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USA 1979
Directed by
Sydney Pollack
121 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Electric Horseman, The

At its best Sydney Pollack’s The Electric Horseman has a Robert Altmanesque feel in its nonchalant approach to its story of a once- famous rodeo star, Sonny Steele (Robert Redford) who has sold himself to the man and now advertises breakfast cereal as a cowboy decked out in a fancy suit with electric lights. That is until at his appearance in Las Vegas where his revulsion at himself and above all at the treatment of his horse leads him to steal it and head into the hills to set it free. He is pursued by a spunky television journalist, Hallie Martin (Jane Fonda), who sees a good story in him while the corporate apparatchiks (headed by an smoothly ruthless John Saxon) try to distance themselves from his non-conformist behaviour. 

The Electric Horseman starts off as a consumer culture satire, economically tracing Sonny’s rise and fall as a rodeo star while the opening credits roll then introducing us to him as a corporate show pony  with a burgeoning drinking problem.  Then Sonny makes a stab for integrity and the film morphs into an modern-day It Happened One Night rom-com  with Redford as the ruggedly handsome frankly-I-couldn’t-give-a-damn renegade and Fonda as the cleverly citified lady reporter who, of course, is going to fall for his manly charms as they trek across the rocky wilds, she poured into skin-tight jeans, in high heel boots and carrying a handbag (unlike a similar situation in a traditional Western one cant help but wonder about Hallie’s bodily functions).

Although one might say it’s not the biggest of stretches, Redford takes to the cowboy role as if he was born in the saddle and Fonda does a fine job as the typically cynical journalist who comes to respect and fall in love with him.  Pollack, recalling his work on The Way We Were with Redford and Striesand, really doesn’t have to force the romantic angle as the two actors work well together and in the best old-school way, their physical attraction (and consummation) is implied rather than explicitly shown. 

Whilst I could never reconcile the horse’s supposed tendonitis with what it is put through by Sonny, nor for that matter did his decision to release it into the wild seem particularly well-advised but with its sense of good old-fashioned entertainment The Electric Horseman has enough to recommend .




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