Now to the inevitable arguments and comparisons that have arisen, given the remake that was recently produced. This original 1970 version of the film, as opposed to the equally likeable and viewable new Tom Selleck version, brings with it some striking differences.
In the first place there's just no one else like Lee Marvin and his immortal portrayal of Monte Walsh. Yes, Selleck does a marvelous job in the remake but the hard, chiseled features that made Marvin a western legend are difficult to upstage. Marvin not only delivers the hard edge that all have come to expect from the cowboy stereotype, he also shows an amazingly soft side that comes through in spades throughout the film. And that voice!
Secondly, there's just no one else like Jack Palance. While I was 50-50 on the differences between Marvin and Selleck, I came away liking Palance's wonderful portrayal of Monte's trail partner, Chet, far better than that of Keith Carradine in the remake. Palance pulls off the likeable and agreeable Chet but maintains a tough side that is all his own. And like Marvin the striking silhouette and the gravelly voice create a believability that was lacking in the Carradine portrayal.
Next there's Martine. Jeanne Moreau portrays the perfect Martine with her infrequent but sad smile. It literally lights up the screen and then vanishes as Martine, a prairie prostitute, inevitably contemplates the harsh realities of her existence. The hollow, sad eyes are beautiful and yet leave you with a sense of pain that would surely have been characteristic. The sad chemistry that emerges between Moreau and Marvin is nothing short of magical, leaving the viewer to sense and weigh the pain and the fleeting happiness that exists between them. Isabella Rosellini's portrayal of Martine in the remake is just too perky.
The film also features a grainy, old-feeling, almost sepia patina that was characteristic of other western films of the time like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, BIG JAKE and MAN IN THE WILDERNESS. Add to that the wonderful soundtrack by John Barry (OUT OF AFRICA, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, CHAPLIN and THE LION IN WINTER) and the haunting strains of Mama Cass singing "The Good Times Are Comin'," the theme from Monte Walsh, and you have a western classic that has been much neglected and should not be missed.
As Monte rides off into the sunset, telling his horse a story about a wolf-wrastling compadre, one realizes that Chet's observation in the film that "nobody gets to be a cowboy forever..." is dead wrong--especially for Monte Walsh! Here's hoping he keeps riding forever.
I don't know who holds the rights to this one but let's hope they get there stuff together soon, especially given the success of Tom Selleck's remake, and get this fine film released in an appropriate widescreen version on DVD.