Hearts of the West

[4.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [IMDB Rating: 6.2] [Amazon Link]

Let me bore you with yet another story from my youth. Back in the mid-70s, in our part of New Hampshire, the movie selection was poor. There were a mere handful of screens, and many of them specialized in second-run fare.

So when we got a movie-seeing urge that couldn't be satisfied locally, my sweetie and I would head down to Danvers, MA in my little blue '65 VW bug. (Often taking to side roads to avoid the 25-cent NH Turnpike toll.) And one evening in 1975, we saw Hearts of the West, a little comedy starring Jeff Bridges.

Ever since, it's been on my short list of movies I wanted to rewatch. It never made it to my Blockbuster. It's not available from Netflix. But, in one of those modern age marvels that I hope I never start taking for granted, it showed up as an on-demand selection at Amazon. And, since I am an Amazon Prime member, the cost for a viewing was $0.00.

It's set in the early 1930s. Jeff Bridges plays Lewis Tater, a (very) naïve Iowa farm boy with big dreams of becoming a writer of Westerns, like his hero Zane Gray. He enrolls in a correspondence course at the University of Titan, located in Titan, Nevada. And, faced with the scorn of his family, decides to visit the campus.

Unfortunately, Titan is a mere whistlestop and its University is an even bigger scam than your normal University: just a set of post office boxes overseen by a couple of crooks. A merry mixup sends Lewis on the lam, unwittingly in posession of the scammers' ill-gotten gains. Wandering deliriously in the Nevada desert, he runs into a band of cowboys.

Except they're not actual cowboys: they are actors shooting a Western. Lewis gets swept up in 1930s show-biz, without losing his dreams-teetering-on-delusion. But the bad guys remain in pursuit.

Andy Griffith has a great role as one of the movie studio's stable of cowboy extras; it's easy to forget how good an actor he was. Alan Arkin is the screwball auteur in charge of cranking out reel after reel of cowboy action. And Blythe Danner plays a hard-boiled studio employee, melted by Lewis's sweet character. (For youngsters: she's Gwyneth Paltrow's mom.)

I don't want to oversell this movie, but I still laughed a lot, even given the thirty-six years between the first time I saw it and the second. If you have Amazon Prime, and 102 minutes to spare, you might enjoy it too.


Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:39 AM EDT