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Warner Home Video presents
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)

"Ain't had no water since yesterday, Lord. Getting a little thirsty. Just thought I'd mention it. Amen."
- Cable Hogue (Jason Robards)

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: January 09, 2006

Stars: Jason Robards, Stella Stevens
Other Stars: David Warner, Strother Martin, Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, Peter Whitney, R.G. Armstrong, Susan O'Connell, James Anderson
Director: Sam Peckinpah

MPAA Rating: R for (brief violence and nudity, some language)
Run Time: 02h:01m:12s
Release Date: January 10, 2006
UPC: 012569693883
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B-B B-

DVD Review

Sam Peckinpah's The Ballad of Cable Hogue is technically a western, but it never really plays or feels like one. Considering it came out only a year after The Wild Bunch, this is a truly daring film for Peckinpah because it goes against the grain of his earlier work. The themes of the Wild West coming to a close are completely in keeping with Peckinpah's ideals, but his storytelling here is surprising lyrical, more akin to Terrence Malick than anything else.

Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) is a gruff, illiterate frontiersman left stranded by his colleagues, Bowen (Strother Martin) and Taggart (L.Q. Jones). Isolated in the desert, he talks to God, praying for water and bracing himself for death. Just as Cable loses the will to live, he stumbles upon some muddy sand during a windstorm of biblical proportions. Is this a miracle, or merely a lucky turn of events? Soon after salvaging some water, Cable meets a bizarre womanizing preacher, Reverend Joshua Sloan (David Warner), and the two legally claim two acres of land. Nobody in the next town believes the two have water, but soon Cable is running a profitable rest stop for stagecoach travelers.

The film really transcends all sense of time and plot, playing like an elliptic stream of consciousness. While in town buying his land, Cable encounters the lovely, curvaceous prostitute Hildy (Stella Stevens) and immediately becomes infatuated. The two fall in love, but Hildy's plans of becoming the "ladiest damn'd lady" of San Francisco split them apart. As Cable lives out a plain existence in the desert, he only receives sporadic visits from Joshua, stagecoach driver Ben Fairchild (Slim Pickens), and finally his former associates who abandoned him in the desert years ago. There's no real sense of flow or tension in the events on screen, with people coming and going almost as if in a dream. That's not a criticism, only an observation. To be honest, I suspect there's a real possibility that Cable dies in the opening scene and everything that follows is merely a collection of his dying thoughts. Peckinpah is purposefully abstract on this point, creating a movie that feels more like a fragmented collection of his ideas about American values.

The Ballad of Cable Hogue is at times comical and others tragic. Jason Robards' performance is detached, presenting Hogue as a drunken fool. Like Peckinpah, Cable Hogue is a deeply religious man; but the religion here worships not so much God or man-made institutions as it does the open frontier. In usual Peckinpah fashion, a car arrives only to cause irreparable damage to all the characters on screen. In fact, all facets of technology are shown in a negative light, including Cable's own rifle. Only Cable's love for Hildy comes across as pure, even if at times the cinematography and direction of Stella Stevens'physique serve only to satisfy Peckinpah's lust.

I can't really decide if I like this movie, though I know I like parts of it. The concluding scene is quite powerful and the acting is touching. Robards and Stevens work well off of one another, truly conveying the love between the two characters. Warner is also a delight as the shady, detestable reverend. One of the funniest moments in the film comes when Joshua attempts to soothe a grieving woman. Yet, the script by John Crawford and Edmund Penney is inconsistent in tone. Drama and comedy crash into one another repeatedly, creating an uneasy viewing experience. Furthermore, there is no denying Peckinpah's misogynistic treatment of Stevens.

The film is at once a traditional western and the antithesis of the genre. The cinematography, production design, and costumes could easily be carryovers from a John Ford film. However, Jerry Goldsmith's unusual score and some of the editorial decisions (including split-screen sequences) establish this as a film of the 1970s, weaving between musical numbers and gunfights with no rhyme or reason. Peckinpah's movie is truly perplexing, seeming to be more about his own distrust of studio executives and modern society than the characters on screen. In the end, Cable Hogue's ballad is incoherent. Perhaps I should give it another listen, but I'd rather ride the high country.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is fairly good, even though it starts off a bit rough. Mosquito noise and grain are very prevalent during the opening scenes, but about 20 minutes in everything gets much better. Black levels are solid, detail is strong, and skin tones are accurate. This isn't a great transfer, but it is adequate.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono mix is preserved on this DVD and comes across nicely. Dialogue is crisp and audible, with the music also sounding quite good. There's nothing truly noteworthy about the track, but it appears to portray the original theatrical appearance accurately. A French mono track is also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch, The Getaway, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, The James Dean Collection
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:27m:21s

Extra Extras:
  1. The Ladiest Damn'd Lady: An Afternoon with Stella Stevens—a video interview with the film's star about her career and life.
Extras Review: There's a discrepancy in the supplemental material. The back of the package, as well as in Warner's own publicity material, lists a vintage featurette called Sam Peckinpah's West: A Study of the Filmmaker. However, the disc I received for review does not contain this featurette. Thus, the special features are pretty limited in scope. Things begin with an audio commentary by Peckinpah biographers/documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle. All four men are true experts on all things Peckinpah and give an exceptionally enthusiastic analysis of the movie, heralding it as brilliant. They seem to gush a bit much, but never to a point that is distracting. Overall, this is a highly informative and detailed commentary.

Also included is a new video interview with Stella Stevens, The Ladiest Damn'd Lady: An Afternoon with Stella Stevens (26m:59s). She's quite engaging, giving some neat anecdotes about her early career and delving into her experience on The Ballad of Cable Hogue. She offers a lot of insight into her performance and her view of the film, giving a rather harsh testimony about Peckinpah. Rounding out the special features are the film's trailer, as well as trailers for Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch, The Getaway, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and The James Dean Collection. The extras are pretty light, but the commentary is well worth a listen.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

While not one of my favorite Peckinpah westerns, The Ballad of Cable Hogue has its moments. This DVD is pretty light on the extras, but the transfers and audio commentary make it a nice inclusion in the "Legendary Westerns Collection" from Warner.


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