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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 March 2011
Charlton Heston stars as Will Penny, an ageing cowpuncher down on his luck and practically broke. After finding a spot of work down on the Flat Iron, Penny falls foul of some outlaws led by maniacal preacher Quint {Donald Pleasence}. They rob him and leave him for dead but he manages to find his way to a lineman's cabin where he is cared for by Catherine {Joan Hackett}, who is heading west with her young son to be reunited with her husband. Here Penny comes to learn things about himself, as does Catherine, but their relationship is not the only thing of concern to them. For Quint and his brood are coming back to finish what they started.

As widely reported these days, this was one of Heston's favourite roles. Which is not hard to believe since it is one of his finest and most earnest performances from what was a long and successful career. Directed and written by Tom Gries {who refused to sell the rights to his story unless he could direct}, Will Penny is an understated Western {Re;cowboy movie for those that need to distinguish the two} that shines because it relies on strength of story over histrionics and a pandering to the norm. This is no ode to the wild west, a time of gunslingers fighting it out and riding off into the sunset with the dame. This is the nitty gritty west, where cowboys are actually that, cowboys, working with beef so that they can afford to eat and perhaps enjoy a jar of throat stripper by way of a reward for their graft.

It's also refreshing to find a romance within the genre that is believable and not thrust upon us like some form of necessity. The relationship, and in fact the three family dynamic at the core of the film, is expertly written, not rushed or underdeveloped, and, crucially, not hurt by the bold and correct ending that Gries delivers. Hackett gives a lovely subtle turn opposite Heston, in a role that was turned down by a host of prominent female actresses at the time. Fine support comes from Pleasence {rightly overacting the role}, Ben Johnson, Lee Majors, Bruce Dern, Anthony Zerbe and Slim Pickens. While Lucien Ballard's cinematography is lucid and adds splendour to the moving story. I can't say that David Raksin's score totally works, since it at times feels like it belongs in some Universal Pictures creature feature! But it's a minor issue in what is an elegant Western that deserves, no, demands, to be sought out by more people. 8/10
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on 7 June 2017
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 November 2015
Charlton Heston wasn't convincing in "Major Dundee," the only other western I had seen him in, but he seems totally at home in "Will Penny," which he has said was one of his favorite roles. He plays an aging, illiterate cowboy, who seems itinerant, and goes around seeking work as a cattle-herder from whomever will hire him. He's good at his job, but touchy about his age and his illiteracy, and he'll fight if he's ribbed hard enough by younger cowpokes. The basic story here is how Penny helps and is helped by a woman and her son who have been forced to winter in a cow-minder's shack up in the Montana hills. The conventional aspects of the story deal with the threat to Penny and, eventually the woman and her son, from a feral family of rawhiders headed by Donald Pleasance, in full-out, eyes-bugging-crazy mode (the young Bruce Dern plays one of his sons). As some reviewers have noted, these characters seem to belong to a horror movie rather than a western, so over-the-top is their conception -- but, of course, they give old Will a chance to show his mettle, and I'll avoid spoilers by revealing no further details about that. The real power of the movie, for me, was in the leisurely build-up to the violent action, where the movie takes time to give us something of the texture of the cattleman's life (filmed beautifully in northern California, with the Sierras as backdrop) and the difficulties of domestic life in hard winters in a small cabin in close quarters -- getting firewood, water, milk, stopping up chinks in the log walls, etc. etc.

The human interest lies in the developing affection between Penny and the woman (played very well by Joan Hackett) and her boy. She's a married woman, traveling to join her husband in Oregon, and she has been deserted by the guide that her husband supposedly paid in St. Louis to get them to Oregon. Up in the Montana hills, they live a kind of domestic life, and the itinerant Penny is drawn to it. Heston is totally persuasive as an older man, habituated to a hard life, who finds himself uncertain and afraid of the love that he feels. Hackett's character offers herself to him -- for a life together and not just sex -- and the scene in which that offer is discussed is very well done. The sexual element in the relationship is forcibly communicated too, and the ending is very engaging dramatically. This isn't the Charlton Heston that you might expect from "Ben-Hur," and it shows him to have been an actor capable of range and growth. So don't let the cheesy elements put you off -- this is a good one.
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on 29 December 2011
Will Penny is Charlton Heston's favourite movie role and for good reason. A great cast, script and cinematography combine under able direction to portray the itinerant lifestyle of the cowboy against the eternal themes of love, hate and fate in frontier America. Director Tom Gries avoids the romanticised western tradition and the cartoon violence of the emerging spaghetti western genre to focus instead on character development and authentic human detail. Heston is simply superb in the main role of Will Penny an ageing illiterate cowboy in search of ranch work in the wintertime. The supporting cast of familiar actors is also uniformly strong. Donald Pleasance in a trademark menacing role is mesmerising as the bible bashing preacher Quint, bent on his own style of slow revenge. Preacher Quint is one dude you just don't want to cross. Love interest is provided by the able Joan Hackett an abandoned mother who together with her young son are fated to seek male support in a an unforgiving environment. This is simply a stand out signature western movie where the harsh necessity of frontier life is always at hand, along with the tough choices and compromise upon which human survival depends. Will Penny is a must see, realistic western tour de force.
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on 14 May 2014
From 1956 on, actor Charlton Heston kept an actor’s journal, which he published in two volumes, in 1976 and 1996. These are some of the most fascinating and valuable behind-the-scene writings published on the subject of studio filmmaking. In addition to these writings, Heston was also an exceptional and underrated visual artist. Often, when actors turn to painting, the result is less than memorable, and can even be downright painful. One thinks of Henry Fonda’s vapid watercolors or the recent, execrable “world leader” portraits by George Bush as painful examples. Heston’s visual art was an extension of his journals. His pen and ink drawings of makeup artists, stuntmen, cameramen, and technicians celebrated the unsung blue-collar workers. I was fortunate enough to attend a small showing of Heston’s extensive work and it remains of the most compellingly unique exhibits I have attended to date.

