The Ballad of Cable Hogue
With today's release of the Sam Peckinpah Legendary Westerns Collection, I took a look at The Ballad of Cable Hogue, the one film I hadn't seen in the set. I was mighty disappointed, especially since I consider Ride the High Country to be a masterpiece and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid to be a damn sight near it. But drunks are nothing if not unreliable.
Jason Robards plays the title character, a dissolute lout and man's man who discovers water in an isolated plot of desert and builds an oupost, selling water to stagecoaches rolling through. He falls in love with a whore (Stella Stevens) and befriends a horny priest (David Warner), hanging out in his estate while waiting for a couple old nemeses (Peckinpah axioms L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin) to show up so he can exact revenge.
There's no narrative thrust, strung together with poorly executed comic vignettes all marred by a reliance on Benny Hill style fast motion. The outlaw persona here seems mannered and posed, while in the other films it comes out of a staunch moral stance. The Peckinpah hero has become a caricature, his vices exaggerated out of all proportion - almost like SNL's Bill Braske. This caricature, while undoubtedly intentional, for this is a comic film, just isn't nearly funny enough, nor does the film fully embrace the slapstick comedy it so sorely needs to be in order for it to succeed. It maintains a faint lyrical tone, hovering in between a romantic view of the natural man of the West and ridiculing him.
Peckinpah's misogynism, easily overlooked in the all male worlds of his previous films, here becomes unendurable, Stella Stevens literally reduced to a (very nice) pair of tits. When Hogue first meets her, Peckinpah cuts in shots of those robust mammaries incessantly, until it seems like Howard Hughes had taken over to do The Outlaw all over again.
He did manage to squeeze in some thoughts on the disapperance of the west, with the late appearance of the motor-car contributing to the most unassuming death ever put on screen, truly surprising in its offhandedness.
He would make a string of brilliant films after this, including the underseen Junior Bonner, a relaxed rodeo comedy that displayed he could show restraint when he needed to.