The Rounders is a comedy-western starring Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, based on a novel by Max Evans. Ford and Fonda respectively play Ben and ‘Howdy,’ two cowboys who make a living rounding up and breaking in horses for the shady Jim Ed Love (Chill Wills). Most years, they spend their earnings on booze and fast women – but not this year! Ben has a plan: enter the ill-tempered, wild roan horse they’ve been gifted from Love into the rodeo and rake in the cash every time it violently bucks someone off of it.
I’m not going to lie, The Rounders is a pretty tough movie to review. (Not to be confused with the 1998 gambling movie with Matt Damon and Edward Norton). I liked it in a sense; it’s an amusing little time capsule that is enjoyable if one thinks of how it might have been perceived in 1965 when it was released. Buried in double-bills due to poor marketing, it became a bit of a cult classic later on and even spawned a single season television adaptation about a year after the films release.
Ford and Fonda are great as always, even if they seem a bit too old for their roles. Fonda was pushing 60 around the time of filming, while Ford was in his late 40’s. While Ford’s age is a little more believable, it still seems like a bit of a stretch. There are conversations between Ben and Meg (Joan Freeman), a woman who is pursuing him, about settling down; if his age on-screen was anywhere near his age in real life, I believe it should have been incredibly obvious to her that there more than likely wasn’t a chance he would be giving up the life he’d led. I suppose it could happen… but it seems unlikely.
The first hour of the film is incredibly circular, using basically two iterations of the same scene: Ben getting bucked off the roan and threatening to do something terrible to the animal (turning him into soap, turning him into dog food, etc.) and the men pawning the animal off onto unsuspecting individuals and having it come back to them. It becomes very tedious and could have used perhaps a montage instead of constantly book-ending.
It also suffers from a lot of things that may not be deemed as terribly PC these days. The way they treat the animal is plenty atrocious, but its depictions of women are where I found the film most bothersome. The ladies in it are seen as either the type that are desperate to settle down, or as ditzy, “eager to please” floozies. This kind of humor is incredibly dated and, while I understand that it was a different time and I didn’t necessarily take offense to it, as a woman, it definitely got quite a few eye-rolls.
I can still appreciate The Rounders for what it is, though: camp, which it oozes. Others in their 20s would likely either become enraged due to the sexism or sadly resigned to its goofy, “dad joke” nature, considering just how much raunchier today’s comedy can be.
I recently caught an airing of The Rounders on cable and I must say, the print was relatively atrocious. The job that has been done for this Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection is near-pristine, with no visible scratches. The colors are bright and pop beautifully and the Arizona mountain range is almost as lush and clear as it would be if you were driving through them.