The buffalo no longer roams the plains; all that remains of the once-proud herds are a few mounted buffalo heads that are good for nothing but collecting dust. The range is no longer a fit place for the cowboy.
Having no other place to go, he's been forced to become a Hollywood stuntman, to shoot blanks and fake dying so that some grinning dude (who can't even sit a horse) can play hero and bask in the glory of movie stardom.
It wasn't what you would call a propitious time for an eager, if yet unpublished writer to try to "soak up a little Western atmosphere," but that is what happens in "Hearts of the West," a warm-hearted comedy with fond remembrances of our movie past (which made it a particularly appropriate entry at this year's New York Film Festival).
His head full of Zane Grey matters like "wandering parched and thirsty across the barren waste," this writer fellow goes West, figuring he'll meet "all sorts of interesting people." The interesting people, it turns out, are in Hollywood, grinding out B Westerns. They're all there on the backlot—failed writers, brittle career girls, directors with Napoleon complexes, ex-cowhands and just plain extras with faces that reek character.
The most prominent of the bruised and battered stuntmen, is played with weary dignity by Andy Griffith, his life-ravaged face' a virtual road map of worry lines. Blythe Danner, with her throaty voice and crisp manner, is just the kind of sophisticated career woman our naive hero needs to show him the ways of the world. Alan Arkin, in his funniest performance in years, is outrageously pompous and desperately insecure, like all second-rate directors who fancy themselves as great artists.
"Hearts of the West" is a succession of quirky, totally engaging moments. One can complain about the lack of a real plot or wish that director Howard Zieff, with his gift for creating original comic characters and tossing them into fresh situations, had not been so quick to drop perhaps the best character of them all—a dippy, dewy eyed waitress played by Candy Azzara. But this is the kind of movie that steals its way into our hearts, thanks in large part to the sincerity and open-face appeal of its star, Jeff Bridges.
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