Probably the first Western which really deserves to be called existential. Bounty hunter Gashade (Oates) and his young sidekick Coley (Hutchins) are persuaded by an unknown woman (Perkins) to lead her into the desert. On the skyline appears a spectral figure who later turns out to be Billy Spear (Nicholson), a sadistic gunman whose relationship to the woman remains obscure. The prevailing atmosphere of fear and despair intensifies as Gashade and Coley realise they are involved in the hunting of an unidentified man, and as strange suggestions about the nature of the hunt multiply. On the way they encounter a dying man, and Coley, in an absurdist gesture typical of the film, offers him coloured candy. There is talk of 'a little person, maybe a child', who was killed back in the town they left, but this is never clarified; instead Hellman builds remorselessly on the atmosphere and implications of the 'quest' until it assumes a terrifying importance in itself. 'It's just a feeling I've got to see through' says the bounty hunter, and Gregory Sandor's excellent photography manages to create the feeling visually, with dialogue kept to a bare minimum. What Hellman has done is to take the basic tools of the Western, and use them, without in anyway diluting or destroying their power, as the basis for a Kafkaesque drama.
Cast and crew
Adrien Joyce Carole Eastman
Jack Nicholson Guy El Tsosie Warren Oates BJ Merholz Millie Perkins Charles Eastman Will Hutchins