Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Good wins in "Horseman"

Cleveland Press December 22,1979

A generation ago, this picture would have been made by director Frank Capra. Someone like Barbara Stanwyck would have been the big city reporter and maybe Gary Cooper the small-town guy. Any one of a number of fine character actors would have played the corporate villain.

Like those Capra movies, "The Electric Horseman" is a film in which goodness and the little guy triumph.

He's not only loaded with electricity but with booze, a mark of self scorn for a life he professes to like.

He affects a good ole boy image that masks a streak of native shrewdness that develops as the movie rolls on. In lesser hands, this might not have worked, but Redford is skillful, especially at lowkey nuances.

He's only one of a number of hucksters working for a conglomerate. At a Las Vegas corporate gathering covered by the media, he discovers that a thoroughbred stallion (the corporate symbol) has been pumped full of sedatives, steroids and pain killers.

The discovery is enough to trigger latent resentment. Set to appear on stage with chorus girls, both horse and rider electrified, he gallops along "he runway, through the casino and out into the Las Vegas streets, just another incongruous part of the flashing night scenery.

In "The Electric Horseman," Robert Redford is a cowboy and Jane Fonda a TV commentator. The picture is is a pleasant affair, one that sends you out of the theater feeling good.

It's not as sentimental as those old Capra films, nor so melodramatic or funny either. Life has grown more complicated and so have the movies.

Not only complicated but complex and nowhere is this more apparent than in Sonny Steele, the ex-rodeo rider played by Redford.

Steele is celebrated and wealthy but only a smiling shell of the champion he once was. He's now huckstering breakfast food, his face peering out of cereal boxes and posters.

He opens shopping centers, appears at conventions, gallops around stadiums at halftime wearing a purple suit studded with tiny light bulbs. The lights go down and he lights up.

His plan is to get the horse as far from civilization as possible and turn him loose after nursing him back to health. Corporate brass call it grand larceny and law enforcement officials are turned loose.

Steele is tracked down by Hallie Martin (Jane Fonda), the TV reporter, who has already earned his resentment by needling him with questions that have no purpose except to get a rise out of him.

They fight, they have a truce and eventually they fall in love during a trek through Nevada and Utah.

The story is slight and the development is leisurely. Fonda and Redford were obviously interested in the material because of their own personal philosophies but both are professional enough to put entertainment first in making the movie.

The two are extremely good, with Redford -- in his first movie in four years -- galloping away with most of the honors.

Director Sydney Pollack has paced the movie with enough high points to keep it moving, dropped in one exciting sequence as horse and rider evade cops on motorcycles and in squad cars in a fancy chase scene.

In spite of the film's advance hype, the Redford -- Fonda pairing does not result in electrical romantic moments. It's just as well. They would have thrown out of balance a nicely and professionally made movie.