Cast & Crew
In 1881, itinerant cowboys Harry Collings, Arch Harris and Dan Griffin enjoy a lazy morning on the bank of the Rio Grande. Dan, the youngest of the trio, bemoans their lack of supplies, and Arch, the oldest, promises that they will buy more in the small town of Del Norte. When they arrive, they are met by the stares of the few citizens, a mixture of Mexican and Americans. While Dan complains about the town's lack of women and beer to Harry and Arch, Luke and Mace, the henchmen of cantina owner Sam McVey, appraise Dan's fine horse. As they drink, Dan and Arch discuss traveling to California, but Harry suddenly declares that he is going home rather than accompanying them. Dan is nonplussed to learn that Harry has a wife, Hannah, and a young daughter whom he deserted years previously, and after Harry exits the bar, blurts out that they can go on without him. Upset, Arch comments that he and Harry have been riding together for seven years, then follows his friend outside. Harry reveals that when they rode into town, he realized that they had been to the desolate area three years earlier, and pronounces that it is "a waste living like this." Resigned, Arch gets drunk with Harry that evening, while Dan goes to the cantina. Following him, Arch and Harry talk to the bartender, who implies that Dan has hired "company" for the evening. While the men are drinking, however, shots ring out in the street and Dan, with his pants half-lowered, staggers into the bar. After Dan dies an agonizing death, Sam enters and claims that he caught Dan trying to rape his wife. Harry and Arch are suspicious of Sam's accusation, especially as they cannot question Sam's wife, who does not speak English. Luke, Mace and Will, Sam's other henchman, support Sam's story, however, so Harry and Arch can do nothing. Carrying Dan's body outside, the two friends solemnly bury him. The next morning, they ride to Sam's house, where they find Dan's horse in the corral and while Arch secures the horse, Harry finds Sam asleep inside. Unable to enter because a henchman is asleep on the floor, Harry takes aim through the window and shoots Sam in both feet. Harry and Arch then begin the week-long ride north to Harry's farm, although when Arch questions Harry, he discovers that Harry barely remembers what Hannah is like, as they lived together for just under two years. When Harry reveals that Hannah was thirty years old when they married, while he was barely twenty, Arch asserts that Harry "didn't stand a chance," but Harry replies that he ran away because he was not ready for marriage, not because of anything Hannah did. When they reach Harry's farm, the men are greeted by Janey, Harry's daughter, who does not know who he is. Hannah does not recognize Harry at first, and when she does, she sends Janey inside. When the stunned Hannah asks why he returned, Harry admits that he "got tired of the life," and after she protests that he has no right to her or the farm, Harry asks only to work, like any hired hand. Hannah reluctantly agrees, as long as he does not tell Janey his identity, for the child believes that her father is dead. Harry acquiesces and spends the night in the barn with Arch, then, the next day, begins work. Hannah watches as the men make repairs, and that night, sits on the porch with Arch. Although Hannah sighs that it is just a matter of time before Harry deserts her again, Arch politely observes that Harry seems "keen" to be home. The next day, the men go to the nearby town of Calman for supplies, and while Harry is shopping, Arch goes to the saloon. There, upon learning that Arch and Harry are working for "the Widow Collings," townsman Ed Plummer tells Arch that Hannah sleeps with her hired hands. When Ed then taunts Harry, asking him how Hannah divides her time between them, Arch hits him and hustles Harry away. As they are going home, however, Harry demands to know what Ed was saying and Arch tells him, although he advises Harry that Hannah will not take kindly to being judged by him. That night, Harry confronts his wife, and Hannah, embittered by years of loneliness, admits that she did sleep with some of the hired men, although not all of them and not as often as she wished. Hannah speaks forcefully, stating that she maintained her independence by never letting a man stay more than one season. Distressed, Harry leaves without a word, and the next morning, Hannah awakens to see Harry riding away. Although the tearful Hannah believes that Harry has disappeared again, he rides to Calman to post notices. Shortly after, town gossip Mrs. Sorensen visits Hannah to tell her that Harry's notices stated that no more hired help would be needed at the Collings