Friday, August 21, 2015

'Rancho Deluxe' holds up: rootin' tootin' parody is 40 and still frisky

Actor Sam Waterston this summer as Prospero
in "The Tempest," at New York's Shakespeare in the Parks. 




VIEWING ''Rancho Deluxe" again after 40 years is like thumbing through an old, favorite family scrapbook.
It's worn and a bit faded, but it's as welcome as a nightcap after a long day's toil. It stirs memories and inevitable "oohs and aahs." As one friend said, "Everything's good about it -- except that we're all 40 years older."
Watching the 1975 film, we're naturally reminded of our own aging. But so what?
Montana resident Jeff Bridges with his Oscar for "Crazy Heart."

TO CELEBRATE our own memories of the filming of this made-in-Montana relic, we gathered a few friends -- of the same approximate vintage as the actors, most a few years younger. Several of the talented cast has gone to that great performance hall in the sky.  The others have aged well, we agreed.  And we of the audience are holding our own.
So it was an evening of laughter and nostalgia, with familiar scenery, lively Jimmy Buffett music, delightful acting, a script both wise and witty, and plenty of made in Montana humor.
Elizabeth Ashley, left, with the title character
in "Agnes of God" on Broadway in 1984.
PART OF THE pleasure in seeing this charming film four decades later is in having watched the stars succeed in the slippery shadows of show business. I've had the good fortune to interview several of the key players, to attend premiers as film, TV and theater reviewer and to preview their work on Broadway and television.
In the script, written by Montana's Tom McGuane, Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston play a pair of cocky cattle rustlers named Jack McKee (Bridges) and Cecil Colson (Waterston). Elizabeth Ashley plays the female lead of Cora, wife of a wealthy rancher.  She provides many laughs with her caustic asides, closet drinking and smoldering "nobody's fool" attitude. (I've seen her on stage in several Tennessee Williams plays since then, and on Broadway as the psychiatrist in "Agnes of God," and in "August, Osage County." Always a treat to watch this versatile, accomplished actor.)
BRIDGES IS young and baby-faced as a clever misfit, a preview of the roles for which he'd win acclaim in his long career. Waterston is understated and wry as his part-Indian sidekick.
The late Slim Pickens was a real rodeo cowboy and provides
an authentic character in "Rancho Deluxe." 
It's been fun to see Bridges at events in Los Angeles, where he is respected not only for his acting, but for having a strong marriage and successful family life in an environment not known for either trait.
I was delighted to see him win the Oscar for "Crazy Heart."
Waterston is known on TV for his "Law and Order" and Abe Lincoln mini-series.  But I enjoy him more in Shakespeare in the Parks, where this summer his wisdom and wit as the marooned sorcerer Prospero in "The Tempest" won raves.  Like many of today's fine actors, he came up through the stage and is returning to it in his older years. (He is 74; Bridges is a younger 65.)
AS THE THIEVES steal cattle from wealthy rancher John Brown, Harry Beigh is called in (Slim Pickens.) Clifton James is a hoot as the rancher -- the actor is alive and well at 94.  Watching him and Pickens go after the two young rustlers is chief among the movie's pleasures.  The bombastic Brown and Beigh (a former rustler) provide a merry kick in the pants. Enter hapless ranch hands with rhyming names of Burt and Curt: Harry Dean Stanton and Richard Bright furnish giggles as they fail to capture the thieves.
Pickens died in 1983, famous for riding the bomb in "Dr. Strangelove." A rodeo cowboy for 20 years, he's the "real deal" and his is is the most authentic character in the picture. All four supporting players garnered fine reviews for "Rancho Deluxe."
One critic said McGuane wrote the script "purely out of a desire to keep from fallin’ asleep” (mimicking rustler Jack’s definition of capitalism) but our group of movie aficionados found the writing engaging and the characters and their shenanigans entertaining. Best of all, we loved seeing Montana on screen.
The film's beautiful footage of Paradise Valley includes a scene at Chico Hot Springs, and another when the helicopter spots the rustlers. We marveled at the film's lovely lighting by William Fraker and we tapped our toes to the Jimmy Buffet score -- written before he gained Margaritaville fame and a following of Parrotheads.
Downtown Livingston is there, too, and it's fun to see the familiar Depot, restaurants and Murray Hotel, which have aged as well as the actors.
Come visit Paradise Point with us, in San Diego, on picturesque Mission Bay.
                                                                                                    --Bruce Keller photo
PARADISE ON PARADE:  San Diego's  Paradise Point Resort is a place of relaxation, beauty and peace of mind.  Come sailing with us in one of southern California's most desirable locals.  We'll guide you through a calming afternoon on Mission Bay, based from a beautiful 44-acre private island with a mile of sandy beach.  And believe it or not -- one of our favorite resorts is less than seven miles from downtown San Diego and the airport.  Come on over -- and remember to explore, learn and live. Catch us weekends and Wednesdays at

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