Will Penny at the IMDb
According to IMDb ‘Will Penny’ is Charlton Heston’s favourite of his own movies. He must have forgotten about ‘The Omega Man’ and ‘Soylent Green’ when he said that! Still it is a great picture with lots of the components one always needs in a truly enjoyable western.
Despite only being 45 when the film was made Heston plays an ageing cowboy who is nearing the end of his usefulness in the old west. I suppose 45 was probably a good age back then but sitting here aged 44 I feel he had plenty left on the clock despite being regarded as the old timer.
Anyway, we join Charlton and the cow pokes at the end of a cattle drive. They get paid off by their boss and discuss what their options are. Chuck isn’t seen as a viable candidate for the next drive and instead heads off with The Six Million Dollar Man and Mathias whom he would later cross swords with in ‘The Omega Man’.
After a brief scene reminiscent of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ where Steve Austin and Mathias emerge from beneath a blanket in their long johns there is a stand off with a gang of brigands who try to claim an elk they shot is rightfully theirs - the bastards! A brief shoot-out sees a bad guy killed and Mathias gut shot but we haven’t seen the last of them - well they do have Donald Pleasance and Bruce Dern in their number, and they aren't getting paid for one scene!
Charlton and his pals make it to a remote outpost where the greedy owner tries to sell them a coffin while Mathias is still hanging on - still at least there is some tightly buttoned lady action on show! The lads soon go their own ways with Chuck taking on a job that involves him occupying a remote cabin up in the hills. When he arrives he finds the cabin occupied by squatters in the shape of a gun toting woman and her snot nosed boy.
Chuck gives them a few days to move out but while he’s camping out in the wilds he gets bushwhacked by Pleasance’s gang. Using bad guy logic they leave him to die in the wilderness rather than kill him on the spot, leaving him able to return injured to the cabin in his fetching long johns. He’s nursed back to health by the thawing widow, who despite saying they aren't friends, will clearly end up in the great man’s arms.
As romance blossoms the viewer is left to wonder when the bad guys will show up again and at what cost.
This was two third of a great film with the middle section letting the side down. It was fair enough to have the stoic range man find a bit of happiness but the scene with him making house ran too long, so it was a merciful release when the bad guys showed up again and chucked the Christmas tree on the fire.
Heston does well as the jaded cowpoke who finds it hard to let others into his life and he handles the brief action scenes well. Joan Hackett is fine as the love interest who is maybe a bit too keen to get Heston into the bath to support her hardbitten exterior.
The bad guys were well cast but underused - Bruce Dern hardly had a line. Their undoing was also somewhat pat with them at first fighting over the plain widow before reinforcing the stereotype that bad guys can’t shoot for toffee.
The settings were great and the costumes and characters certainly evokes a grubbier Old West than perhaps we are used to. At about 100 minutes this is a good slice of western life with maybe not enough substance to have it live long in the memory.
Best Bit : Visitors at Christmas!
'W' Score 15/23