The film Monte Walsh turned 50 this year. Like so many fine Westerns of its time, it was about the end of the Western era, but unlike most, it wasn’t about outlaws, like The Wild Bunch, or gunfighters, like The Shootist. It was about hardworking, honest cowboys, typified by Monte (Lee Marvin) and Chet (Jack Palance), whose world was disappearing before their eyes as ranches merged into vast tracts controlled by faceless syndicates, their assets to be stripped. Its relevance has only grown with the years.
Critic Roger Ebert gave it four stars, but cautioned, “This may be the first three-handkerchief Western.” It is by turns uproarious, sweet, wistful, contemplative, exciting, tragic, and suspenseful. Monte Walsh got made because producer Bobby Roberts wanted to make a movie with his Malibu neighbor Lee Marvin, asked Marvin’s girlfriend Michelle Triola for a suggestion, and she said Monte Walsh.
The rambling Monte Walsh novel was not the obvious Hollywood home run that author Jack Schaefer’s tight and taut Shane had been. It’s more a collection of character sketches than a story, and screenwriters Lucas Heller and David Zelag Goodman surgically isolated the best vignettes to create a plot.
Marvin, a decorated World Wat II Marine, a star “heavy” since 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, became a leading man with his Oscar-winning comedy performance in 1965’s Cat Ballou.
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