“Kids, you should never kill a man unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Everyone should get to be the hero of their very own Frank Capra movie. This is Clint Eastwood’s, and it’s a fine melting pot of You Can’t Take It With You, It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, with a little bit of Rawhide mixed in to fit it to Clint’s persona that ends with a gloriously touching moment in a tent made up of American Flags sewn by the criminally insane. It’s also a nice wake up call for anybody who hasn’t had the guts or the good sense to live life out as their greatest fantasy.
After my greatest love broke my heart, I wound up on a rickety obscure airline called Mark Air with George Clinton and his P-Funk All Stars. The P-Funk All Stars are this huge band of like twenty strange and wonderful performers and ten roadies, who put on great shows around the country in relatively small halls. I was seated next to this older guy named Grady, who was a backup singer with the band, and I asked him how in the world they could have such a big crew, play such little halls, and make money at the same time. He was blunt. “We don’t make any money”, he said. The show was apparently the thing. Bronco Billy’s crew are a lot like that.
Clint is Bronco Billy McCoy, a former shoe salesman from New Jersey, who did time for shooting his cheating wife in the leg when he caught her sleeping with his best friend. How that makes him eligible to carry two pistols at all times is anyone’s guess. Ask Charleton Heston.
Much like in the Outlaw Josey Wales, Clint’s character eventually winds up playing father to an unconventional family of outcasts most of which he found in jail for some crime they couldn’t really help but commit. The roper is a Viet Nam deserter who Billy took in. As for Scatman Cruthers, who wouldn’t take that guy in? Capra would have killed to have had a Scatman Cruthers to toss into one of his movies. It would have added some color and a few laughs to It’s a Wonderful Life. The family may grouse from time to time, but they all worship Bronco Billy as if he were Jim Jones or something even better. Together they go around the carnival circuit putting on a truly mediocre to bad old West show.
Bronco Billy is an odd salute to those clean hearted good guy cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and Clint manages to revel in the glory of that myth despite the fact that he is probably more responsible for making that kind of Western unworkable in modern cinema than anyone else I can think of. Bronco Billy is the type of guy that holds open doors for old ladies, plays free shows for all the Orphanages and sappily tells kids not to play hooky on a Saturday. The only real romantically affected shot in the film shows Bronco Billy as a huge and impressive silhoutted hero in the eyes of his young fans. Watching the crew perform to twenty or thirty enthusiastic fans a night makes you wonder how in the world they even make enough money to pay for the twelve or so plates Bronco Billy shoots during each show. Early on Bronco Billy foils a bank robbery, while stopping to cash a $3 check. It’s funny because I’ve been in loads of banks in my day and I’ve yet to see a robbery yet it seems to inevitably happen to Clint somewhere in every one of movies. I’ve never seen The Bridges of Madison County but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Clint found a way to shoot a couple of lowlifes in that one too.
Bronco Billy and the show lack just one member. Someone “who can shoot like Annie Oakley, ride like Blaze Starr, and who ain’t afraid of nothing.” Mostly he wants someone who will let him blindfold himself and toss a knife between her legs, while she spins around on one of those big wheels like they have on The Price is Right. Sondra Locke plays Antoinette Lily, the Claudette Colbert part as the hot headed bitchy heiress who gets abandoned mid country by the man she married to cash in on her inheritance, which stipulates that she must marry by the age of thirty. Again does this ever really happen? If you believe movies and television it seems like no one ever leaves money to anyone without such a restriction. Although if I died rich, I suppose I’d feel good after I died knowing that I was forcing my loved ones to do something wacky like shave their heads and become Buddhist Monks.
It seems like Sondra Locke never had much success outside of Clint’s movies. I wonder why no one else ever really used her. She’s ballsy and strong enough to stand up next to Clint’s larger than life presence, and I almost always like her. For some reason though it seems like every one of her characters has either been raped or almost gets raped in the course of the movies. Clint is of that old school where the man tames his lover, which probably doesn’t do much to stop date rape, but always makes for some sterling repartee as Locke is first insulted by his advances and eventually falls for the whole package hook, line and sinker. It’s sad to see movies starring a real life couple after hearing about the nastiness of their inevitable breakups. You’d almost hope they would stay together just so they wouldn’t diminish the magic of their movies.
Anyway, Bronco Billy, unaware of her millions treats her like yet another member of his misfit family. He pretty much decides that she is going to be his assistant, and eventually after a lot of brow beating she decides she likes being called Miss Lily and falls for the whole warped fantasy.
“Are you for real?” she asks.
“I’m who I wanna be.” he says never acknowledging that anyone should ever live any other way.
Like any good Capra movie the group falls on some hard times. Clint has to embarrass himself to a local Sheriff to get the deserter out of jail, and later on Bronco Billy and his crew fail spectacularly in a desperately foolish and hilariously fruitless attempt to rob a freight train with a horse, a few guns, and an archery bow. Chances are nobody on the train even noticed.
In the end Clint will put up with anything except someone who tries to throw a monkey wrench into his little fantasy life. I’m not crazy about guys trolling through the country with a bunch of guns and little more than a shred of a sense of reality, but Bronco Billy is OK with me and God bless Scatman Cruthers wherever he may be.