The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)
May 19, 2018 4:01 PM - Subscribe

A hobo accidentally stumbles onto a water spring, and creates a profitable way station in the middle of the desert.

Roger Ebert: Sam Peckinpah's "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" is a splendid example of the New Western. It's also a fine movie, a wonderfully comic tale we didn't quite expect from a director who seems more at home with violence than with humor.

The New Western is usually set at the moment when civilization reached the West. In the traditional Western, the states are still territories and the law is a day's ride away, and people are killed fairly casually.

Filmmaker Magazine: Released in 1970 on the heels of The Wild Bunch, it’s a softer, more humanist movie than audiences were expecting from “Bloody Sam” — a sweet, reflective tale of the rise and fall of an American dreamer (beautifully played by Jason Robards in one of his finest performances), it’s closer in spirit to Peckinpah’s rodeo dramedy Junior Bonner than to darker fare like Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. To call it atypical isn’t exactly accurate, given that almost all of Peckinpah’s films are drenched in spiritual longing and elegy; his best works, like The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, achieve their grandeur via the intense cynicism that can only come from an artist who is at heart a romantic but whose ideals have been shattered by reality time and time again. Cable Hogue doesn’t cut as deep as those films, but it offers different and possibly rarer pleasures; John Huston called it the most wayward movie he’d ever seen, and it has a relaxed, anecdotal charm that looks forward to the more playful and idiosyncratic moments of Westerns like The Outlaw Josey Wales and Walter Hill’s Wild Bill. It’s also one of the best character studies in Peckinpah’s oeuvre; working from a consistently inventive script by John Crawford and Edmund Penney, the director and Robards craft a lyrical portrait of a certain kind of American male that’s both highly specific and thoroughly archetypal — not to mention self-sabotaging and contradictory, two characteristics that perfectly describe Peckinpah himself.

Cinephilia and Beyond: It took some time for The Ballad of Cable Hogue to get the recognition it deserved back in 1970 when it premiered, and it’s a sad fact that Peckinpah hadn’t lived to experience it. “It was really a shame. Cable Hogue is possibly my best film. A real love story,” said Peckinpah once. “I am always criticized for putting violence in my films, but it seems that when I leave it out nobody bothers to see the picture.” The Ballad of Cable Hogue, yes, is a Western without almost any violence, and the symbol of Hollywood’s masculine filmmaking indeed delivered a romantic, tender, thoughtful film that was obviously too easy to ignore. The next time you hear someone label Peckinpah as a bloodthirsty, adrenaline-pumping action director, do their education a solid favor and recommend Cable Hogue, a touching love story that at the same time deals with the ever-inspirational subject of the inevitable changes that the civilization carries with it in the process of civilizing the wilderness.

The Ballad of Cable Hogue manages to function perfectly on two distinct levels: first of all, its surface tells the story of a prospector who finds water in the desert, builds a successful business and falls in love with the local prostitute he decides to spend the rest of his life with. The script is well-written, the characters are quirky, believable and loveable, dialogues are witty and inspired. The film would work just fine even without the larger-than-life theme it’s built upon: the image of the unromantic transformation of the Old West into something new, modern, contemporary, into the industrialized, modernized, fast-paced home of the 20th century American society. This additional background dimension, however, elevates the picture into the ranks of some of the best “dying West” movies ever made, shoulder to shoulder with, let’s say, John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The idea of exploring and taming the wilderness is something deeply ingrained in the collective American identity, and has been a pivotal source of inspiration and motivation since the early beginnings of the United States’ development. In The Ballad of Cable Hogue, we see a man firmly belonging to the Old Ways, peacefully and serenely giving up his place to allow for progress to come. The simple but very effective image of a stagecoach and an automobile crossing paths plainly shows the subtext Peckinpah chose to explore. Even though a lot of people saw this film in the decades upon its release, it still seems The Ballad of Cable Hogue remains somehow overlooked and underappreciated in the evaluation of the filmmaker’s career. The Wild Bunch may be the best film the temperamental American ever made, but there’s no doubt in our minds that Cable Hogue has the most heart.


Senses of Cinema: The Ballad of Cable Hogue

The Softer Side of Peckinpah with THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE (1970)

The Kinder, Gentler, Sam Peckinpah
posted by MoonOrb (2 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, this sounds great, and had totally flown under my radar before now. Thanks for this, MoonOrb.
posted by mediareport at 3:56 AM on May 20, 2018

Gets a ton of love as a Peckinpah classic, but this is also prime Jason Robards, y'all.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:14 AM on May 21, 2018

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