Henry Fonda was rounding 60 when he started working in a handsome number of Westerns, particularly 1965’s The Rounders, directed by Burt Kennedy.
The next picture Kennedy made with Fonda was an odd choice, Welcome to Hard Times. Based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow, it’s a thick allegorical story, so spare and dusty, it almost resembles a Spaghetti Western, or something akin to High Plains Drifter.
In the picture a man visits the town of Hard Times, killing or burning nearly everybody and anything around him. He’s as much a force as he is a man, like a tornado. Fonda’s character, a former lawyer named Blue, is determined to rebuild the town and look after the handful of survivors, even though he knows the man will eventually return. The town repopulates with the help of an entrepreneur (Keenan Wynn), a few dance hall ladies and a drifter played by Warren Oates, who adds a lot of life to the picture.
As Westerns go, this is a pretty barren one, but it has a few virtues, not least of all the cast.
In 1968’s Day of the Evil Gun, Lorn Warfield (Glenn Ford) and Owen Forbes (Arthur Kennedy) are tracking Warfield’s wife and two young daughters, who have been kidnapped by Chiricahua Apaches.
During their quest, Warfield and Forbes have a series of misadventures, which include being clubbed by Apaches (counting coup), robbing the good-natured Jose Luis Gomez de la Tierra y Cordoba DeLeon, running into a cholera epidemic and fighting another batch of Apaches, this time in the company of a group of U.S. Army deserters.
More than a few elements of The Searchers can be seen in the film, but it works in a different way. Even though the shoot was rough (in Durango) and most of the cast was sick while making it, it’s a watchable movie, written by Charles Marquis Warren, who had a hand in creating Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The Virginian and a handful of decent Western pictures.