Somewhere back in the ancient past–the late 1970s, I reckon–I went to a theater and saw a modern-day western called “Comes a Horseman.” It is a horsey melodrama with what on paper looks like a terrific cast: Jason Robards as a grasping, off-his-rocker land baron; Jane Fonda as his hard-as-nails rival and one-time paramour; and a young-ish James Caan as the World War II vet just looking to rope a few cattle and breathe free on his own spread in God’s country. (Hard to believe I don’t write this stuff for a livin’, ain’t it?) Alan Pakula, whom I believe directed Fonda in the perhaps much overrated “Klute,” helmed this feature.
However, the movie’s script doesn’t live up to its cast,r and some truly dark bad-guy moments are wasted in a swirl of flames, smoke, and gunfire. In fact, the denouement rolls by so fast and the story ends so abruptly and on such an empty note that it feels like the filmmakers ran out of film and told everyone to go home. Which is why there’s not much reason you’d have heard of “Comes a Horseman.”
One thing about the movie stuck with me all these years, though, and made me want to see it again. Richard Farnsworth plays Fonda’s ranch hand, character by the name of Dodger. His performance is natural and unadorned and is marked by an honest sentimentality. Though he’d been in movies for decades as a stuntman and supernumerary–I see that he’s listed with an uncredited part in the Marx Brothers’ “A Day at the Races” in 1937, for goodness’ sake–this movie launched a pretty decent late film career for him. For Farnsworth alone, “Comes a Horseman” is worth a spot in your Netflix queue.