It's interesting that The Ballad Of Cable Hogue was made directly after the savage The Wild Bunch as it's pretty far removed from the violence and nihilism of that film, even though it too deals with some of the same themes in a similar western setting.
The titular Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) is left to die out in the harsh desert sun by his two backstabbing partners, Taggart (L.Q. Jones) and Bowen (Strother Martin). The two rats take off with his canteen and his horse and leave him there to fend for himself. Things don't look good for Cable, as he crawls around in the dirt babbling to God above and hoping for some sort of miracle to save his sorry skin, until his prayers are answered and he finds a fresh water spring.
Being a rather sharp cookie with a good head for business, Hogue knows that this spring happens to be just off the wagon trail and that it's a pretty popular path for people to take on their travels. He gathers his wits and sets up a little rest stop where he starts selling water to road weary travelers and soon enough he's built himself a nice little house out there and shacked up with a prostitute named Hildy (Stella Stevens) from the next town over.
Hogue isn't just out to make a quick buck, however. He still wants revenge against Taggart and Bowen and he knows that sooner or later their paths will cross again. After all, he's setup the only shop on one of the most popular wagon trails in the area, and logic would dictate that eventually they'll find their way to his rest stop.
What separates The Ballad Of Cable Hogue from the bulk of 'Bloody' Sam's work is that at its heart, the film is essentially a romantic comedy. Yes, it's set in the last days of the old west just like The Wild Bunch and it deals with prostitutes and tough, grizzled cowboys and all the rough edges that type of life entails but there really is a very obvious sweet side to this movie that we don't really see in any of the director's other films. The relationship between Hogue and Hildy might be a tad unorthodox and the film makes it very clear that the first thing on Hogue's mind isn't Hildy's conversation tactics or her bright insight into world events but they do grow to really love one another despite their seedy origins as a couple.
Things do tense up a fair bit towards the end of the movie when the revenge subplot comes closer to being resolved but even then, there are moments of genuine tenderness and comic relief scattered throughout. Hogue's interactions with a horny preacher man named Reverend Joshua Sloan (David Warner) is interesting as Hogue knows exactly what his game is. In a sense, these two womanizers are cut from the same cloth, and it's not the same cloth that you usually associate with a man of God either. Peckinpah regulars Slim Pickens, R. G. Armstrong and L. Q. Jones show up in the film in various capacities, and the theme of the old west getting even older and riding off into the twilight with the advent of the automobile lingering in the foreground make sure we know that we're still in Peckinpah country, even if we're in a kinder, gentler part of that land. The ending is interesting as, without wanting to spoil it, it does leave certain decisions as to the reality of the events we witness up to the viewer to decide. The movie doesn't spell everything out for us as simply as you might think and the argument could certainly be made that all of this is simply happening in Hogue's mind before he passes on. This adds some darkness to the movie that seems odd against the rather jovial atmosphere and border line slapstick comedy that we get in certain scenes, but that works in that it reminds us of the humanity of the lead character.
Despite plenty of production problems, the firing and hiring of certain crew members and some obvious flaws in the movie, The Ballad Of Cable Hogue remains an excellent film that demonstrates perfectly that there was more to Peckinpah than blood, guts and dope.The Blu-ray:
Warner Archive presents offers up an AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.78.1 widescreen transfer for The Ballad Of Cable Hogue that looks really, really nice. Taken from a new 2k scan of the interpositive, this offers a substantial upgrade in picture quality over the previous DVD release. Some shots still look a bit soft due to the original cinematography but the vast majority of the film looks sharp, nicely detailed and very film like. There's very little print damage here outside of the odd white speck now and then, while skin tones and color reproduction both appear lifelike and natural. The transfer also offers up really strong black levels, nice depth and impressive texture. There's no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement resulting in an impressive film-like image from start to finish.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track also sounds fine. Dialogue stays clean and clear while the track has good balance and remains free of any obvious hiss or distortion. The score also has a surprising amount of depth to it for an older single channel mix. Optional closed captioning is provided in English only, there are no alternate language tracks or subtitles provide for this release.Extras:
Nick Redman moderates a commentary with authors David Weddle, Garner Simmons and Paul Seydor. This is a very active track with a fine sense of friendship and humor running throughout. The four biographers throw ideas back and forth and vary slightly on their personal interpretations of certain scenes and moments in the movie, but this all makes for an interesting discussion of one of the stranger films from Peckinpah's filmography. There's plenty of discussion here as to how the movie fits in Peckinpah's filmography, the performances, some of the stylistic choices in regards to the cinematography and the lighting, the themes that run through the picture and plenty more.
A featurette entitled The Ladiest Damn'd Lady: An Afternoon With Stella Stevens clocks in at just under twenty-seven minutes in length and gives the actress who played Hildy her chance to wax nostalgic about her work on the film and her relationship with Peckinpah. She gives us some interesting background information on her earlier film work and how she came on board for Hogue before delving into her less than flattering views on Peckinpah himself. Stevens does manage to give us some interesting and through provoking comments on her character and explains her take on the movie as well.
Rounding out the extras are a theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
The Ballad Of Cable Hogue represents a slightly gentler Peckinpah but the movie is no less fascinating or entertaining for it and all of the director's trademarks are stamped all over the picture. Wonderfully acted, beautifully shot and plenty though provoking it is indeed a movie well worth seeing and if Warner Archive's Blu-ray release doesn't add any new extras it at least carries over everything from the DVD release and offers fans a substantial improvement in both the audio and video departments. Highly recommended.