Tuesday, December 09, 2014

cinema obscura: Lamont Johnson's "Cattle Annie and Little Britches" (1981)

In her New Yorker review of Lamont Johnson's sublime "Cattle Annie and Little Britches" (1981), Pauline Kael commented on Amanda Plummer's screen debut as being "scarily brilliant."

That was enough to whet the appetites of all cinéphiles - and also end Plummer's promising film career. No one wanted a starlet who was "scarily brilliant," least of all audiences in the early 1980s.

The similarly brilliant Kristy McNichol was also a victim of the times, although perhaps for additional reasons. Anyway, Plummer never had much of a film career. Our loss, indeed.

"Cattle Annie and Little Britches" is an eccentric little saddle-soap saga about two teenagers, 19th-century variety, in thrall of outlaws. Times haven't changed. I suppose that anarchic musicians have been contempoary outlaws for the past 50 years or so.

The girls, in this case, are Plummer's Cattle Annie and Diane Lane's Jenny, who is dubbed "Little Britches" by the leader of Doolin-Dalton gang, Bill Doolin himself - played by Burt Lancaster, no less.

In what is clearly a teenage girl's wet dream, sagebrush-style, Cattle Annie and Little Britches play a crucial role in helping Doolin-Dalton gang save Bill from jail time before being sent off to a reformatory themselves.

This is essentially "The World of Henry Orient," only with horses, and it's irresistible.

The supporting cast includes Rod Steiger, John Savage and, of course, Scott Glenn, but the real driving force here is director Lamont Johnson, who paid his dues doing TV movies (including the fine televison film version of the play, "My Sweet Charlie") before seguing into films with such titles as "The Mackenzie Break" (1970), "A Gunfight" (1971), Jeff Bridges' "The Last American Hero" (1973) and "Somebody Killed Her Husband" (1978), starring Farrah and Bridges and criminally underrated.

Johnson passed on October 24, 2010 at 88.

8 comments:

David said...

The last great movie Western was "Cattle Annie and Little Britches."

There, I said it.

Bob Neibaur said...

Good call David!

admin said...

I've been looking for this movie for years. I saw it at a drive-in, which made this wonderfully subversive movie more disorienting. I hope that your appreciation brings it to DVD or a screening somewhere, Joe. Three segments of the film have been posted on youtube here

Kirk said...

I saw this movie once, years ago, and enjoyed it very much. It would make a good companion piece to Robert Benton's "Bad Company," starring Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown as two wet-behind-the-ears would-be outlaws.

joe baltake said...

Absolutely. Great double-bill.

Sheila said...

Joe: I thought I had seen pretty much every Burt Lancaster movie out there, but this one got past me. It sounds marvelous. Gotta see this one soon. I must!

john said...

I've always liked Amanda Plummer. She'll always be "Honey Bunny" to me.

Kyle said...

Wow! Talk about a forgotten film. First off, Mr. Baltake, I just wanted to second the thought that its great to have your reviews/essays consistently available again. As a Philadelphian, I both thoroughly enjoyed and then thoroughly missed your work in the News.