farm. Hannah is shaken and later that night, as she again sits on the porch with Arch, agrees when he remarks that it would be best if he moved on. Defiantly she describes to Arch how she both longed for, and was terrified of, the possibility of male company, adding that it would not make any difference to her if it was him or Harry with her that night. Arch, who is attracted to Hannah, is not sure what to make of her declaration and the next evening, tells Harry that he is going to California. Arch remains resolute despite Harry's protests, and after Arch goes to bed, Harry and Hannah discuss the matter. Hannah explains to Harry that if their marriage is going to succeed, she needs the security of knowing that she and Janey come first, without Arch being a constant reminder of the temptation of the open road. Although Harry nods silently, he worries about Arch being alone, and after one last night in the shed, bids his old friend farewell. The nervous Hannah and Harry then sleep together that night and avow their love for each other. Soon after, however, Will arrives, carrying a finger that has been chopped off Arch's hand. Will warns that Sam has captured Arch, and that until Harry returns to Del Norte, he will slice off another of Arch's fingers every week. Despite Hannah's anguished pleas for him to stay, Harry asserts that it is his fault Arch is in trouble and, promising to return, departs with Will. During the journey, Harry kills Will, then, through hard riding, reaches Del Norte within a week, thereby saving Arch another finger. Arch begs Sam's wife, who sympathizes with him, for a gun, but the terrified woman refuses. After Harry enters town, however, Sam's wife opens Arch's cell, and Arch sneaks out as the gun battle between Harry, Sam, Luke and Mace begins. Harry guns down Mace but is shot by Sam, who hobbles on his crutches to the street, where Harry lies wounded. As Sam is tormenting Harry, Arch shoots Luke. Harry is then able to retrieve his gun and shoot Sam before he can kill Arch, who cannot hold his weapon properly because of his mutilated hand. Arch then rushes to his friend, who asks Arch to hold him while he dies. Later, Hannah, sitting on the porch shelling peas, is startled to see Arch riding up, leading Harry's horse. After briefly looking at the house, Arch puts the horses in the barn and begins his new life, taking up where Harry left off.
Robert De Vestal
Lawrence G. Paull
Stanley A. Weiss
All of the film's credits, including the title, appear at the end of the picture. Frank Mazzola's onscreen credit reads "Film Editor and Montages." In the film, when "Harry Collings" and "Arch Harris" bury "Dan Griffin," Arch reads from Saying 113 in the Gospel of Thomas. Although the film was rated GP upon its initial 1971 release, the rating was changed to R for its 2003 DVD release. After the film's theatrical release, Alan Sharp turned his screenplay into a novel, according to the picture's pressbook.
The pressbook also reported that Sharp's screenplay was originally submitted to Peter Fonda "as an acting vehicle only, to be shot in Italy." Fonda, who had produced, co-written and acted in the 1969 smash hit Easy Rider, decided to make his directorial debut with The Hired Hand rather than only act in it. The pressbook noted that "after long and complicated negotiations," Fonda and his producing partner, William Hayward, acquired the property for Fonda's company, The Pando Company, Inc., which had produced Easy Rider. As noted by the Hollywood Reporter review and other sources, Universal Pictures executive Ned Tanen was responsible for greenlighting The Hired Hand, as well as several other low-budget, largely independent pictures by young directors such as Milos Forman, Monte Hellman, George Lucas and Dennis Hopper.
According to Fonda's autobiography, he initially considered casting Lee Grant as "Hannah Collings," and wanted Laszlo Kovacs, with whom he worked on Easy Rider, to serve as the cinematographer. Kovacs was committed to other projects, however, and recommended Vilmos Zsigmond, who had primarily worked on exploitation pictures up to that point.
Deleted scenes included as extra content on the film's 2003 DVD release reveal that Larry Hagman was cast as the sheriff of Calman. His scenes, in which he investigates the self-defense shooting of "Ed Plummer" by Arch, were filmed but cut before the picture was released. Fonda then decided to dub the actor playing the Calman bartender, using Hagman's voice. According to Fonda, Hagman's scenes were restored by NBC for the network's 1973 television broadcast of the picture, although the scenes in which Harry and Arch confront Hannah about her sexuality were not broadcast.
