With a sprawling and studied work of masculine power under his belt (1969’s The Wild Bunch), a film that was one of the main factors in Peckinpah’s unfair gaining of notoriety as a merciless and violence-obsessed film-maker, Sam proved his skill in more tender and intimate character studies with The Ballad of Cable Hogue, lyrical and modest in comparison to his other infamous works.
Sam Peckinpah stands among Martin Scorsese and Howard Hawks as one of cinema’s greatest philosophers of masculinity, if not the greatest. With the Ballad of Cable Hogue, it does seem glaring that he is clearly less in touch with the realm of the female, but then again; one of the main points of interest in films like Straw Dogs and Ride the High Country is how his male characters treat their women, and the juxtaposition of violence and tenderness. When his male characters show tenderness towards women, his filmic treatment of this actually seems more sexist (in my eyes, the man was never misogynist, although you can decide that for yourself). It’s nice that the majority of characters in this film are generally ‘good’. It’s also nice that some are confusing and dangerously morally dubious.
For a while, The Ballad of Cable Hogue seems to be an odd-one-out in Peckinpah’s catalogue: while the Wild Bunch, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, and Ride the High Country all lament the dying of the Old West and its values, this film displays that the old frontier spirit of work and patience is still existent in the new west (when Peckinpah’s film is set is not clear, though it is still judged as a ‘new/revisionist’ western). Jason Robard’s Cable Hogue and his love, Hildy, are given money by the bank (yes, an honest banker!) to build a home and develop the water well that he found, and build a happy community just outside of town. It seems that the honest frontier ethic is still alive, even when big cities are emerging.
Suddenly, Hildy leaves him to ‘see the big city’ and experience the high life just as his ramshackle development is beginning to thrive, but Cable carries on alone, adamantly. One day Hildy returns (right), looking utterly out of place in her new fancy San Francisco clothes, as if her earlier, simpler life was always drawing her back.
As a brit, I have observed that America is a nation built on technological advancement and committed to urban expansion, but simultaneously a nation that has a deep connection with its simple, wholesome rural past. Peckinpah displays this with the character of Hildy perfectly, a woman that is stuck in the limitations of small town life, and wishes for a brighter, more illustrious one, but still retains an intangible connection with that past life that ultimately draws her back. Note that Hildy returns in a ‘car‘, something completely alien to Cable, and it is this modern advancement that ends up killing Cable (he is run over by the car as he tries to stop it from rolling down a hill). Cable is buried in his proud little establishment, eternally bound from going any further than his dry old desert. American pride isn’t normally associated with melancholia and introspection, but this is a proudly patriotic statement if I’ve ever heard one.
8 Otto-mobeels out of 10