The Movie (2.5/5)
I love westerns. I love the tales of cowboys facing impossible odds to save their way of life, or the women they loved from the treacherous circumstances that come from living in the uncharted, ungoverned lands of the the southwest United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s. These stories are universal, using the west as a backdrop to tell stories of human plight, injustice, and heroism. Where I get off however, is when movies use the west to tell stories about the actual west; you know, raising cattle, managing ranches, and just sort of dealing with more mundane problems. The Rounders, a 1965 MGM production directed by Burt Kennedy and starring western superstars Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, is one of those kind of movies.
The Rounders is the story of two down on their luck cowboys, Ben and Howdy, who have made their names as horse tamers. Constantly poor and struggling to break themselves out of a rut they’ve fallen into, they find themselves constantly employed by the business man Jim Ed Love, who constantly finds ways to screw them out of their money. After wrangling wild cattle for Ed Love all summer, he convinces the two of them to trade part of their wages for ownership of an untamable horse, tempting Ben with the challenge of breaking this horse in. Together, they struggle to tame the horse, and decide to take him to a local rodeo in order to challenge other wranglers to stay on. Along the way, they run into a pair of beautiful women, and realize just what this horse, and their livelihoods mean to them as cowboys.
The Rounders is billed as a romantic comedy of sorts that stars two of the leading western actors in Hollywood at the time. What it ends up becoming instead however, is a romance of a different sort. Rather than focus on the sexual tension and attraction between man and woman, writer and director Kennedy focuses on the bond between man and horse, for which a case could be made that strongly draws parallels to the bond between man and dog. The advertising and trailer promises the antics of the wildest guys and gals in the west, but instead we get an endearing movie about two cowboys past their prime bonding with a treacherous horse. There are side characters that insert themselves into the mix of the two leading men and this horse, but they’re only fleeting members of the story.
At one point in the film, the movie promises some sort of meaningful human relationship between Ben, played by Glenn Ford, and one of his friend’s younger daughters, played by Kathleen Freeman, but the scenes don’t feature any useful chemistry between the two, and its quickly swept under the rug, like just about everything that doesn’t have to do with that horse. There are amusing moments, like an extended scene where the two cowboys get drunk with a friend of theirs on his famous home-made whiskey, but it quickly turns introspective and thought-provoking, which stops the momentum of the sequence dead in its tracks. This is the kind of scene that should happen often, or not at all in movies like these. Instead, The Rounders kind of just languishes in limbo.
Had this film been a bit more sentimental, it would have worked well as a children’s movie, but instead our two leads, hardened by long careers in Hollywood and playing older characters, are a bit too gruff to appeal to a family/children audience. Scenes from later in the film where the two leads encounter and court a couple of strippers whose car had broken down on the side of the road make the film too tonally adult to hit that mark, but the film doesn’t have enough humorous moments to really make it a comedy.
As the film concludes, there’s some pretty contrived heartbreak to wrap things up in a very neat Hollywood manner, topping off a tonally uneven romantic comedy with some light tragedy. It seems fitting; The Rounders is promised as one kind of movie, but ends up trying to stretch itself a little too far for director/writer Kennedy, and although Ford and Fonda turn in decent performances as struggling cowboys, and editor John McSweeney Jr. does a fine job keeping the film moving at a decent pace, it just never really comes together as anything meaningful. It never becomes outright bad at any given moment, it just kind of hangs out in the margin, which is disappointing considering the star power it brings to the table.
The Video (3.5/5)
The Rounders was shot on 4-perf 35mm film with Panavision anamorphic lenses, resulting in an image with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Sourced from a new HD master created by the Warner Archive team, the film is presented in 1080p resolution, maintaining the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
This might be the first movie in a while from the Archive that hasn’t blown me away with the image quality of the feature presentation. Maybe it was the stock the film was shot on, or the quality of the source, but The Rounders often looks like a low resolution source was used, with little detail, especially in wideshots and the film’s many, many optical transitions. The texture doesn’t feel as refined as other Warner Archive presentations of other 60s Panavision scope films, and grain is soft in most shots. It still looks relatively good for a film of its age and stature, but it never really impresses at any point.
The Audio (4/5)
The Rounders was originally presented in theaters using a mono optical soundtrack on film prints. That track has been recreated here using a DTS-Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack.
As with all mono tracks from the Warner Archive group, the track has a good balance between score, sound effects, and dialogue. The track is free of any pops, clicks, or other defects in playback. It doesn’t change the game, but certainly gets the job done.
Special Features/Packaging (2.5/5)
The Rounders has been released to Blu-ray by Warner Archive in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The front artwork features a slight redesign of one of the film’s original posters, with a drawing of the two main characters attempting to wrangle with a wild horse against a yellow background. The two women from later in the film are positioned below, along with the names of the two leads and the film’s title against a white background. The back artwork features a dramatic shot of Ford and Fonda against a picturesque blue sky, next to a tagline for the film, a paragraph about the film, and another small shot from the film. Below that is the theatrical credits and technical specs for the movie. Appropriate, but nothing terribly exciting in terms of packaging.
The film’s only feature included is its theatrical trailer, which was shown around the time of its 1964 release. Overall, with its lack of features and basic packaging, The Rounders doesn’t get any brownie points in this area.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Region Coding: None
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DTS-Master Audio 2.0 Mono (English)
Runtime: 84 minutes
The Rounders isn’t by any means offensive, but it never really lives up to the expectations set by it’s goofy poster. It meanders a bit too much, and tries to be a bit too sentimental for the characters that it brings to the table. I mean, the poster promises not only horse drama but a romantic sub plot, and really marginalizes the romance. I guess it’s a game of expectations with The Rounders. If you wanted a rough and gruff bromance horse movie, you’ve mostly found it. If you wanted anything more, than maybe steer clear of this one. Either way, Warner Archive has brought it to Blu-ray with a decent enough visual transfer, fine audio, and decent, but not mind blowing packaging. Fans of the movie will love what’s here on the table, those who expected a little more human drama may want to look elsewhere for their thrills.