The Electric Horseman (1979)

Robert Redford as Sonny Steele in The Electric Horseman

Redford's Show Pony

I don't know about you but if someone suggested to you a movie which was a western, romantic-comedy with heart I would probably not want to watch despite liking all those elements. It just sounds messy especially when you mix western with comedy and some form of heart felt message but "The Electric Horseman" isn't that bad, or maybe not as bad as I was half expecting considering this is a western, romantic-comedy with heart. It's the sort of movie which is perfect for a rainy afternoon where the romance and comedy will make you smile, whilst the heart felt message, one of being true to yourself, will uplift you even if the chances are you will have forgotten much of the movie by the time the days out.

Sonny Steele (Robert Redford - The Sting) was once a World Rodeo Champion but after years of heavy knocks and falls has become the face of a breakfast cereal, promoting it around the country and appearing on ads. But now little more than a show pony dressed in garish cowboy costumes Sonny loathes the life he leads, finding solace in the bottle. When at a Vegas convention he sees they have drugged the once successful race horse Rising Star to use in a promotion he has enough and steals the horse, hitting the road and the wild yonder with a plan to set Rising Star free. With the police and the horses owners on his trail Sonny finds an unlikely ally in TV reporter Hallie Martin (Jane Fonda - Monster-in-Law) who tracks him down for the scoop and ends up making the journey with him.

Jane Fonda as Hallie Martin in The Electric Horseman

Now on face value "The Electric Horseman" almost feels like a buddy movie, the sort where we have two people forced together and by the end of the movie they have grown to like each other. And at the simplest level that is what this movie is as we watch news reporter Hallie end up travelling with Sonny, a rodeo cowboy who has stolen an expensive horse to give it a better life by letting it go wild. It follows an expected route where initially Sonny and Hallie don't really get on, they end up growing romantically close and along the way there are some humorous exploits. In fact the humour starts before that as we are introduced to Sonny, once a real Rodeo cowboy who sold his soul to advertise a breakfast cereal and now is paraded around in garish cowboy costumes as a show pony, and trust me watching Robert Redford in a purple cowboy costume which lights up is funny.

But the unlikely buddy, humour and romance is really just the surface layer of "The Electric Horseman" as this is a movie with depth, not really hidden depth but a movie with meaning and heart. As already mentioned we have Sonny who has basically sold his soul and in a drunken state of self loathing goes from one town to another to put on a show to promote a cereal he doesn't even eat. But when he sees the beautiful race horse, Rising Star, drugged up as part of the cavalcade of promotions it makes him realise what is wrong in his life. As such whilst we have the story of Sonny stealing Rising Star to let him run free this is really a metaphor for Sonny breaking his own bonds and becoming true to himself once again.

And alongside Sonny's story of rediscovering who he really is and doing something about it we also have the awakening of Hallie as the journey makes her realise that there is more to life than getting the story. Hallie's side of things is by no means deep, in fact Sonny's side of this story isn't really deep but they are both uplifting especially as they end up falling for each other.

Now as for the performances well yes Robert Redford is amusing when he is dressed in a garish cowboy outfit but he is at his best as we watch him become the cowboy he once was. There is a real naturalness to watching Redford out in the open with a horse and in many ways it charms you into wanting to be there with him. And then there is Jane Fonda as Hallie and it's a bit of a mixed bag, the tender scenes she shares with Redford are great, you get a real sense that there is a real fondness there. But then whilst Fonda tries to play it tough she's not quite believable as a go getting reporter.

What this all boils down to is that "The Electric Horseman" is a pleasant little movie which does manage to mix urban western with romantic comedy and a deeper heart felt message. It's not the most memorable of movies but not a bad way to spend a wet afternoon with nothing else to do.