The Electric Horseman (1979)

Fondathon 4 Text

Now I’ll Choose Your Outfit. Robert Redford in Electric Horseman

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The Electric Horseman is a very old fashioned movie for the 1970s; Its a return to the type of movie made during Hollywood’s more innocent days and could have easily been a vehicle for an actor like Gary Cooper. There’s something about the movie that’s just very wholesome to it from the absence of sex, bad language and the innocent nature from the “that would never happen in real life” plot which hits all the emotional beats. A movie in which you’re rooting for a horse is going to have something inherently innocent about it. Even the opening shot of a running horse is very similar to the opening shot of Sydney Pollack’s earlier film They Shoot Horses Don’t They but they are, tonally, completely different.

The opening montage catalogues the story of rodeo star Sonny Steele (Robert Redford); a rise and fall story which echoes Walter Matthau’s final words in A Face in the Crowd. Sonny, a once legitimate figure is now nothing more than a mascot for a product he doesn’t even use. He is trapped in a world of corporate superficiality; no surprise then that the movie is set in Las Vegas of all places. Even the villains of The Electric Horseman are two dimensional, slimy businessmen who don’t have an ounce of empathy. They are about as cliché as it gets but in an enjoyable love-to-hate way.

Sonny’s horse Rising Star is a metaphor for Sonny himself; the horse’s story is essentially Sonny’s. When he talks about what the horse has been through and its desire to be free, he is talking about himself – A former champion who is leading a pampered life and has become no more than a corporate icon. It’s clear that Sonny has no sex or family, as evident from his recent divorcee just like how Rising Star has been sedated by drugs. Sonny is left with no choice but to try and break free from this existence and set Rising Star (and metaphorically himself) free because anything’s better than the living hell he is currently experiencing.

Jane Fonda’s role as Hallie is a throwback to the fast-talking, Hildy Johnson like news reporter. I also have to question if Fonda’s hairstyle and glasses had any inspiration on the look of the titular character in Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie three years later. The scenes between Redford and Fonda alone in the wilderness are reminiscent of classic screwball comedy in the age-old classic “they hate each other but love in love” scenario. Likewise one of my favourite scenes in the film involves Sonny giving passionate monologue to Hallie about the horses’ mistreatment unaware he’s being recorded. Once he thinks the recording has started he has nothing interesting to say (“He’s one of the great animals…in the history…of animals”). A lesson to filmmakers of any stripe really.

I also imagine the inclusion of Dave Grusin’s Disco Magic probably didn’t help the move when it came out in December 1979; six months after the Disco Demolition Night. However, The Electric Horseman is part of Hollywood’s urban cowboy phase the late ’70s and early ’80s. This oxymoronic combination does give the film one of the most unique action sequences I’ve ever seen as Sonny rides his horse against an onslaught of police cars and motorcycles through a small town (I’d like to see this in Grand Theft Auto).

The ending in which Sonny releases Rising Star into the wild is ridiculous. How long would a champion racehorse survive in the wilderness? It would probably die of starvation and loneliness and certainly not be immediately accepted by a wild herd. But at the end of the day, it still strikes an emotional heartbeat.

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Superman II (1980)

Kneel Before Perfection

Due to the complex and troubled production behind Superman II it seems more likely for it to have been a disaster of a film, yet despite of this I consider Superman II to be the perfect Superman film. While I enjoy the first film, I find Superman II improves on it in so many ways, delivering a more emotionally satisfying film. A rare instance of the perfect combination of cast and crew coming together to create something wonderful. I do feel on the whole Richard Lester is a better director than Richard Donner and after seeing Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut I thought to myself “thank God Donner was fired from this production”. The romance between Lois and Clark is very forced and underdeveloped; there is a lack of humor, and no exaggeration, one of the absolute worst endings I’ve ever seen. I’ll stick with the Richard Lester version.

The actors of all the Christopher Reeve era Superman films have such a great dynamic together that even in a movie as poor as Superman IV I can still enjoy their interactions. Especially the scenes in the Daily Planet offices have such energy to them and even contains a bit of that His Girl Friday feeling to them with Christopher Reeve having a bit of that Cary Grant to his acting DNA; plus you know an actor is perfect for a role when I find myself accidentally referring to the actor as Clark Kent and not Christopher Reeve. But if there’s anyone who steals the show its Terrance Stamp as General Zod. One of those performances which bring me eternal levels of respect to an actor. Every one of his beautiful hammed up, menacing lines I could listen to all day.

The wonderfully kitsch special effects of Superman II just get better with age; give me these charmingly fake effects over eyesore CGI any day (ok I’ll try and avoid a CGI rant). Likewise the 3rd Rock From the Sun type humor such as Zod and his minions mistaking Earth’s name as planet Houston to the visual comedy (Zod walking on water) has some big laughs (as well as that humorous use of product placement during a fight scene for Marlboro Cigarettes and then Coca-Cola only a few seconds later amuses me).

Many people will say Superman is a boring superhero, what tosh! A guy who makes the world a better place for others who can’t enjoy his own life and has to work with the woman he’s madly in love with, but can’t profess it to her. If that’s that tragic then I don’t know what is. Speaking of romance, that is perhaps my favourite aspect of Superman II; the romance between Lois and Clark is perfect. I so badly wanted to see these two get together, two down to earth souls who are too perfect for each other. Margot Kidder’s voice is so emotive and she has that Margaret Sullavan like quality to her. At the film’s most intense romantic moments her tearful pleas kill me.