Friday, May 13, 2011
From the Rental Vault (1968): Will Penny
Will Penny is one of those movies, and Heston was supposed to have said the 1968 Western was one of his favorite roles. He plays the title character, an aging cowboy whose search for work during the off-season of cattle drives lands him watching a herd overseen by Alex (Ben Johnson). Penny finds his cabin occupied by Catherine Allen (Joan Hackett) and her son Horace, abandoned by their guide on their trip through the mountains. With it being winter, the pair have no chance of crossing the mountains alive and have squatted in the cabin against ranch foreman Johnson's direction.
Over the course of the winter, Penny and Charlotte grow close, and Horace awakens a fatherly side the cowhand didn't know he had. But a family of oddballs, led by the wildly loony Preacher Quint (Donald Pleasance), have also crossed paths with Penny before and figure he owes them for the family member he killed. They will force a showdown before things can settle.
Heston, himself in his mid-40s when the movie was made, captures Penny's ambivalence between the nomadic only life he's ever known how to live and his desire for family and roots brought to the front by Charlotte and Horace. And he leaves enough unsaid in his performance that at the end, the viewer doesn't really know whether Will Penny is a man of strength or a coward. It's definitely some of Heston's best work and quite a bit more worthy of an Oscar than was his role in Ben-Hur, as good as that was (And given that Cliff Robertson's Charly and Peter O'Toole's Henry II of The Lion in Winter were in the running, it would have been an unlikely win anyway).