There are films that place identifiable Western genre ideas and components – such as relationship to nature and the taciturn cowboy– into a contemporary setting. Such modern Western-type films demonstrate that perspectives traditionally associated with the “Old West” are in fact transferable across time. Further, those very ideas can represent a direct challenge to a modern lifestyle that could in fact be damaging both to person and planet.

The Electric Horseman (1979) is one such film. The story sees Robert Redford as a former rodeo star named Sonny Steele. Steele has become a spokesperson for a corporation that uses his image to sell breakfast cereal. While at a promotional appearance in Las Vegas, Steele realizes that the horse he is to ride in front of Vegas nightclub crowd – a champion race horse named Rising Star – is injured and has been drugged in order to make him docile for the event.

Steele believes this is the wrong way to treat an animal. In a rejection of both that behavior and his own role for the food company, he rides Rising Star away from Las Vegas with hopes of releasing him in a remote canyon that is home to wild horses. Jane Fonda plays a reporter who attempts to follow Steele for an exclusive story and the two will form a relationship as they try to escape authorities. Here is the scene of Redford leaving with Las Vegas with Rising Star:

There is an underlying critique of the superficial society that Redford’s escape with Rising Star represents – they head back to the land. The fact that Redford maintaining respect for an animal makes him an outlaw is a further critique of the corporate world. The corporation using Rising Star fears that their handling of the issue will negatively affect both an ongoing business merger and their stock price – especially if the public learns that they had drugged the horse. Yet when that corporate world attempts to use modern technology via law enforcement that technology is defeated by the underlying natural power of man, horse and landscape:

The Electric Horseman also marked the acting debut of country singer Willie Nelson. The film’s soundtrack included several of his songs that have become major hits, including “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and Nelson’s cover of the Allman Brothers track, “Midnight Rider”.

The Electric Horseman was released on December 21st, 1979 to strong box office success, earning $30 million in the United States alone.

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)

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