The story of the making of Will Penny (1968) is a standout entry in Heston’s “The Actor’s Life: Journals.” Heston was handed an incomplete script. Under normal conditions, the actor would have refused to read an unfinished screenplay, but Heston was so taken with the fragment that he immediately expressed interest in taking on the role of the aging, illiterate cowboy Will Penny. Heston was then informed that the writer, Tom Gries, was insistent on directing. When Heston inquired on Gries’ directing experience, he found it consisted of “a couple of television programs.” Heston put up a mild protest, but quickly changed his mind upon learning that Gries’ demand was unconditional. While it is fortunate that Heston compromised in what turned out to be one of his best and most underrated roles, his skepticism about Gries’ lack of experience had some validity.

The central performances and an intelligent, sensitive script are the strengths of Will Penny; however, Gries’ television-like visual direction and an embarrassingly melodramatic performance from Donald Pleasance are noticeable flaws. As excellent as Heston’s work is here, Joan Hackett is even better. She imbues her part with an unglamorous freshness (Heston amusingly related that several actresses turned down the role upon reading the description of Catherine as plain). Heston later counted Hackett as the best of his leading ladies, and for good reason.

Will Penny is not a Wyatt Earp type. He does not bravely face down the enemy to clean up a corrupt town. Rather, he is a fifty-year-old cowhand who works with cattle. It’s all he knows. He doesn’t even know how to write his name. When he gets into a fight with a younger co-worker, Penny uses a frying pan “because I use my hands to work.” When a trail job ends, Penny finds himself traveling with a young Lee Majors and Anthony Zerbe in hopes of finding work. Majors is a bit of a nonentity here, but Zerbe gives a very good performance as a recently transplanted, thickly accented European immigrant who awkwardly shoots himself and then milks every ounce of sympathy he can.

Zerbe and Majors try to steal an elk from demented preacher Quint (Pleasance) and his sons (one of who is played by Bruce Dern in one of his worst and most cartoonish performances). Penny is inadvertently drawn into the conflict, which will have eventual and horrific consequences.The three men temporarily part company when Penny lands a seasonal job as a line rider. Penny finds his shack occupied by squatters in the person of Catherine (Hackett) and her young son (Jon Francis).

The romance between Penny and Catherine is authentic. They do not wind up in each others’ arms within thirty seconds. It is the building of the relationship between the two that gives Will Penny its substance. Even the inevitable conflict between Penny and Quint is in service of the understated chemistry between Heston and Hackett.

While Gries’ does not have the cinematic visual flair of the best directors, his strength lies in characterization and elegant writing. This was Gries’ first feature film. His subsequent films were mere assignments, lacking the personal vision of Will Penny.
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on 9 February 2010
This is Charlton Heston's best western. He does not over do the drama like he did in other films.
In Will Penny you experience the harshness and toughness of cowboy life. Cowboys are destined to roam the West going from one ranch to another to find work. If you injure yourself you're no good anymore.
The winning factor is the fact that the cast look like real cowboys and the places they go look like something from a Charles M. Russell painting.
The great cast include Joan Hackett, Lee Majors, Donald Pleasance, Bruce Dern, Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens. Will Penny ranks with Shane as one of the most realistic and well made Westerns of all time.
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"Will Penny" made in 1967 and directed by Tom Gries portrays the cowboy life warts and all. The film is based on an episode called "The Line Camp" from the cult TV series "The Westerner" which ran from 1959-1960, and was created and directed by the legendary Sam Peckinpah. Being a cowpoke is a tough unromantic way to make a living, and for once we get the truth in this film. It is very similar to "Monte Walsh"(70), a film that portrayed two obsolescent cowboys. That too showed the rigourous life of the American cowboy.

Charlton Heston makes a good fist of playing the aging Will whose bones are beginning to creak with the strain of the life. But he knows no other and it is hard for him to change. The dynamics of his ordered life are changed when he meets Joan Hackett in a line shack. She and her son have been deserted by their guide and due to bad weather they have settled in the shack. The winter weather sets in. Will then encounters the ever so slightly mad Preacher Quint and his similarly inclined lunatic sons. Donald Pleasance plays Quint with much relish. Just for fun they stab and torture Will. He manages to get back to the shack where Joan nurses him back to health and love begins to blossom. Unfortunately Quint and his sons turn up to put a large spanner in loves course. Joan has a rather difficult decision to make. Which of the sons should she marry. A sort of Hobsons choice, as neither would be considered a prize catch. Will love win out?

