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Running Time: 109 minutes
Starring: Charlton Heston, Joan Hackett, Donald Pleasence, Lee Majors, Bruce Dern, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Clifton James, Anthony Zerbe
Written and Directed by: Tom Gries
Retail Price: $24.99
Features: Remembering Will Penny, The Cowboys Of Will Penny
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, French Mono, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (12 Scenes)
Released: June 4th, 2002
"Will Penny" is the story of an aging cowboy by the name of Will Penny (the legendary Charlton Heston). Penny is beaten down thanks to no money, no work and no luck. He's about to die in the desert by some evil outlaws, until a woman named Catherine (Joan Hackett) takes him in. It turns out this woman, and her son, have been desserted by a guide who's supposed to take her to Oregon where she plans to meet her husband. Catherine helps Will out by caring for him, ans Will takes her and her son in for the approaching winter. While Catherine and Will don't get along at first, they slowly start to fall in love. Will must realize that she's married, and come to terms that the outlaws who attempted to murder him are going to try again.
Probably because I grew up in a different era of movies where the landscape was really evolving into something new and different with such an emphasis on smaller features and incredible technology, westerns aren't a big genre of my generation and probably never will be again. I'm not really a big fan of westerns (though I do see why people like them), and while I have seen very few, "Will Penny" is one of the strongest and best ones I've had the pleasure of watching.
Perhaps what makes it such a strong western - and a strong piece of work that is entertaining for that matter - is that Tom Grier, a veteran television and film director (who has been dead for over 25 years as of writing this), gives the film meaning. It's not your standard "good and evil" cowboys set across the backdrop of a dying and feared town. There's some action within the movie, but what gives this movie unique flavor is that it has its own kind of heart.
It's themes of love and isolation that emerge die are really well expressed throughout. There is a sense of broken feelings in Will Penny, and how his life is saved in more than one way by Catherine is truly a beautiful story. It's really about a man who gets second chances, and realizes who he is through these. The characters in the movie are really wonderful and feel real. There is such a humanity to Will, as shown in Gries' screenplay. It's a really nice story, with some great dialogue too.
Despite the more developed elements, Gries' directing makes it feel like a classic western. The music fits right in, not to mention the lush western locations that are represented in its photoplay. There are some amazing, detailed shots that give off an enclosed yet epic feeling all at the same time. The movie is well structured and well paced, and really does suck you in with its look and story. This is a solid directing effort from the late Gries.
The acting gives it a nice coat too. This is one amazing job from Charlton Heston, playing Will Penny as he should be: down and out, hard pressed, rough, rowdy and deep inside, warm. Heston does an amazing transistional style to bring forth how Will Penny chances, all with a sense of strength and sadness. Joan Hackett excels nicely with the character of Catherine and has fine chemistry with Heston. Smaller roles from a young Lee Majors, Ben Johnson, Donald Pleasence and Bruce Dern are quite good too. All in all, this is one fine western movie. It's not for everyone, but for older film fans, it may be one the better classics you probably haven't heard of.
"Will Penny" looks pretty decent in its 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The main problem with it seems to be the constant scratches, blemishes, nicks, pieces of dirt and other marks on the print. It's a little grainy at times, but still has a good sharp quality to it. Halo edges are seen here and there, but what makes this transfer pretty nifty is the excellent fleshtones that look really nice, plus good color saturation that is on par with the film's look and doesn't smear, and fine background detail. Like the west itself, it has a somewhat gritty - though surely pleasant look.
Presented in English and French mono, "Will Penny" sounds pretty weak. Dialogue is crisp and clear, but everything else sounds pretty washed out and has no impact on the mix itself. Be it horses neighing, running or use of weapons meant for force, it adds nothing special. The music sounds nice, but again, nothing special. Fidelity is low, everything's limited and it's pretty straightforward, like your usual mono mix. Also included are English closed captions and English subtitles.
It's not jammed, but it sure is nice to find some retrospective features about the film. The first, Remembering Will Penny, is a look back at the movie that is really well done. Featuring non-anamorphic widescreen clips, the interviews consist of Heston going on how great the film is and how the project came to him background perspective with historian Miles Hood Swarthout, Tom Gries' son Jon . The interviews are in full frame, and there are also still photographs, a lot talks about the film's meaning, it's impact on those who worked on it and many interesting stories dealing with the film. Quite fascinating. It lasts a bit over thirteen minutes.
Much shorter is The Cowboys Of Will Penny. Presented in full frame with non-anamorphic widescreen film clips, this lasts a bit over three minutes. Still, it's nice as Jon Gries and Charlton Heston basically talk about the other important actors and there's a clip of them showing their work in the movie, plus production stories. Good stuff.
"Will Penny" is a strong movie and a fine western flick, so if you like westerns you'll be sure to love it. The casual viewer will enjoy the flick too. It's nice to see some effort in the supplements department with two strong featurettes, while the sound and picture is on par with the film's age. This is worth a rental, but if you're a fan of the movie, it's definently a must own.