Bronco Billy

Bronco Billy ★★★★½

One of Clint Eastwood’s most enjoyable films, though it didn’t really score with moviegoers. Perhaps it’s because he plays something of a fraud: Bronco Billy, the owner and star sharpshooter of a travelling Wild West show, is actually a New Jersey native who sold shoes until he was 31. He also did a seven-year stretch in Folsom for shooting his wife (not fatally — and since he’s a sharpshooter, we must assume he intended only to wound) when he caught her in bed with another man.

Eastwood plays Billy as a man clinging to false nobility — an illusion of nobility. Yet he makes us see that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing to cling to. The movie is about being what you want to be by seeming to be what you want to be. This is true of everyone in Billy’s troupe, such as Chief Big Eagle (Dan Vadis), who dances with rattlesnakes but is really an unpublished writer, and Eagle’s wife Lorraine Running Water (Sierra Pecheur), who isn’t Indian by blood but has become Indian in spirit.

Through a weak subplot too convoluted to go into here, a bitchy heiress (Sondra Locke) gets thrown in with Billy’s group; she, too, must show another side of herself. The movie’s romantic center involves Locke learning to defrost by falling in love with Billy, and it is tired. But she and Eastwood have obvious chemistry, and the film is good-hearted. This and George Romero’s Knightriders would make a good double bill.

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