From a more recent Jeff Bridges movie (THE OPEN ROAD) to one from the early part of his career . . . HEARTS OF THE WEST is a long-time favorite of mine. I’m really a sucker for movies about making movies, and this is one of the best. Bridges is just about perfect as farm boy Lewis Tater, whose ambition is to write Western novels and become the next Zane Grey. He winds up in Hollywood. Not as a writer, however, but rather as a budding star in early Western movies. The studio gives him the name Neddy Wales, and he becomes friends with a former Western star who’s fallen on hard times, Billy Montana (played wonderfully by Andy Griffith). Alan Arkin plays a director, Blythe Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom) is a beautiful script girl who falls for Lewis/Neddy, and there are some gangsters running around to complicate the plot, too.
Plot’s not the most important thing in this movie, though. It’s the characters, along with all the little touches about movie-making in early Hollywood (Arkin’s director character is named after the real name of a prolific B-movie director who went by Alan James). The Western fiction that Lewis/Neddy writes, reading aloud as he does so, is a pitch-perfect recreation of the real Western fiction from the time period. Screenwriter W.D. Richter must’ve read an awful lot of Zane Grey, William MacLeod Raine, Charles Alden Seltzer, B.M. Bower, etc., to get that voice down as well as he did.
I’m not sure what the target audience for this movie was, even when it first came out in 1975. Movies about early Hollywood never do very well financially. (Another one I like a lot, Peter Bogdanovich’s NICKELODEON, falls into that same category . . . and I’ll probably write about it one of these weeks.) These days no Hollywood studio would even consider making a movie like HEARTS OF THE WEST. But it’s a funny, well-acted, well-written film, and if you’ve never seen it, you really should. I don’t think it’s available on DVD, although it got a videotape release years ago and you might be able to find one of those or catch it on some obscure cable channel.
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