Antoninette Lilly (Sondra Locke) is a bitch. She's hastily abandoned by her husband (Geoffrey Lewis) during their honeymoon. He leaves her in the middle of nowhere without even enough change to make a phone call. After limping about helpless in the real world for a while, she manages to buddy up with Bronco's Billy's Wild West Show, though griping about it the whole time.
"Are you for real?" Antoinette, soon to be "Miss Lily," wants to know of the titular hero Bronco Billy (1980), & Billy replies, "I'm who I wanna be." Essentially he's not for real, except in his own mind, where it counts.
Billy has no idea this woman is actually wealthy, since she seemed to be a panhandler for whom he's doing a random good deed, despite her protests. He's expecting to be worshipped for his goodness like all the wild west show members worship him. But she can't help it, she's a bitch, & Billy has more than a couple disappointments in store.
Clint Eastwood plays Bronco Billy, a modern-day Buffalo Bill Cody recreating the Cowboy Way in a carnival environment, billing himself as the fastest gun west of the Pecos. He goes about 24/7 being a cowboy right out of the old west, delighting children & convincing adults he's crazy, except he's got showbiz as an excuse to live out a childhood dream.
His collection of wild west performers are all outcasts of one type or another, formerly lonely, but who've been saved by the dream of the wild & wooly west. These folsk include "Doc" Lynch (Scatman Cruthers in one of his best performances); Chief Big Eagle (muscle man Don Vedas who made several Italian gladiator movies) & Lorraine Running Water (Sierra Pecheur) the show's Indians; & roustabount/lasso expert Leonard James (Sam Bottoms) who turns out to have been a decade awol as a Viet Nam resister.
These pure-hearted tramps with their naive dreams of kindness & heroism & chilvarly slowly turn coldhearted "Miss Lily" into a believer. Money never bought her happiness, but kicking around the countryside with a bunch of lunatics has its moments.
The wild west show is having a very hard time making a buck. Billy's struggling outfit fantasizes earning enough money to buy a ranch, where city kids can visit to "learn how cowboys & Indians really live." But they're flat broke doing ill-attended shows in vacant lots or at roadsides wherever a vehicle in their little caravan happens to break down.
Billy's romanticization of the American cowboy is endearing, sweet, & slightly kooky. Antoinette at first sees only the part that's kooky.
But Billly grows on her, though she won't stop being a bitch. He does free shows for orphanages & does all sorts of cowboy good deeds whenever he can, up to & including stopping a bank robbery.
Actually, he might not have interferred with the bank robbers, being kind of partial to losers & freaks to start with, but one of them shouldn't ought to have shoved a little kid & broke the fallen child's piggy bank of pennies. The cowboy way demanded Billy shoot the robbers' guns out of their hands for picking on a child.
Antoinette in her rich-lady life just happens to be a champion skeet shooter & could have become an asset to the show, except that Billy isn't all saint. He needs to be the star. He's hired Antoinette to stand in front of targets, not to steal the show as a modern Annie Oakley.
Meanwhile Antoinette's relatives think she's been muredered by her one-day husband & are greedily moving to take over her millions. It will all work out fine in the long run & hardly worthy of its subplot, as the important part is, when it's all sorted out, she'll have enough money to save the show! Unless proud Billy stays too pissed off to realize he can't always be everyone sole savior.
Sheriff Dix (Walter Barnes) who arrested Lasso Leonard & found out the guy was a wanted draft dodger is willing to let the Leonard go free.
But only if Billy will have an authentic life & death fast-draw showdown with the sheriff! Seems everyone has their private dream of being in the wild wild west, & the sheriff's is the craziest of all.
"Or are you coward like that deserter friend of yours?" asks the sheriff. Billy lets himself be humiliated rather than ruin his life by killing an insane cop. His goal is to get Leonard out of trouble, not get himself in it. But we can't help but hope that the redneck sheriff experiences something punishing.
