It's taken me a long time to warm to the western. For the longest time, I just never bothered watching westerns, figuring that they were all the same, what with cowboys and horses and bank robberies and such. I even avoided films that were deemed genuine classics, like [i]Once Upon a Time in the West[/i] and [i]Rio Bravo[/i]. I can't really even remember why, and the idea of dismissing an entire genre, especially one that so obviously inspired one of my favorite genres (the post-apocalypse film), seems kinda sad to me now.
[i]Kid Blue[/i] is has some of the typical traits of the early-'70s western. It's a studio film, directed by future [i]Muppet Movie[/i] helmer James Frawley, but it's all about an outlaw (Dennis Hopper) who, after attempting to turn straight, gives up and goes back to his thieving ways. The fact that his story is presented heroicly is clearly inspired by the success of [i]Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid[/i] and [i]Bonnie and Clyde[/i], two films that made the bad guys the ones to root for.
The beginning of the film has Bick, known to wanted posters as "Kid Blue," reaching a turning point after a botched train robbery. He decides to call the life-on-the-run quits and settles in the town of Dimebox, a small town kept alive by a factory that makes ashtrays. His job sweeping up hair and emptying spitoons for barber M. Emmet Walsh doesn't work out, nor does his job lopping the heads off of chickens, but he manages to get work at the factory, thanks to his friendship with local man Reese (Warren Oates).
His relationship with Reese is, it had to be said, a little weird. Reese instantly takes a liking to him, and invites him to into his life and the life of his wife Molly (Lee Purcell). Reese keeps talking about how the Greeks did things, and at one point he and Bick even take a bath together. Meanwhile, Molly has designs on Bick, and when she finds out about his outlaw past, they make things even hotter.
Bick also gets involved with a trio of Indians that have recently discovered God, thanks to the words of crackpot Preacher Bob (Peter Boyle) who spends his spare time working on an "Aerial-Cycle" when not getting into ruckuses about the proper place to perform baptisms. The sheriff (Ben Johnson) wanders around a lot, looks mean and calls everyone else "boy," but generally doesn't do much but threaten.
It's likeable stuff, and in more subversive hands this could have been a great film, but Frawley keeps the heat on medium, content to let us simply watch these pleasant-enough characters interact without serving up much in the way of conflict. It's got it's share of funny moments, like the older Indian explaining why you shouldn't eat cow shit, but [i]Kid Blue[/i] is really more light than comedic, and while it's always watchable, it's never anything more than that.
Still, the cast is great and Hopper makes a fine lead, even if his character is more quiet and pitiable than anything else, and there are some interesting industrial-revolution-in-the-old-west themes. It's a decent, but ultimately forgettable little western, which may explain why it's never been released to video. Worth a look if you happen to stumble across it on late-night TV, though.