of ya is just plum awful.”

Near the end of World War II, a female rancher (Jane Fonda) and her cowhand (Richard Farnsworth) hire a war veteran (James Caan) to help them with their land — which includes staving off increasingly threatening attempts by local baron J.W. Ewing (Jason Robards) to buy it from them at any cost.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan J. Pakula Films
  • James Caan Films
  • Jane Fonda Films
  • Jason Robards, Jr. Films
  • Ranchers
  • Strong Females
  • Westerns

A year after co-starring as real-life lovers Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett in Julia (1977), Jane Fonda and Jason Robards, Jr. paired up once again — as adversaries — in this slow-paced, beautifully photographed (by Gordon Willis) western from director Alan J. Pakula. Fonda is fully deglamorized as a woman purely focused on her work and her land:

… who is slow (very slow) to take to Caan; but they suit one another well enough that eventually they make a powerful team.

Richard Farnsworth earned an Academy Award nomination as a grizzled cowhand who has stayed by Fonda’s side for years, at risk of his own well-being:

… and Robards, Jr. is appropriately menacing as a man accustomed to getting what he wants, at any cost.

Other than showing the nitty-gritty toil of ranching, this neo-western is focused on the age-old western trope of competition for land use, with oil prospecting coming into play in the form of George Grizzard’s Neil Atkinson, whose family was a financial backer for the Ewings.

Corruption abounds — and things most certainly turn dark (then even darker). Apparently most critics weren’t too fond of this film when it was released, but I think it’s held up well for those who don’t mind the slightly slower pace (and the surprisingly dramatic ending).

Note: Watch for young Mark Harmon in a brief early role as Caan’s ill-fated partner.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jane Fonda as Ella
  • James Caan as Frank
  • Jason Robards as Ewing
  • Richard Farnsworth as Dodger
  • Gordon Willis’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s definitely worth a look. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Comes a Horseman (1978)

  1. First viewing (8/24/21). Not must-see.

    DP Gordon Willis performed his usual magic here because the film is certainly lovely to look at, but that’s about it. Otherwise, this is a yawn-inducing tale about a battle over property. The acting is surprisingly pedestrian – but not all *that* surprising, considering that the often-tiresome script is meh.

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