He really has become a legend among character actors.
Fonda: Well, for all those people who are fans of Warren Oates, it’s called the “Collector’s Edition…”
Bloom: This sequence of mine that Peter and Frank tease me about, which isn’t in the film…I finally have come around to agreeing with them about why it isn’t there. But one of the reasons I miss it is because of what Oates has to do. I’m not in the damn sequence, I’m only there at the very beginning…
Which sequence is this?
Fonda: This is when Arch is going to leave. It’s preceded by he and I and Larry Hagman as the town sheriff, after the shootout at the saloon. Hagman tells Arch all he’s gonna do is attract people who’ll try to prove they’re better and faster, and he wants him to leave.
Bloom: But there’s something else. I won’t tell people specifically what it is, because hopefully that will get them interested in the “Collector’s Edition,” which has this missing sequence in it. But it has to do with Warren and why he has to leave – that’s all I will say.
Did Universal express any commercial hesitation about cutting that sequence, since Hagman was a big TV star?
Fonda: No, we lost that in the first cut. But Universal had to put it back in for television, because of the other stuff they cut having to do with Verna’s character being a forthright woman…
Bloom: They cut out a lot of things, and then ended up coming in short for the time slot.
Fonda: They also found it too violent. They actually took out one gunshot you didn’t see, only heard – the picture fades to white! You never even saw the shot originally. But then they added in the whole saloon shootout, so they’d actually put more violence into the film!
Speaking of the violence – it’s so unusually presented, with Severn Darden getting shot in the feet, the agonizing way that Dan dies. The gunshots really hurt in this film.
Fonda: My thought on that is very clear: if you expect it, you accept it. If you see the Duke at one end of the street and Clint at the other end, you know lead’s gonna fly. So the only question left to ask is how come he’s casting eight shadows and there’s only one sun, right? But if the violence is unexpected, then it’s unacceptable. I knew Dan was gonna die, and there was all this forecasting that he was gonna “come apart in his own hands,” so to speak…he dies first. He’s innocence.
The next thing up was the whole sequence that we cut, the shootout in the bar. It was a beautiful sequence, by the way, but we needed to keep the story inside the triangle of Hannah, Harry and Arch. These three people, this was the dynamic – not the town and not the big shootout. But even at the end, it doesn’t take too many shots before I’m down. It’s very sudden, it’s very fast.
How did the film go from being “Rated GP,” that old rating from back in the day, to now being an R?
Fonda: Well, Frank and I have been over that dead cat for a while. As long as Wal-Mart doesn’t have a problem releasing an R film, let it go R because those people in the age range as film buffs and buyers will be more inclined to look at it. We need to have those people – that’s our true group. If others who are in the younger generations want to see a Western, then they can have their minds blown, too.
Speaking of minds being blown – I assume you had seen “Perfomance” in advance of hiring Frank.
Fonda: Oh, yeah.
“The Hired Hand” has a very European, but also druggy, trippy feel at times. I know you weren’t wasted when you were shooting, but –
Fonda: I can promise you, man, you don’t smoke a doob or do anything before you go into the editing room – you can’t do that kind of work when you’re wrecked. You’ll just end up stretching the film perfs!
Mazzola: The few times I smoked dope and tried to cut, I couldn’t do anything but just look at the film. I’d sit back and think about it. Can’t cut at all when I’m stoned.
Fonda: It’s an interesting question because of that time, what was going on in the country, kids experimenting with drugs and all that.
Did you have gangs of hippies showing up visiting the set?
Fonda: Not too many. Keith Carradine came and visited for while.
Bloom: I think there were more than you remember. There was one day when a whole bunch came around, and one of the girls had a baby with her. It was during our lunch break – that’s when they would come, so they could eat. This girl came over to me, didn’t ask or anything, and just dropped the baby in my arms and went off to get lunch! I had no idea who she was. But everybody was very friendly, and they weren’t around all the time, so it had no effect whatsoever on what we were doing.
Mazzola: For my part, everyone assumed that because of “Performance” and “The Hired Hand” I must have been doing acid or mescaline. And I did take acid and mescaline – but only after, to see what they were talking about. It was a weird time…
Fonda: I can verify that!