U.K.-based indie distributor Arrow Films brings new life to director/star Peter Fonda's 1971 film The Hired Hand, Fonda's directorial debut that took the actor away from many of the alternative-themed films he'd become known for and into the world of the great American Western, a genre more associated with his acclaimed father, Henry Fonda.
In the film, Fonda plays Harry, a man who abandoned his wife and child in favor of a journey through the wide open plains alongside best friend Archie (Warren Oates). However, he grows tired of life on the road and sets out to return to his wife a full 10 years later. It's an encounter with a villain by the name of McVey (Severn Darden) that gives the film its action, especially after the not quite forgiving villain is injured during the encounter.
The Hired Hand, despite being a Western, has a lot of the same meditative, spiritual qualities of a good majority of Fonda's acting work at the time. It's a film that unfolds patiently, Bruce Langhorne's folky, low-key instrumentals serving as a companion to the film and adding to the film's quiet, atmospheric quality.
By the time McVey exacts his revenge by means that won't be divulged here despite the film's age, it's pretty clear that what unfolds in The Hired Hand is going to play out with more introspection than drama as Vilmos Zsigmond's lensing paints a poetic portrait that seems more concerned with style rather than substance.
Oates picked up a couple of award nominations for the film as supporting actor, first from the National Society of Film Critics and finally from the New York Film Critics Circle. The kudos are deserved, Oates being a true stand-out in a film never quite lands as Fonda truly intended.
In this release from Arrow Films, The Hired Hand gets a wealth of extras including:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by Universal
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM Audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary by actor-director Peter Fonda
• The Return of The Hired Hand, a 2003 documentary containing interviews with Fonda, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, composer Bruce Langhorne, actor Verna Bloom and others
• Deleted scenes
• The Odd Man, Charles Gormley and Bill Forsyth’s 1978 documentary portrait of Scottish screenwriters, including Alan Sharp [Blu-ray exclusive]
• Interview with Martin Scorsese
• Warren Oates and Peter Fonda at the National Film Theatre, an audio recording of the actors’ appearance at the NFT in 1971
• Stills gallery
• TV spots
• Radio spots
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips
It's a terrific extras package for a rather mid-range film, perhaps worth owning even for Fonda's top notch audio commentary and for an interview with Martin Scorsese that is informative and entertaining. For more information on the film, visit the Arrow Films website linked to in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic