The Rounders (1965)
From the names above the title to those that appear unbilled, the cast alone is enough to recommend this farcical tale from director Burt Kennedy of two aging cowhands who get caught up in moonshine whiskey, shady dealings, girls and most importantly, an old Roan horse.
Kennedy did double duty on this MGM release. He not only directed the film but also scored the screenplay credit. Our modern day saddle tramps are played by two veterans of the western genre. Glenn Ford in the dominant role and Henry Fonda serving as his sidekick. They’re a couple of good ole’ boys who just can’t say no to Chill Wills who continually hires them on as bronc riders and through winters at an isolated cabin to gather stray cattle. This time around there’s a Roan horse in the corral just waiting to be tamed.
That horse is soon to become Glenn’s nemesis for the balance of the film in what amounts to a love/hate relationship from Glenn’s point of view. Glenn just can’t stay atop of this wild horse no matter how determined he is. The falls the two actors continually take from the Roan and other horses in the corral are well staged and spliced together with the real falls that I’m sure the stunt men were subbing in on.
“We ain’t the smartest cowboys who ever lived.”
This from Glenn after the pair are convinced by Wills to take the winter job. It’s on the way to the remote cabin they’ll renew a casual romance with the Freeman gals. Joan and Kathleen. The pair are playing sisters who’s father, Edgar Buchanan, is a wizard with his moonshine still. Glenn and Henry figure on trading the Roan for 8 jugs to hold them through the winter. The deal almost works but it won’t be long before Edgar shows up at the cabin with the Roan demanding the return of his whiskey jugs. Apparently the horse wasn’t cooperative when old Edgar attempted to ride him.
And so begins the long winter months of isolation that finds the pair roping steers and cows that have been grazing in the Arizona countryside. Now all they really have to contend with is the Roan who continues to throw Glenn at the most inopportune times and an unbilled Warren Oates. Unbilled??? Oates has also been gathering strays and his methods don’t meet with Glenn’s approval which puts the pair at odds. As the star player Glenn will win out and the punishment he dishes out to Oates is most suitable.
From old pal Denver Pyle turning up to the arrival of spring, the boys are determined to break away from the underhanded Chill Wills. They’ll even take the old Roan horse in lieu of some wages owed to them and they’re off to the Sedona rodeo where they intend to enter the Roan and lay bets that not a single cowboy can ride him. While at the rodeo you may recognize the announcer in the broadcast tower. It’s none other than Barton MacLane. Then there’s the “fun girls” they’ll pick up to add some comical shenanigans to their crashing the town played by Sue Ane Langdon and Hope Holiday. All I can say about their appearance is to remember when one goes skinny dipping in the fish hatchery don’t forget to grab your clothes while making a fast getaway when the game warden comes a calling.
While there is very little plot going on in this 84 minute comedy, it’s the film’s charm that makes it a winner. This starts from the top with Glenn and Henry. As a fan of the western I’m struck by one thought each and every time I see Glenn Ford atop a horse in his cowboy duds. Was there ever an actor who was better suited to a cowboy movie? John Wayne, Randolph Scott or even Ben Johnson? I’m not so sure. As for Henry, his role as second fiddle to Glenn almost serves as a precursor to the role he’d play alongside James Stewart in The Cheyenne Social Club released in 1970. Minus the chatter.
Long time pals off screen, this was the first pairing of Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda for movie audiences to enjoy. They’d make one more film together in 1976. The star studded Midway serving as real life background Naval officers to leading man Charlton Heston. While I never spotted them, the star’s offspring Peter Fonda and Peter Ford supposedly appear in the backdrop during The Rounders.
Buried somewhere among the many western themed TV shows of the 60’s are apparently 17 episodes of the spin off TV series of the same name. Chill Wills returned in the same role while Ron Hayes subbed for Glenn and Patrick Wayne assumed Henry’s role. Might be nice to see these turn up via Warner Archives or Timeless Media who have put out plenty of forgotten western themed shows of the past. Burt Kennedy would also direct the first episode of the series before getting back to directing feature films.
Kennedy is primarily remembered as a western director though he did step into modern settings on occasion. One of which was his next film following The Rounders. The Money Trap, a crime drama in which he reunited with Glenn. Kennedy would re-enlist Henry for an offbeat 1967 western, Welcome to Hard Times. Before he began his directing career on titles including The War Wagon and Support Your Local Sheriff, Kennedy also penned screenplays for a number of Randolph Scott westerns in the late 1950’s. In his enjoyable memoir, Trail Boss, Kennedy claims the only star he ever discovered during his Hollywood years was the Roan horse used for the first time in this film who went on to appear in a number of movies in the years ahead.
Now considering I’m about to suggest you take the time and watch this enjoyable modern day western with two pros in the lead roles, I’d like you to repeat the line that Henry often says when Glenn makes his mind up for what the pair should next get involved in…..
My line…. “I think we should all sit down and watch The Rounders next chance we get whether it’s on TCM or we put on the DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.”
and as Henry says …. “Whatever suits you just tickles me plum to death.”