Well I just couldn’t end Eastwood week with that stinker Pink Cadillac. Thank goodness there was one instant Eastwood I had not reviewed. Bronco Billy is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Bronco Billy (1980) – Rated PG.
“A ragtag troupe of misfits led by Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) perform their hearts out as members of a fly-by-night Wild West show. Billy inspires his entertainers, including Doc Lynch (Scatman Crothers) and Lefty LeBow (Bill McKinney), as they wow crowds with lassos, knife throwing and sharpshooting. Then stranded heiress Antoinette Lilly (Sondra Locke) becomes Billy’s assistant, and soon the two are squabbling, scuffling and falling in love.”
“He’s like all men. A big kid in a man’s body.”
Okay charming was how Netflix described Pink Cadillac. Unlike that film, Bronco Billy is actually charming. This was part of Eastwood’s late 70s/early 80s attempt to move from Western star to Country Western star.
Eastwood attempts to contrast the fullness of Billy’s penniless existence with the hollowness of rich heiress Antoinette Lilly’s life. No one likes Lilly (who is in fact quite unlikeable) and she is abandoned by the people around her. Billy who has no money and doesn’t pay his staff but puts on free shows for the orphanage is surrounded by people who love him.
This comes across as naive and pedantic. It wouldn’t work except for two things. First it seems genuinely heartfelt. Second the wonderful details of life in a rundown Wild West show are very amusing. The audiences that consist of a few families, the ramshackle tents, the accidents, and such all bring a smile.
All of the performers of Billy’s show do a wonderful job. Scatman Crothers is great as the barker. Bill McKinney is a hoot as Lefty (I told you that shotgun trick wouldn’t work). Sam Bottoms, Dan Vadis, and Sierra Pecheur do a good job of rounding out the troupe.
There are several throwbacks to screwball comedies of the 30s and not just the heiress and the poor man plot. Some of these work well and others fall a bit flat. The explanation of Billy’s origins is absolutely wonderful and fits the film well.
This film is deeply flawed but I have to recommend it simply because I know of no other films that cover the trials and travails of a rundown Wild West show.
People Watch: Merle Haggard appears as himself and Clint’s children, Alison and Kyle, are children at the orphanage.