"Will Penny" is a beautiful looking film. Lucien Ballard that legendary cinematographer was largely responsible. He was vastly experienced and had worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick. Heston gives an excellent suitably subdued performance as the ill educated cowpoke irrevocably stuck in his ways. It is a different, grittier slant on the Western and is refreshing for all that. No it cannot be considered a classic but it is a very good film and makes rewarding viewing.
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on 17 November 2009
As far as I know, Tom GRIES cut at least three western movies .This is probably the best one because it just tells some of cow boy's true life just as Delmer DAVES'"Cow boy" did once before . Charlton HESTON looks damn' good and so does underestimated Anthony ZERBE .I've enjoyed true wild characters as Bruce DERN and Donald PLEASANCE who reminded me of John FORD's characters in famous "Wagon master" . And watching good old westerner Ben JOHNSON always means to have a good time . French aficionados just wait for Tom GRIES's "The hundred rifles" issue with french language and subtitles . Thanks a lot .
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 January 2014
This is an excellent, although rather atypical and sad western - and I adored it! Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.

Will Penny (Charlton Heston) is an aging cowboy who is hired by a rich cattle baron to ride the boundary of a ranch over the winter. When going to his remote mountain cabin he finds out that a woman, Catherine Allen (Joan Hackett) and her son Horace (Jon Gries) took refuge there, having been deserted by the guide that her husband paid in advance to bring her to him. Blocked by the snow in the mountains they are forced to spend the winter together.

As if things were not already complicated enough, a certain Preacher Quint (Donald Pleasance), a slightly deranged low life vagrant (and definitely NOT a real pastor) who has a score to settle with Penny, wanders into the same mountains, together with his slightly mentally handicapped common law wife and his two brutish, not very bright sons Rufe and Rafe.

This is an atypical western, telling ultimately a rather simple story of very ordinary people. In fact it is more a social drama than anything else. It is also a rather sad film, even if some merry and humoristic moments are also present - one of the best includes a philosophical debate about bathing...)))

Towards the end of his life Charlton Heston stated that this was his most favourite of all the numerous films in which he played, as it doesn't tell the story of a prophet, prince, soldier or space explorer - no, this is the tale about a regular Joe (or rather Will) who never asked for much from life (and as result never got that much) but who may have just finally met the destiny which was meant for him all this time... He clearly loved playing Will Penny, so different of his usual characters - and the result is very pleasant on the screen. Also, how can one not root at least a little for a guy named Penny? Not Buck, not Dollar, not Quarter, not Dime, not even Nickel - just Penny...

Joan Hackett performance is also remarkable. Her character is just a simple gal, who until now didn't really fare well in life and other than her little boy Horace she doesn't have much to take pride and comfort in. The betrayal of the guide and abandonment in the mountains was certainly a disaster for her - but to a certain extent it was also a liberation of sorts... It is a pleasure to watch her Catherine Allen coping with the hardships - and change when doing it.

Donald Pleasance, the Great Hollywood Workaholic Supremo and Go-To-Guy When Freaks, Weirdoes, Psychos and Other Scum Need To Be Played, gives a GREAT show as half-mad Preacher Quint, the self-declared man of God and leader of small tribe of, well, basically cave men - it is just that those cave men ride horses and carry Winchesters... The guy is a vicious louse and his three (later two) sons are clearly bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. The simple-minded, never-speaking wench who is his bed-warmer is a quite disturbing character - but she completes very successfully this half-bestial tribe...

Bruce Dern, Lee Majors, Slim Pickens and Anthony Zerbe (the name probably doesn't ring a bell but I GUARANTEE you know his face) appear in smaller but important roles and they do very well too.

Bottom line, this is an EXCELLENT albeit UNUSUAL, sad and nostalgic western with a great performance of all actors. A great Charlton Heston movie and a real treasure! Enjoy!
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on 29 January 2011
Will Penny features Charlton Heston as an ageing cowboy down on his luck. For Heston fans used to seeing him as the larger than life hero (Ben Hur, El Cid etc), this is quite a culture shock: he is far more vulnerable, human and fallible than in any other Heston movies I've seen - but this is part of the film's attraction.
Basically, Heston falls foul of a mad preacher (wonderfully played by Donald Pleasance)and his sons (who include a scary Bruce Dern) and they take revenge on him in the middle of nowhere. As well as almost killing him, they take all Heston's clothes (apart from socks and longjohns) and leave him to die a slow death in the winter wilderness. A half-dead Heston only survives by making it back to his linesman's cabin where a young woman and her son (who are staying there illegally) nurse him back to health. An interdependecy and intimacy between the unlikely couple ensues and Heston begins to glimpse a life he's never had but just when love seems his biggest issue, the preacher and his sons return!
Featuring a great cast (as above and including Anthony Zerbe, Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens), an unusual storyline and Heston in a much more 'normal person' role, Will Penny is a very intelligent and entertaining western, which seems very realistic. Watch it and enjoy!
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