Comes a Horseman (1978): Alan Pakula’s Western, Starring James Caan, Jane Fonda, Jason Robards, Richard Farnsworth

In the western Comes a Horseman, the leads are played by Jason Robards and Jane Fonda, but it’s Richard Farnsworth who steals the show in an Oscar-nominated role.

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The film was based on an original script Comes a Horseman Wild and Free.

In this tale, directed by Alan Pakula (who led Fonda to an Oscar-winning performance in “Klute”), Robards plays Ewing, the owner of a ranch right next to the ranch of Ella (Fonda).  Ewing wants to grab most of the land around, including Ella’s ranch.

We learn that, as a younger woman, Ella slept with Ewing, which she now considers a mistake.

Then, oil companies begin pressuring both of them to allow drilling on their land, but Ewing won’t allow it.

Soon, war-vet Frank (James Caan) enters Ella’s life and helps her fight to save her land, with help from Dodger (Richard Farnsworth), an old, experienced man.

On August 18, 1977, stuntman Jim Sheppard was killed while doing a scene where Robards’ character is dragged to (presumably) his death. A horse dragging him veered from its course and caused Sheppard to hit his head on fence post. The scene made it into the movie, but it is cut right before the horse passes through the gate where the fatal accident occurred.

The movie was not popular at the box-office.

James Caan as Frank “Buck” Athearn
Jane Fonda as Ella Connors
Jason Robards as Jacob “J.W.” Ewing
George Grizzard as Neil Atkinson
Richard Farnsworth as Dodger
Jim Davis as Julie Blocker
Mark Harmon as Billy Joe Meynert
Macon McCalman as Virgil Hoverton
Basil Hoffman as George Bascomb
James Kline as Ralph Cole
James Keach as Emil Kroegh


Directed by Alan J. Pakula

Written by Dennis Lynton Clark

Produced by Gene Kirkwood, Dan Paulson

Cinematography: Gordon Willis

Edited by Marion Rothman

Music by Michael Small

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: October 25, 1978
Running time: 118 minutes
Budget: $10-12 million
Box office: about $10 million