#82 - The Ballad of Cable Hogue (Sam Peckinpah)

A Man and His Hole in the Ground

So this is what a real Sam Peckinpah comedy looks like. When I put on “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” I expected a straight up western and the idea of a Sam Peckinpah comedy never really crossed my mind. But it’s not like Peckinpah doesn’t know how to play with comedy, just look at the delicious and subtle black humor of “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” and whatever he was doing in “Convoy”. And "Convoy" is his the closest he ever got to a straight comedy and humor wise that is a very hit and miss film. 

Well I'm glad to say that "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" works splendidly as a comedy even though the  film starts off as anything but a comedy, with our main guy Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) stuck in the middle of some desert and left to die by two associates of his. A very classical set-up for a revenge plot. However when Cable finds a water source the film gradually starts to shift in tone. The encounter that Cable has turn more strange and as the film goes along they become quite hilarious. So this shift to comedy struck me as very gradual and intentional one, and the crucial step towards this shift happened when Cable gets to the town to claim the land around the water, when he meets his love interest Hildy (Stella Stevens) for the first time.

 The editing here is going to either completely turn you off this film or the idea of this film's whacky humor will break through with force. I’m not going to say what the scene is but I have to say that I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s so over the top that it has to be experienced without prior knowledge, and for me Jason Robards is the reason something so potentially tasteless could even work.

Actually Jason Robards is what makes this film work as he is both believable as a tough guy and has surprisingly strong comedic skills. He gives a flat out tough guy performance and greatly balances the manly qualities of his character while also keeping Hogue very funny and very human. And this is a peculiar kind of funny where the comedy comes from the character’s oafish mannerism and blunt social ineptitude, but it’s quite often done with dramatic intent behind it so a lot of the comedy early on could easily be misread as something else entirely. But once you recognize what Robards and Peckinpah are doing it’s very hard not to appreciate it and laugh.

So the main driving force of this film are the actors, the whole cast is wonderful, as they do carry the most of the comedic weight on their shoulders, and even in the somewhat forced fast motion shots it’s their sense of humor that shines through. That would be the only criticism that I’d have for this film, the recurring fast motion shots that serve no real purpose and kind of fail to heighten the comedy.

Otherwise this is a comedy that never undermines the thematic values of its director - it may not be one of Sam Pechinpah’s most important films but it is one of his most pleasant. What strikes me the most is that it seems like a film that is specifically made for the fans of the director himself, as he is open here to subvert his own themes and present them through a new prism. And that's exactly what "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" does the best, while also being a very entertaining film.


Jason Robards - Cable Houge
Stella Stevens - Hildy
David Werner - Joshua
Strother Martin - Bowen
Slim Pickens - Ben Fairchild

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