As noted by contemporary sources, the picture was shot mainly on location in and around Cabezon, NM, although according to 1970 news items, Fonda initially wanted to shoot in Mexico. In his DVD audio commentary, Fonda noted that after he was refused a shooting permit by the Mexican government, he began scouting location sites in New Mexico. According to 1970 trade paper news items, the production received a special exemption from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) to film in New Mexico. The DVD production notes explain that the exemption meant that the filmmakers were able to shoot with only a minimal union crew. Fonda related in his autobiography that early in the production, the chief horse wrangler was killed while leaving the Rio Grande location site and attempting to board a helicopter. In a "making of" documentary included on the film's 2003 DVD release, Fonda and other crew members noted that Espanola, Alamogordo and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico were additional location sites. Art director Lawrence G. Paull stated that the sequences depicting the town of Calman were the only ones shot in Hollywood, and that they were filmed on M-G-M's backlot.
In his July 17, 1971 Daily Variety column, reporter Army Archerd noted that Fonda produced the picture for $820,000 and "took nothing up front except for SAG minimum." In his autobiography, Fonda reported that he and Hayward gave up their producing salaries so that they could afford to hire Warren Oates. Fonda also noted that Bruce Conner served as an advisor on the picture, John Poore served as the second assistant director and Peter Sorel was the still photographer.
The Hired Hand received mostly negative reviews upon its initial release, with many critics complaining about the film's stylized visuals and leisurely pace. Los Angeles Times reviewer Charles Champlin summed up his reaction to the picture by stating that "seldom is a movie seen so clearly to have been defeated by its own style." Numerous reviewers praised the acting of Oates and Verna Bloom, however, with the London Underground Film Critics naming Bloom Best Actress of the year. The British magazine Films and Filming selected the picture as the Best Film of 1971, calling it "a visually stunning and instinctively aware account" of Western life in the 1880s. According to a June 3, 2002 New Republic article and modern sources, despite its popularity in Europe, the picture was released in just 52 theaters in the United States for only 2 weeks, after which it was pulled by its distributor, Universal, and shelved.
A June 1973 Daily Variety article reported that writer Harry Joe Brown, Jr. was suing Fonda, Hayward and executive producer Stanley A. Weiss for $250,000. Brown alleged that he had written the screenplay for The Hired Hand and that the filmmakers "had conspired to induce him" to sell his screenplay to Universal "for a sum substantially less than fair market value by promising him co-producer credit equal to that of the others." Although the disposition of the suit has not been confirmed, it is possible that a settlement was reached and Harry Joe Brown, Jr. is the "Brown" referred to in the onscreen credit "A Pando Production in Association with Brown, Lifton and Weiss."
The Hired Hand marked the screen acting debut of Roger Pratt and the first film project of musician-composer Bruce Langhorne, who had worked extensively as a studio musician with artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in the 1960s. In the documentary on the making of The Hired Hand, Langhorne relayed that he played all the instruments for the film's score himself. Fonda and Langhorne collaborated again on Fonda's next film as a director, the 1973 Pando Company production Idaho Transfer.
In the late 1990s, editor Frank Mazzola was approached by Hamish McAlpine, who wanted to finance the restoration of The Hired Hand. Mazzola contacted Universal to determine if the negatives and sound elements of the film still existed and found that Bob O'Neil, who had worked on the picture as an optical lineup man, was now Universal's executive director of restoration. Supervised by Fonda, Mazzola, Zsigmond and sound engineer Richard Portman, the restoration and "director's cut" were also funded by The Sundance Channel and the Film Foundation. Fonda's cut, which ran a few minutes shorter than the original release, went on to play numerous film festivals, including the 2001 Venice Film Festival and the initial TriBeCa Film Festival in 2002. It also received a limited theatrical release in various art houses between 2001-2003.
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States 2001
Shown at Venice International Film Festival (Critics Week) August 29 - September 8, 2001.
Re-released in United Kingdom December 28, 2001.
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States 2001 (Shown at Venice International Film Festival (Critics Week) August 29 - September 8, 2001.)