Alan J. Pakula (director)
BFI Film (studio)
16 September 2021 (released)
11 September 2019
Alan J. Pakulas' modern 'Western' COMES A HORSEMAN (1978) sees Jane Fonda in the role of feisty and stubborn cattle farmer Ella Connors, who, with the help of her old cowhand Dodger (ex-stuntman Richard Farnsworth received a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ nomination) has to battle greedy oil executives.
Above all though, she has to battle her former suitor Jacob J.W. Ewing (Jason Robards) – a corrupt rancher and landowner who has lived in the vast Montana valley since forever, just like his family did before. The same can be said about Ella’s family. Despite ongoing and increasing financial struggles, Ella refuses to give up her piece of land. But when Ewing recieves visit from New York oil executive Neil Atkinson (George Grizzard), who was a friend of his father, the situation changes: Ewing realizes that the country's future (the action takes place in the mid-forties) might not lie in ranching but in oil. That said, the ruthless J.W. has his own plans regarding future and wealth. Just like the mafia, the Atkinson family helped the Ewings to ‘buy out’ neighboring farmers (Ellas is one of them) so that Ewing now has complete control over ‘his’ land. As far as Atkinson is concerned, Ewing owes him a favour for all this and the least he can do is to allow him and his men to sniff around the valley to see whether precious oil can be found. But Ewing doesn’t want to know. That also goes for Ella who rejects any financial offer from Atkinson despite her ongoing meagre earnings from cattle farming.
As the situation deterioates she unexpectedly gets help from war veteran and neighbor Frank Athearn (J. Caan), to whom Ella recently sold a small patch of her land to help her pay some bills. Emotionally cold and distant, Ella accepts Frank's help only hesitantly but when she realizes that he, together with his best buddy Billy Joe Meynart (Mark Harmon), only wants the best for her, a deep relationship gradually develops. Meanwhile, Atkinson is certain that the valley holds oil and puts pressure on Ewing to allow him to drill. But Ella, Frank, Dodger and Meynart soon realize that Ewing will stop at nothing to show who is the master of the valley as he and his henchmen begin a reign of intimidation and terror...
Gordon Willis' impressive camera work brings out the best of the stunning scenery, while the razor-sharp Blu-ray version is certainly worth seeing (best on a large screen!). However, the overall pace could be slightly faster, at least as far as the film’s first sixty minutes are concerned. Instead, director Pakula focuses more on the emotions, the hardship and the lifestyle of his characters. Only in the second half do we get more action, unfortunately almost a little too realistic as during the filming of the final scene (in which Jason Robards is pulled along by a horse), Robard’s stuntman Jim Shepperd got killed (thankfully off camera). While seasoned performers Fonda, Caan and Robards deliver the goods as expected the real revelation here is ex-stuntman Richard Farnsworth in the role of Ella’s right hand Dodger. The scene in which he rides into the wide open, only to lay down and wait for death just as it is custom among the Native Americans, is both deeply touching and also deeply human. Jane Fonda’s physical resemblance to her dad Henry is almost uncanny!
COMES A HORSEMAN is now available in Blu-ray format and the extensive bonus material contains interviews, picture gallery, short films and information booklet.