"It was an old-fashioned theme, probably too old fashioned since the film didn't do as well as we hoped. But if, as a film director, I ever wanted to say something, you'll find it in Bronco Billy."
Despite the film failing to be a box office hit in his eyes (Even though it made 5 times it's budget), Clint Eastwood made the above quote in a French interview in regards to this little 1980 gem that he both directed and starred in alongside his former partner Sandra Locke. And while it's reviews weren't anything to write home about, this little tale of an idealistic, modern-day cowboy struggling to keep his Wild West show afloat in the face of bad luck and a demoralized crew of fellow performers, Eastwood creates a fun and cleverly plotted tale.
The film was nothing particularly new in the themes it was trying to present, even in 1980. The traditional versus the modern, the classic hero versus the corrupt, the initially cold-hearted love interest who finds her warmth among a group of humble performers. Yet, despite all this cliche, Eastwood carries it all with deep pride in both his direction and the titular character he plays. He surrounds himself with passionate actors (Many he worked with continuously during that time in his career).
Among the standouts is Scatman Crothers as Billy's right-hand man Doc Lynch and, to a lesser extent, Geoffrey Lewis as John Arlington, the con man who abandons his new wife Antoinette Lily (Played by Locke) at the hotel by Billy's show, thus propelling the snobby heiress into a journey of self-discovery among the show's crew. Locke, while having obvious chemistry with her then-husband Eastwood, sticks out as struggling to most to blend into the more natural performances of those around her. She plays Antoinette like a caricature with obvious flaws that we as the audience see so easily and thus can predict much of her journey with everything so on the surface.
Locke's faults are kept to a minimum and luckily serves a tag along as screenwriter's Dennis Hackin crafts a story that never tires and masks it's narrative's plot beats behind an entertaining array of events and plot gags. The humor, thus, feels natural among the sometimes moody events. This ultimately projects the film's well-balanced tone.
With Snuff Garrett's folksy score livening up even the most relatable and downtrodden moments of the story, Eastwood comments on his own legend and the legend of the traditional that we often forget about as the world propels forward. Yet, as the times change, it's hard not to find movies like this endearing throughout and a reminder that some things shouldn't go out of style. Much like Mr. Eastwood himself.
Performances of ensemble.