Peckinpah demonstrated a sense of humor in THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE that had not been seen since his early TV days when he ran one of the best and most overlooked cowboy shows ever, “The Westerner,” starring Brian Keith. CABLE HOGUE is at its best when chronicling how the Old West passed and mercantilism spread across the Great Plains.
Robards is a prospector abandoned in the desert and left to die by Martin and Jones. (They worked together again that same year in THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN.) Instead of dying, he finds water in a previously arid spot, opens a rest stop for thirsty travelers, and prospers. Stevens is a whore determined to sleep her way to riches, and after a brief fling with Robards, she decides to move on to greener sheets, fleeing to San Francisco. (This is Stevens’s best role and underlines the terrible waste of her career–she’s terrific.) Warner pops in and out as a preacher who can’t decide whether he should save souls or live a life of dedicated hedonism. Hedonism wins. If you’re expecting blood and guts and slow-motion death forget it. Peckinpah decided to make a different movie here, and different it is. Not a hit at the box office, it remains one of his finest efforts, funny, touching and never mawkishly sentimental.