Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Bronco Billy:" Adventures of a kinder and gentler and slightly deranged Clint

Title: Bronco Billy
Released: 1980
Genre: Pretend cowboys on the road
Notable for: Putting the beat in offbeat
Coolest thing Clint does: Throws knives at Sondra Locke

Neither of us ever watched "Bronco Billy" and we never wanted to watch it. We feared Clint disgraced himself a little with this movie.

Low expectations are well earned. Here is the entire Netflix description: "A ragtag troupe of misfits led by Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) perform their hearts out as members of a fly-by-night Wild West show. Billy inspires his entertainers, including Doc Lynch (Scatman Crothers) and Lefty LeBow (Bill McKinney), as they wow crowds with lassos, knife throwing and sharpshooting. Then stranded heiress Antoinette Lilly (Sondra Locke) becomes Billy's assistant, and soon the two are squabbling, scuffling and falling in love."

It sounds bad enough to make a grown man puke.

So we loaded down with Mexican food-like material from Taco Bell and resolved to endure the movie as an inescapable part of the sacred experience that is The Clint Eastwood Project.

Perhaps it does not say much, but "Bronco Billy" is better than we — or anyone with testicles — had a right to expect.

No doubt, this movie is way offbeat for Clint. It must have been hugely disappointing to anyone who entered a theater expecting another silent-tough-guy western. Clint is good with guns, and thwarts a bank robbery, and he handles himself well in a bar fight. But the story is no western and Clint is no tough guy.

For a while, we were puzzled by Clint's character and his "ragtag troupe." First we thought they might be con men, but that was wrong. Then we suspected they were semi-retarded. This was wrong, too. Or at least mostly wrong.

As the story evolves, viewers realize Clint seems weird because he is sincerely but oddly good-hearted and idealistic. He calls people "Pard" and "buckaroo" and tells children to finish their oatmeal. Induced to say grace at an orphanage where his troupe is putting on a free show, Clint asks God to help the orphan cowboys and cowgirls "so they don't get tangled up with hard liquor and cigarettes."

"Clint is mildly deranged," Andrew correctly concluded.

Deep into the movie, it is revealed that Clint and most of his troupe are ex-cons who dream of a better life in the world of cowboy movies from their childhood.

We won't bother to explain the side story of Clint's romance with the bony Sondra Locke because it is predictably disappointing.

Our biggest surprise in "Bronco Billy" is we actually grew fond of the characters. By his standards, Clint's character has an extravagant dose of backstory. We learn he grew up in New Jersey and was a shoe salesman until he shot his cheating wife and did seven years in prison. He dreams to save enough money so he and his troupe can buy a ranch and live real cowboy lives.

Perhaps Clint was encouraged by the success of "Every Which Way But Loose" to think audiences were ready to see him be a nice guy. That's the best explanation for "Bronco Billy."

Clint must have feared his fans were too dense to appreciate the upbeat nature of "Bronco Billy," because he had one character explain the film's message in short sentences.

"Don't you understand what Bronco Billy and the wild west show are all about?" the character asks Locke. "You can be anything you want. All you have to do is go out and become it."

There is nothing wrong with that message, even if it sounds alarmingly close to dime-store psychology someone like Dr. Phil might dispense.

Next up: "Any Which Way You Can."

1 comment:

  1. Let's not forget that "Bronco Billy's" soundtrack gave us another helping of Singin' Clint! "Bar Room Buddies" (the immortal duet with Merle Haggard) was a hit single when it was released in the spring of 1980, eventually hitting #1 on the Billboard country chart.