Clint Eastwood directed this light and pleasing adventure comedy about a group of misfits who choose to live out their fantasies. Eastwood himself stars as Bronco Billy, a failed New Jersey shoe salesman who – at the age of 31 – takes on the persona of a Western hero and runs a small Wild West show.
Billy is an interesting character. Having seen failure in many forms, he finds that the only thing he can believe in is fantasy. Well, almost . . . He also believes in the positive value of The Hero, he believes – completely – in the American flag, he believes in nourishing food and formal education (at least until eighth grade), and he believes that women should be treated with great courtesy.
His delusions have charm and his naivety is quaint. He is, above all, a man who has found the real world wanting, and who has taken steps to adjust his surroundings to fit his needs.
Although he preaches Sunday school platitudes to the “little pards” who comprise much of his audience, Billy spent seven years in prison for shooting his wife after catching her in bed with his best friend. And it’s entirely in character that he shoots his wife because his code of ethics bars him from putting a bullet in his friend!
Sondra Locke (Eastwood’s regular female lead) plays a snooty, wealthy woman who somehow becomes enmeshed in Billy’s fantasy. She stamps her foot a lot and does her best to offer an unpleasant, spoiled person, but – of course – she has a heart of gold.
Scatman Crothers, Sam Bottoms and Bill McKinney play Bronco Billy’s loyal companions who make up the rest of the cast of the Wild West show. Each has a story, and each has a reason for seeking the separate reality offered by Billy and the tent show. And each figures in the subplot.
Although his motley sidekicks haven’t been paid in six months, they stick by Billy because – like him – they are playing out their fantasies.
Bronco Billy is cheerful entertainment. Eastwood looks like he had a good time making the film, and he looks relaxed and amiable.
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