“THE HIRED HAND”
The Cost of Loyalty
Peter Fonda in his debut as director chose to make a movie about the American West, “The Hired Hand”. He also stars playing Harry, a man who deserted his wife and child to explore the wide-open plains with his best friend Archie (Warren Oates). Tired of the roaming life , he decides to finally return home in order to rekindle his marriage and to get to know his daughter. This is a beautiful and elegiac film that ranks with the best westerns ever made.
It is the story of a young man who grows up into responsibility. We meet him after he has abandoned his wife and child to go back to the simple life of a cowboy journeyman. Then he decides, after several years have passed, to go back to his wife and start again.
He returns with Archie and along the trail they come into contact with a malevolent villain named McVey (Severn Darden). They injure McVey and when they arrive at the ranch, the cowboy’s wife takes him on as a hired hand to begin with. But he has changed and grown old enough to be the husband of a woman 10 years his senior, and at last she takes him back into her bedroom.
All of this happens in a succession of beautiful photographic images— this is a very quiet movie. Good Westerns have always been morality plays, most of them have arrived at morality after a journey through a violent and action-oriented story. That doesn’t happen here; the villain simply kidnaps the best friend, and announces he will cut off one of Oates’ fingers every week until Fonda comes to rescue him. This leads to a foredoomed confrontation and to a death that is inevitable.
The first five minutes of “The Hired Hand” is visually unique but you will have to see it to understand what I mean by that. We realize that director Peter Fonda was trying to make a new kind of Western that fit the sensibilities of the early 1970’s. The film also has great acting. Warren Oates as Fonda’s sidekick is tailor-made for the role. The woman of the story is played by Verna Bloom who is a tough, independent woman who perfectly fits her role. Fonda himself is understated as the laconic ‘hero’ and he performs most of his emotional actions with his eyes and restrained gestures.
“The Hired Hand” is unique because of its distinctive look and mood but in the way that it deals with the more internal elements of characters in the old West. It is not a traditional Western in the sense that there is a shoot-em-up in every other scene; although there are a couple of those. Instead it is about the loneliness of hired hands in the West who find if difficult to both pursue their dreams and settle down. It’s also about the sacrifices that one must make for loyalty.
This special edition includes:
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.