Hearts of the West (1975): Howard Zieff’s Tribute to B-Westerns, Starring Jeff Bridges

As sharply written by Bob Thompson and vigorously directed by Howard Zieff, “Hearts of the West” pays tribute to the B-Westerns of yesteryear with wit and good humor.

The young and handsome Jeff Bridges, on the heels of his success in “The Last Picture Show,” is credibly cast as Lewis Tater, a aspiring novelist who dreams of becoming the next Zane Grey, the famous author of Western sagas (many of which were made into Hollywood movies). Is he a fantasist or just delusional?

The movie, boasting some of the best actors around (Alan Arkin, Andy Griffith, Donald Pleasance, Blythe Danner), is vastly entertaining and occasionally even smart, but for some reason, it was a failure, never finding its audience.

Set in the 1930s, the plot kicks in when Tater arrives in Nevada to seek out the correspondence school that has “graduated” him. After learning that he’s been taken to the cleaners by crooks, he stumbles onto a threadbare film-unit making “B” westerns.

The eccentric unit manager Kessler (Alan Arkin) gives him a job and our lucky fellow then falls in love with the charming script girl Miss Trout (the beautiful Blythe Danner, also known as Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother) .

Assisted by the older stunt man, Howard Pike (Andy Griffith, well cast), Tater fends off the correspondence-school crooks, who then go after him, demanding the money that he had stolen from them.

Playing with (and against) genre expectations, “Hearts of the West” never takes itself more seriously than it needs to, and it cleverly asks the audience to join in the joyous ride.

Just watch the scene in which Griffith outsmarts the crooks by dressing up as a movie star, while using a prop gun.

In the film’s opening, we see the MGM logo in black and white and listen to the lion’s three roars.

Despite critical support, the movie was not successful commercially. Howard Zieff scored big with the 1980 military service comedy, “Private Benjamin,” starring Goldie Hawn

Credits

MPAA: PG.
Running time: 102 Minutes.
Directed by Howard Zieff
Written by Rob Thompson