Forgotten Films: Monte Walsh (1970)
One of the many forgotten films from the year 1970 remains MONTE WALSH, starring Lee Marvin, Jack Palance and Jeanne Moreau. This little-seen western directed by the brilliant cinematographer William A. Fraker is one of the handful of elegiac cine-odes to the dying days of the cowboy. A typically 70’s character study punctuated by violence, MONTE WALSH tells the story of a pair of ranch pardners, Lee and Palance, as they find themselves at the end of the century and the beginning of a new one. “I wish I knew more than cowboyin'” one character says after finding himself out of a ranch job. That line fairly sums up the film’s theme.
Buttressed by one of John Barry’s most beautiful scores, with an ironic theme song called “The Good Times Are Comin'” by, yes, Mama Cass, the film isn’t the typical 1970 tonal downer as reflective of the era. There’s sadness and longing, but there’s a little hope and humor by the finale. Lee Marvin is fantastic, one of his best movie characters, and Jack Palance has never been more appealing in a nice guy role. And I defy you not to shed a tear when Marvin takes a long stroll through a dying western town soundtracked by Barry’s bittersweet music. Sadly, the lush widescreen photography has been reduced to a half-image on Fox’s piss-poor VHS release with
no DVD in sight (happily rectified with a recent Paramount widescreen release). As Palance says, “You can’t be a cowboy forever…”