The Hired Hand
Peter Fonda's gorgeous and meditative western from 1971 gets a much-deserved Blu-ray release from Arrow Video
Following the trailblazing success of Easy Rider in 1969, Peter Fonda was given free rein to do whatever he wanted with his next project. The film that he produced – a slow-burning, meditative western defying all conventions of the genre – hardly met Universal's expectations, and their disdain for Fonda's approach is evident in the way they recut the film against his wishes for broadcasts on NBC.
Since its restoration in 2001, however, The Hired Hand has slowly been accruing new fans and earning its status as one of the great masterpieces of the New Hollywood era. Vilmos Zsigmond (who also shot McCabe & Mrs. Miller in this breakthrough year) creates hauntingly beautiful images that are assembled in a dreamlike manner by editor Frank Mazzola, and the seductive, singular score by Bruce Langhorne adds another distinctive layer of richness to the film.
But the film's most impressive feature is its cast, with Fonda, Warren Oates and Verna Bloom building a complicated, touching, subtle triangle of longing and regret. In particular, Bloom's character is one of the most fascinating women to ever appear in this traditionally male-dominated genre, with her expression of sexual desire to her long-departed husband being just one of The Hired Hand's many audacious and unforgettable moments.
Arrow's Blu-ray looks and sounds wonderful, and the film is complemented by a superb array of extra features. An hour-long Sundance Channel documentary from the time of the restoration covers the film's production in detail, with Bloom's tears as she recalls working with Warren Oates encapsulating the affection all involved had for that gret actor. This emotion carries through into Fonda's engaging and thoughtful commentary, where he divides his time between explaining the symbolic meaning behind his choices, sharing anecdotes, and heaping praise on his collaborators. (“Love ya, Vilmos!”)