Peckinpah's Hogue's a Rogue
As a fan of the western genre it would be fair to say that sometimes one western starts to merge with the next as familiar storylines and cliche scenes crop up time and again. It's usually at this point, when I start to get the negative feelings that many people have about westerns that I reach for a Sam Peckinpah western because you know you are going to get something different and usually very special. Special is a good way to describe "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" because whilst a western with a storyline which has a cliche revenge element it's also not a western but a fun and fascinating look at characters as the face of the West changed. It also features a brilliant performance from Jason Robards as the titular Cable Hogue as well as having the style and depth of Sam Peckinpah stamped all over it. To put it simply if you think all westerns are the same you've never seen "The Ballad of Cable Hogue".
Having been double-crossed by his partners Taggart (L.Q. Jones) and Bowen (Strother Martin), Cable Hogue (Jason Robards - Once Upon a Time in the West) is left for dead in the middle of the desert with no horse, no food and no water. But following days of stumbling and pleading with God Cable comes across some water, the dirtiest patch you will ever see but coming bang in the centre of the stage coach run between two towns and the ony water for miles around it not only saves Cable's life but gives him an idea. Before long he has turned that dirty patch of water into a full blown watering hole where he has his home and even serves food to the stagecoaches which stop by. He even has a woman in his life, Hildy (Stella Stevens - The Nutty Professor), the whore with a heart from the nearby town and together they live a rather unorthodox and loving life. But with Cable wanting revenge on his former partners and with the face of the West changing it seems like happiness may not last forever.
One of the strengths of "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" is that it is a movie which works on two levels with the first of these being purely to entertain. And the tale of Cable Hogue is entertaining as it starts of almost cliche like as he is left for dead in the middle of the desert by his double crossing partners, it immediately brings with it the cliche revenge storyline as Cable vows to get his own back on them one day. But whilst it may start of as a western cliche it quickly evolves into something more as we watch Cable find water and turn the dirty patch of water in the midst of nowhere into a flourishing business. At the same time we watch as whilst he chooses to live away from town he still embraces civilized world but on his terms. And then this story evolves as he falls for prostitute Hildy and has a rather unorthodox relationship with her before it almost comes full circle as Cable gets to confront his double crossing partners.
The way it all evolves makes "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" so entertaining with plenty of humour but also delivering a look at the changing face of the West where Cable represents the old fashioned way of life trying to continue in the changing world. But none of it is heavy handed; this isn't some preachy look at how the west was ruined when horseless carriages showed up but very much a comical look. And it's also a strange one as we watch love grow between Cable and Hildy as she feels he treats her like a lady but unwittingly he still ends up using her like every other man. It is in fact surprisingly touching, this relationship which forms but again also very comical with a rather strange but fun almost musical montage which represents their growing love.
But then there is another side to "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" as it has a greater depth and almost seems to be Peckinpah telling us the story of his life. As such in many ways Cable represents Peckinpah one of the last free spirits battling the system and control placed upon him by the studios and producers. Cable's relationship with Hildy also seems to represent how Peckinpah related to women, that he loved them but didn't know how to treat them properly. And then there is the outcome of Cable's life which almost seems to suggest that Peckinpah is saying that when his time comes it will come on his terms and he will be ready for it. And to be honest I am just skimming the surface as almost every single scene seems to say something about Peckinpah be it his relationship with God, his volatile nature, his free willed, wild spirit and so much more. But whilst there is this depth to "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" you don't need to recognize it to enjoy it as purely a piece of fantastic entertainment.
Alongside Peckinpah's very personal as well as fun direction there are also a string of good performances. Whilst on paper Stella Stevens' Hildy may sound like the cliche whore with a heart who grows fond of Cable, Stevens makes her far more interesting, making her a free spirit as well and a comical one at that. David Warner is just as interesting as the very strange Preacher Joshua who has an uncontrollable love of the female form, giving the movie some of the most memorable and at times disturbing scenes. And whilst they may only be in supporting roles when you have Strother Martin, Slim Pickens and L.Q. Jones you have actors who bring a lot of character to their performances.
But at the centre of all of this is Jason Robards as Cable Hogue and it is such a brilliant performance from Robards that you get the entertainment but you also get the sense that he is playing Peckinpah. From his dirty look to his comical way of dealing with people you just can't take your eyes off of him and whilst wild, unruly and willing to kill you take Cable into your hearts because of how Robards plays him, almost like an old rascal but one which is both more loveable and more dangerous. There is never a dull moment when Robards is on the screen and as he must be in 99% of the scenes it means you have a movie which keeps your attention from start to finish.
What this all boils down to is that "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" is a very special movie and not only one of Peckinpah's most interesting but also most accessible. If all you want is for some western action but with a difference it will not fail to entertain but for those who want more it has depth to it with Cable Hogue seeming to represent Peckinpah himself with his unorthodox ways of fighting the system.