Oscar Movies: Electric Horseman, The (1979)

Decades after first appearing together on screen, in the 1967 comedy “Barefoot in the Park,” Robert Redford and Jane Fonda reunited in this serio romantic comedy, made by Sydney Pollack, Redford’s most frequent filmmaker.

Unfortunately, both are too old to play their parts—by a decade.  Redford plays Sonny Steele, a cowboy-turned-huckster who unexpectedly finds love as he tries to regain his self-esteem.

A one-time rodeo star whose career as a cowboy has ground to a halt, he now makes a living as a spokesman for Ranch Breakfast, a sugar-coated cereal for kids. But as a result of this compromising career, he’s lost self-respect—and identity.

His boss, corporate mogul Hunt Sears (John Saxon), considers him a marketable property rather than a human being, which, among other problems, has made Sonny an alcoholic. When Sears’ cereal company negotiates aa profitable merger with another firm, they bring Sonny to Las Vegas, the Mecca for crass materialism, for a publicity stunt.

Sonny, now reduced to wearing a garish cowboy outfit complete with blinking lights, is scheduled to ride on-stage at Caesar’s Palace aboard prize-winning thoroughbred stallion Rising Star. When Sonny discovers Sears’ men have drugged the horse so that it will be able to walk on an injured leg, he’s appalled, and he rides Rising Star off the stage at Caesar’s and into the Nevada desert, looking for grazing land where he and the horse can heal their wounds.

For his part, Sears shockingly realizes that Sonny has run off with $12 million dollars. He’s also concerned that that Sonny knows too much about the wheeling and dealing, which will damage the reputation of his firm with the media, thus threatening the potentially lucrative merger.

Sears files charges against Sonny and posts a reward for Rising Star’s safe return, suggesting that it’s no big deal  if Sonny dies in the rescue attempt.

Enters Hallie Martin (Jane Fonda), a TVjournalist covering Sonny’s Vegas appearance. Suspicious that not all is right, she catches up with him in the desert, As Hallie tries to get Sonny to tell her his story, the has-been cowboy and the city-girl reporter fall in love.

The secondary cast includes Valerie Perrine and Willie Nelson, the country and Western star in his screen debut.


Oscar Nominations: 1

Sound: Arthur Piantadosi, Les Fresholtz, Michael Minkler, Al Overton

Oscar Award: None


Oscar Context:

The winner of the Sound Oscar was “Apocalypse Now.”