This Distracted Globe random header image

Rancho Deluxe (1975)

November 17th, 2007 · 6 Comments

Rancho Deluxe 1975 poster.jpg   Rancho Deluxe DVD cover.jpg

Jack (Jeff Bridges) and his Indian buddy Cecil (Sam Waterston) pass the time in Montana shooting cattle and sawing them up on the spot with a chainsaw. Rancher John Brown (Clifton James) and his wife (Elizabeth Ashley) – who sold a chain of beauty parlors to buy the “B-Bar Lazy” – decide to break the monotony of western living by declaring “war” on the penny ante cattle rustlers.

Trying to think big, Jack and Cecil kidnap Brown’s blue ribbon seed bull from a livestock show. The Browns pay off and are directed to a hotel room, where the boys have stashed the 2,600-pound steer. Brown’s droopy ranch hands Curt (Harry Dean Stanton) and Burt (Richard Bright) are sent to find the rustlers, but after meeting Jack and Cecil at a saloon, decide to name them as the thieves so they can go back to goofing off.

Jack proposes they work together, masterminding a plan to steal a truck full of Brown’s cattle. Stock detective Henry Beige (Slim Pickens) has been hired by Brown to find the rustlers, but can barely walk and doesn’t appear interested in doing much detecting. Curt becomes infatuated with Beige’s foxy niece (Charlene Dallas), while Jack amuses himself with the wild daughter (Patti D’Arbanville) of a man with a Lincoln Continental Mark IV.

Rancho Deluxe 1975 Jeff Bridges Sam Waterston pic 1.jpg

Production history 
After three novels – The Sporting Club, The Bushwacked Piano and 92 in the Shade – 34-year-old Thomas McGuane had been inaugurated by critics as a new William Faulkner or Ernest Hemingway. Noted for his mastery of language, acidic commentary on American culture, and blundering anti-heroes, the author was soon offered work in motion pictures.

McGuane had sold the film rights to The Sporting Club and bought a ranch in Paradise Valley, Montana. Located at the northern gate of Yellowstone National Park, the valley’s natural beauty and isolation attracted fellow hard living mavericks Sam Peckinpah and Peter Fonda. McGuane used the country as the setting for a screenplay he’d written in two weeks called Rancho Deluxe.

Frank Perry was hired to direct. Extremely literate, Perry had scored a box office hit with Diary of a Mad Housewife in 1970, then adapted Joan Didion’s nihilistic novel Play It As It Lays in 1972. Perry had refused to soften Didion’s bleak Hollywood tale for the masses, and on Rancho Deluxe, prohibited the actors from deviating from McGuane’s text. The film was ignored by audiences and critics at the time, but has surfaced as a cult classic today.

Rancho Deluxe 1975 Elizabeth Ashley pic 2.jpg

Rancho Deluxe never aspires to be a great drama, western, or satire of either. Somehow, it ends up being all of the above. McGuane seems to have written this script purely out of a desire “just to keep from fallin’ asleep” – Jack’s definition for capitalism – but there’s a difference between a movie that flounders and one that drifts. This one drifts magnanimously. If the object of a movie was to be as low key and goofy as possible, Rancho Deluxe would be a masterpiece.

Jeff Bridges gives an early variation on the societal goober he’d play throughout his career, but Sam Waterston (it’s strange to see this dude not wearing a tie) is sublime, playing a Caucasian looking Indian who could either be the smartest character in the film, or the dumbest. Slim Pickens and Elizabeth Ashley are also a hoot in less screen time, while Harry Dean Stanton and Richard Bright are so affable, they could have been featured in their own spin-off movie.

The film features gorgeous picture postcard lighting by William Fraker and a honkytonk score by Jimmy Buffet (McGuane’s brother-in-law, pre-Parrothood). I can’t argue that it all seems a bit pointless, but the film’s look and sound are so comfortable, Perry gives the audience space to arrive at a “point” at their own leisure. If you’re a fan of ’70s cinema, or of Bottle Rocket, Rancho Deluxe is absolutely worth checking out.

Rancho Deluxe 1975 Richard Bright Harry Dean Stanton pic 3.jpg

Mark Zimmer at digitally Obsessed says, “While the film seems to have been set up as a sex comedy, even the prurient will find little interesting here, especially since the gorgeous leads, Ashley and Dallas, keep all their clothes on throughout. As Brother Jeff Ulmer might say, we have a serious lack of fan service.”

“There’s nothing so hapless as a movie made in the wrong style, especially when the director doggedly insists on that style to the bitter end,” said Roger Ebert in his January 1, 1975 review in the Chicago Sun-Times. He gave it 1 and 1/2 stars.

CPe at Time Out London says, “In keeping with the audience it is aimed at, the film is self-consciously cynical and insolent, and at the same time fundamentally romantic and seeking to be liked. The combination works surprisingly well, thanks to good ensemble acting, even if Thomas McGuane’s script sometimes veers towards sentiment and smart-ass observations.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Black comedy · Cult favorite · Western

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Phil // Nov 18, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    I realize that you like Rancho Deluxe (I do too) and that maybe this one sentence was not meant to be taken this way, but I’m compelled to point out that when you say “If the object of a movie was to be as low key and goofy as possible, Rancho Deluxe would be a masterpiece” you are making an entirely erroneous statement. There is no – and I repeat NO – limit to the “object” of the medium of film and certainly no one, single (or even just a set, predetermined range of) object(s) that all or ANY film should be judged by. Movies are just movies, you can do ANYTHING with them that film is capable of. Your statement suggests that being “low key and goofy” is somehow an invalid object for any film to pursue. This points to the conclusion that by adopting “low key and goofy” as its “object” this somehow limits Rancho Deluxe, not to mention any other film that might fall outside your list of approved “objects” that movies are permitted to pursue. The simple fact is that, in the realm of “low key and goofy” movies, Rancho deluxe IS a “masterpiece.” At the very least, there is no barrier to making this conclusion or holding this opinion because, like I said, there are no set objects that any film should ever be held to except those objects that it holds before itself. If a thriller is boring or a comedy unfunny, then it’s a failure in some sense, but if a “low key and goofy” movie is actually low key and goofy in a sublime and unique fashion (like Rancho Deluxe) then it’s a success, or a masterpiece, depending on your personal standards and linguistic preferences. Let Rancho Deluxe BE Rancho Deluxe and don’t demand that it be anything else other than what it is, and grant all other movies the same right.

  • 2 Joe // Nov 19, 2007 at 8:39 am


    FYI. A bit of trivia for you. Although it is not widely known, McQuane rewrote his script the following year, in 1976, for Arthur Penn’s “The Missouri Breaks.” If you look closely, the plots are identical. What’s different between the two films is that McQuane scrambled his characters, including their sexes, so that they seem like two distinctly different films. Both films were, of course, released by United Artists. Beau Bridges, brother of Jeff, told me this years ago. (BTW, if you happen to view the two films back-to-back, it helps to have a paper and pencil handy so that you can outline everything and see the striking similarities.) One more thing: Great blog!

  • 3 Joe // Nov 19, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Yipes! Apologies, Joe, for misspelling McGuane’s name. Not once but twice!

  • 4 Megan // Nov 19, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    I had never heard of this movie before. I think I’ll check it out!

  • 5 Joe Valdez // Nov 19, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    Phil: Wow, I’m sure glad we both liked this movie. Yeah, all I’m saying here is that in the realm of low key, goofy natured movies, is one of the greats. That’s the frame the film really worked for me. It’s not Animal House, but it does have a sarcastic charm that I liked.

    Joe: Thanks for your compliment! From what I’ve read about McGuane’s lifestyle and chemical balance at the time, your story sounds right to me. I’ve never seen The Missouri Breaks, but now I’m intrigued. Perhaps a Jack Nicholson festival is in order.

    Megan: Let me know if you find Rancho Deluxe worthy of my appraisal. And thanks for commenting!

  • 6 humphrey bogart // Mar 1, 2009 at 1:30 am

    I just saw Rancho Deluxe for the first time. It’s 2009 and the film was released in 1975. Well, all I can say is that I loved the film. I love the scenery, the actors, the acting, the direction, the script. There’s just one thing. I can’t find any pictures of Charlene Dallas on the web…not ONE! She was a smokin hot babe in that movie, and I’d like to find a poster of her, or something. I know she was in a few other films, but no images on the web. I am amazed that the image of such a formidable femme remains absent, and unrepresented on the world wide web. Oh well. Great blog.

Leave a Comment