Penny for Heston's Thoughts
Will Penny (Charlton Heston - The War Lord) has been a wrangler for many years but finds himself taking a job as a line rider, keeping trespassers and squatters from settling on his bosses vast property. The thing is that Will discovers in the remote cabin where he is to live a couple of squatters in Catherine Allen (Joan Hackett) and her young son Horace (Jon Gries) who were heading to Oregon to meet up with her husband but was abandoned by her guide. With it being winter Will allows them to stay and share his home which over time leads to them becoming close with Will becoming a father figure to young Horace. But trouble comes when the bible quoting Quint (Donald Pleasence - You Only Live Twice), and his family of killers, shows up and are looking for revenge over a previous encounter with Will.
"Will Penny" is one of those westerns which really started to crop up in the second half of the 60s which unlike earlier westerns which mainly focused on heroics and action focused on a character, a man who had lived the life of a cowboy for years. And it works as long as you watch "Will Penny" knowing that whilst there is some western action for the most this all about an old cowboy who has lived the life of a loner finding himself with a woman and child in his life.
As such what you get in "Will Penny" is this study of Will as we quickly come to realise that he has seen many things over his many years of being a wrangler and can handle himself pretty much come what may. As such horse trouble, angry wranglers, gun fights, torn clothes he knows what he is doing and as he has known nothing else he is happy with his lot in life. But what we then get when he allows Catherine and her son to stay with him over winter is his realisation that he never knew it but he would like a wife and a son to teach what he knows. In truth this isn't new as there had been many earlier westerns where a cowboy finds himself bonding with a child but with the focus being on how caring for a family affects Will it is certainly less action packed and more about the man.
Having said that "Will Penny" still has its action and we have Donald Pleasence as a bible quoting zealot who is wild eyed and as dangerous as any of his children which features Bruce Dern in marvellous bad guy mode. But "Will Penny" is very much Charlton Heston's movie and he does a first rate job of bringing the character to life, from being old and achy, to having seen it all before. You can believe that the character of Will probably takes a bath every couple of months and has fought so many men that he knows exactly what is coming when someone tries to pick a fight. In fairness Heston is surrounded by some good actors in small roles such as Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and Clifton James. There is also Lee Majors who I reckon his character is meant to embody Will as a younger man, learning from Will in the time they ride together and destined to become like him.
What this all boils down to is that "Will Penny" is a very good movie, a beautiful study of an old western character who finds himself discovering that whilst happy with his lot actually wants to be a father and a husband. It is very much Charlton Heston's movie but features some equally entertaining supporting performances especially from Donald Pleasence and Bruce Dern.