While coping with the crazy sheriff, Billy misses his show! It's the first time. And to top if off, the tent burns down while he's away, lucky none of the customers were injured. But, well, Lasso Leonard is let go free, not that there's much left to return to.
Amidst the destruction of their show, the crew can't help but be convinced the eternally crabby Miss Lily is their bad-luck charm. They want Billy to get rid of her. And just when her cold heart was beginning to melt, too.
In desparation Billy plans a train robbery, wild west style. His crew are ready for anything. They'd march into Hell for Billy.
They've lived so long inside Billy's dream of the Wild West, robbing a train somehow makes sense to them. It ain't the White Hat cowboy way, but it'll do in a pinch.
Miss Lily is the only one who knows this is crazy, but then, she's a bad luck charm, her opinion doesn't count. Fortunately the train whizzes right by totally unimpressed by the masked riders with guns drawn looking like what they are, escapees from the carnival.
It ain't suspenseful, nor is it hard to see coming from a mile off who's gonna fall in love with who, but the road to that conclusion is damned sweet & entertaining. Bronco Billy does not so much spoof westerns as it celebrates their spirit.
The way by which Bronco Billy creates this alternate family is awfully close to Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), one of Eastwood's finest films & finest performances.
Josey, too, accumulated "characters" & responsibilities along his path until it was necessary to settle down & homestead, pretty much Bronco Billy's life. Exce[t Josey's path is marred by real violence.
With an air of realistism, this is one of the most "romantic west" fantasies of all time, taking the part of the underdog in a world of injustice & racism.
Outlaw Josey Wales is astonishingly good, populated by credible & colorful figures played brilliantly, including by Clint Eastwood in the titular role of a good man descended into darkness & fighting his way, viciously, back toward the light.
Originally a farmer whose family was slaughtered by Jayhawkers raiding the Missouri countryside for the Union, Josey Wales joined "Bloody Bill" Anderson (John Russell as Anderson) & his Confederate bushwackers (guerilla unit) specifically to hunt down & kill those who burned down his farm & murdered his family.
The war ended before his vengeance was completed, but Josey & the bushwackers were nevertheless ready to surrender. But when betrayed by the victors, & himself, the victim, labeled as the outlaw, he set out toward Mexico & a dream of freedom. But the Jayhawkers' cruel leader Captain "Red Legs" Terrill (Bill McKinny) have been assigned to bring Josey to so-called "justice."
As a wanted man, Josey heads west to start life anew, but cannot escape his past.
At every stage Josey encounters people in need: a Navajo girl (Geraldine Keams) abused at a trading post; a young woman (Sandra Locke) & her sure-shot grandmother (Paula Trueman) who Josie saves from from Comancheros; a wry aged Cherokee warrior (Chief Dan George) who doesn't so much believe he needs Josey's help as he assumes Josie will be needing his.
They cross Indian Territory with an arrangement negotiated "between warriors," meaning Josey & Chief Ten Bears (Will Samson), heading for a homestead in Texas with his newly forged family. But he'll also have to train his new family to defend itself, because bad guys are coming.
Despite that Josey's archly the "strong silent type" he manages some of the wittiest one-liners from a script brilliant for its dialogue & characterization.
He is really the opposite of the self-sufficient emotionally blank "man with no name" loner in Sergio Leone westerns. No longer unfathomable, & never intentionally a loner, Josie is an open wound easy to understand.
He's a family man at heart, whose life War & tragic fate has turned to violence, but who, given any opportunity, would be that calm famiy man again.
In the final show-down, the violence rises to a fevered pitch, the ranch having become a stockade assaulted by all the remaining bad-guys. The newly forged family takes its stand in defense of their homestead, climaxing with a final encounter between Terrill & Josey that is just so samurai.
This is a compassionate action film as much about friendship & decency as it is about vengeance & anger. It's also as much a work of art as it is an entertainment -- a monumental film with an epic emotional landscape.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl