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The Ballad Of Cable Hogue: Sam Peckinpah's Most Underrated Film

by Simon Martin
12 November 2013

An enchanting mix of comedy, kindness, romance, friendship, forgiveness and salmon pink "all-in-one" dirty underwear.The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Sam Peckinpah's most overlooked film.

Sponge bath, cowboy style....

My favourite film was always Big Wednesday, a great coming of age, surfing / Vietnam film with cool stars, cooler music and the beautiful Patti D’Arbanville and Lee Purcell.  Cat Stevens wrote a love song to Patti, “Lady D’Arbanville” incidentally.  Then I saw a lesser known Peckinpah effort called The Ballad of Cable Hogue and I was smitten.

The bawdy tale of an uneducated prospector cum chancer called Cable Hogue, (an excellent Jason Robards), who is left to die by ex-partners only to find the only source of water on the long stagecoach route across the desert.  What follows is an enchanting mix of comedy, kindness, romance, friendship, forgiveness and salmon pink “all-in-one” dirty underwear.

Peckinpah might be remembered most for The Wild Bunch or Straw Dogs or Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid but I think Hogue showcases his talents better, either that or he was just in a better mood when he made it.  Robards is joined by a sex pest preacher and best mate David Warner who Peckinpah has doing a Benny Hill high speed chase at one point, the beautiful Stella Stevens as Hildy the love interest and a couple of blokes who seemingly were in every Western from the late 50’s to early 70’s, Slim Pickens and Strother Martin as one of the ex-partners who ends up working for Hogue.  Martin you may recall was Joe McGrath in Slap Shot.

There are plenty of high points in the film from when he feeds coach passengers Desert Surprise stew full of rattlesnakes and scorpions on nailed down plates to the final irony of the motor car ending his business and his life.  The stand out scene is actually a song sung by Hogue and Hildy over scenes of relative domestic bliss and one suspects the two characters at their happiest together.  There are a few songs in the film but Gerry Goldsmith’s Butterfly Morning is the stand out piece, you can imagine Joan Baez murdering it but Stevens has a lovely uncomplicated voice and it is a bit that always gets rewound in my house.  The songs are an indication of Peckinpah taking a much more light hearted direction coming off the back of The Wild Bunch and going into Straw Dogs it’s no wonder he wanted to do something different as those two films are markedly light on chuckles or songs.

Peckinpah considered this one of his favourite films but he started hitting the bottle again and his inability to manage a budget and schedule lost him some big films the following year, Deliverance being the main one eventually helmed by our own John Boorman.

He would go on to make the wonderful Junior Bonner, classic Pat Garrett and a film that I really like but makes not one ounce of sense, Convoy so let’s raise a glass of Cable Springs Water to Hogue and Peckinpah, two great men.

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