'The Hired Hand: Special Edition' [Blu-ray]
(Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom, et al / Blu-ray / R / (1971) 2018 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Harry returns home to his wife and farm after drifting with his friend Arch and has to make a difficult decision regarding his loyalties.
Blu-ray Verdict: To my mind, to call this picture a Western is to diminish it. Sure, it is in fact a Western, but to call it a picture about male bonding is to do likewise - although it is most assuredly about that too.
But, trust me when I say, that this under-appreciated movie is so much more. Like the greatest works of art in any narrative medium, it concerns human relationships, including a person's relationship with the self.
Because the story is presented with unrelieved seriousness it will not come close to appealing to everyone - but neither will the classic novels, plays, poems, etc.
As an example of cinematic art, this obscure film belongs among the greats. All aspects of filmmaking are handled with a firm but sensitive touch meaning that its obscurity is difficult to explain; and impossible to justify.
That all said, and off my chest, I am actually trying to review it here (now out on a wonderful Blu-ray Special Edition for the first time ever, chock full of great extras), so here we go.
Peter Fonda's career in westerns was about tearing down everything that his father, Henry Fonda, ever stood for. Where Henry Fonda was a top gun in most westerns, Peter Fonda is more like a sad and thoughtful loser.
Where Henry Fonda always had women lusting after him in the westerns, Peter Fonda's movie wife, Verna Bloom, does not want much to do with him. While traditional western women are faithful to their men, Bloom is open about screwing all of the men she hires to help at the ranch, because her husband was away, and she needed sex.
This movie throws a lot of darts at the westerns that Henry Fonda made. In many ways, it is an anti-western, and anti-Henry Fonda. As a movie, while the photography is beautiful, the actual story is very lame and boring. Peter Fonda loves to have close-ups of his face. It is like he is in love with himself.
There is not much story here. One day Peter Fonda decides to go home to see what happened to his wife after seven years of abandonment. Warren Oates, his best friend, tags along. That is the whole movie, sorry.
Sadly, the end of the movie is badly choreographed and features a sub-par shootout that once again contrasts the difference between the great Henry Fonda, and his pathetic stoner son, Peter Fonda.
It literally ends with a thud, and everything positive that was building up gets let down. It is truly the anti-Christ of a Henry Fonda Western movie, as aforementioned, but nonetheless, is still a landmark film to observe. Highly recommended. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by Universal
Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM Audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio commentary by actor-director Peter Fonda
The Return of The Hired Hand, a 2003 documentary containing interviews with Fonda, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, composer Bruce Langhorne, actor Verna Bloom and others
The Odd Man, Charles Gormley and Bill Forsyth's 1978 documentary portrait of Scottish screenwriters, including Alan Sharp
Interview with Martin Scorsese
Warren Oates and Peter Fonda at the National Film Theatre, an audio recording of the actors appearance at the NFT London in 1971
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips
+ FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kim Morgan.