The Rounders (1965)
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as Ben Jones
as Howdy Lewis
as Jim Ed Love
as Vince Moore
as Meg Moore
as Agatha Moore
as Mrs. Norson
Critic Reviews for The Rounders
Audience Reviews for The Rounders
I've seen Burt Kennedy's "The Rounders" three times now, and have, lamentably, liked it less each time. I first latched onto it hoping it would prove itself a rare gem or worthy cult item, and being the huge Western fan that I am, I took a chance. That was almost ten years ago, and I think I tried to make myself like it more than I really did. I thought, How could any self-respecting Western buff pass up the chance to see Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda combine their cowboy screen images? It's too bad that "The Rounders" is a failure as a film. Kennedy's screenwriting talent was first put to its finest use in the Ranown cycle of Westerns directed by the great Budd Boetticher, starring Randolph Scott. Check out "Seven Men From Now" or "Ride Lonesome" and you'll understand that Kennedy had serious talent for shading his characters and having them deliver homespun cowboy dialogue that was tinged with an unaffected lyricism. Then, in the early 1960s, Kennedy decided to primarily make burlesque Westerns; that's when all the trouble began. Kennedy grew sloppy, and it shows in "The Rounders." The whole movie I was waiting for Fonda to be Fonda and Ford to be Ford and instead, looking quite uncomfortable at times, they never appear to slip into their roles as easily as I kept hoping. In retrospect, I think Kennedy would have gotten more from the film with actors about twenty years younger. Fonda was sixty and Ford around fifty when the movie was made, and the juvenile antics that the movie calls for just ring false with these two veterans performing them. Still, even if Kennedy would have got a couple of young stars for the parts, all the problems of the script and the shooting would have marred the picture terribly. There is an over reliance in the film on recurrent sight gags, such as Ford being incessantly bucked off his old roan horse. The film's playful score (offensively annoying)decides it needs to tell us when we should find something funny. Example: Ford or Fonda deliver a "funny" line of dialogue, then along comes the musical cue to highlight the supposed humor (kind of like the crash of drums used to punctuate one liners delivered by a stand up comic).Thing is, nothing in the movie is funny--not the dialogue, not the slapstick, nothing, nada. I've rarely had to say that about a movie. Adding to audience insult, Kennedy's camera finds it necessary to zoom in, also in the service of underscoring something that the script thinks is funny. This Italicization of comedic moments does not allow us to find the humor of the scenes in the organic way that we should; it instead signals to us, as if saying, "okay, time to laugh, guys!" There's also a wearisome running gag in the movie, popping up every time Ford falls down or Fonda is asked a question. For example, when Ford is bucked off his horse, or when he runs his truck into a mud puddle, Fonda will ask if he is alright, to which Ford invariably responds, "oh, I'm fine! Just fine!" Then the music cues us again that it's laugh time! Terrible. Whenever Fonda is asked what he thinks or would like to do, his running response is, "whatever suits you just tickles me plumb to death!" Cue laugh music. As a matter of fact, this is the last line delivered in the movie, and I found myself wincing at Fonda's delivery of it. You can just tell that he's so sick of saying the damn line, he finally says it as if he were a non-actor unenthusiastically reading it off a prompter. The other "funny" things, that feel tacked on to give the movie a feature length running time, are just plain awful. A typical slapstick bar fight, where it always looks so much fun to punch and be punched, is included. There's also one of those obligatory drunk scenes that come about in almost every Western spoof. The drunk scene wouldn't be complete without a grizzled, alcoholic old coot toward whom we can direct our most derisive laughter, and reliable imbiber Edgar Buchanan plays the part for the millionth time in his career. The movie also suffers from one of the worst cases of The Cutes ever captured on film. We get to see the roan horse meet a sexy female horse (again cued with the appropriate music)and watch the cute horsey take a bite out of Ford's butt. There's also a scene where the camera zooms in on a stripper's rear end and the next sound we hear is the wheels of Ford and Fonda's truck screeching to a halt (this gag was done much better in "It Happened One Night," where Claudette Colbert showed just enough leg to hitch a ride). I wouldn't have minded if this had been one of those leisurely buddy pictures divorced from plot, where characters are happy to just amble along and make their whimsical way into one humorous vignette after another. Indeed, I thought that was exactly the sort of movie "The Rounders" intended to be. Boy, was I wrong. It has no intentions other than stringing a bunch of decrepit gags together, throwing in a thin story about an unruly horse, and wasting the talents of Fonda and Ford for no other reason than to have two Box Office stars to play the leads. I have never cared much for spoof Westerns, though I mildly enjoyed "North to Alaska," "McClintock," and "Blazing Saddles" ("Little Big Man," which is more a SATIRE on American history and culture rather than a PARODY of a genre and its stock elements, is my favorite humorous Western). The so-called humor we find in the Western burlesque almost always comes from the most puerile, archaic displays of slapstick and physical comedy. "The Rounders" is, regrettably, incontrovertible proof of this fact. Neither the presence of Fonda or Ford saves "The Rounders" from comic inertia and ineptitude. The film does have, like many Westerns, wondrously rugged location photography; I'm afraid this single grace note doesn't do much to help the movie. Then again, it couldn't possibly make it any worse. ** Two Stars -Oliver Spivey
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