TOM HORN, Steve McQueen’s penultimate film, returned the noticeably aged icon to the big screen after an absence of six years following The Towering Inferno (his 1978 passion project An Enemy Of The People was barely released). The Hunter came out four months later: McQueen, 50, died five weeks after it premiered, done in by cancer. Neither project fared well with critics or did anywhere near hoped-for box office: both look better in hindsight. The word on Tom Horn was colored by its troubled production history (three directors quitting or getting the axe) and being beaten to the draw: TV firing first with Mr. Horn, a 3-hour miniseries starring David Carradine that arrived a year before this debuted late in March,1980.
Wyoming, 1901. Legendary scout and gunman Tom Horn is hired by cattlemen as a “stock detective” to put an end—one way or another—to rustlers plaguing their herds. Generally of a disposition half-amiable/half ornery, rough-edged Horn has no trouble delivering lethal verdicts on justice-deserving two-legged varmints. His simple ways and means are increasingly out-of-place in the new, more ‘civilized’ West: eventually his services become a liability.
After Don Siegel, Elliott Silverstein and James William Guercio in turn vacated the director’s chair, William Wiard signed on. A TV veteran, this was his only feature film, but on-set McQueen (who was one of the producers) did most of the job himself, along with cinematographer John A. Alonzo. Creative indecision shows, in the focus and editing; while the script has some good dialogue, the narrative moves in fits and starts and at 98 minutes the story feels truncated. An awkward romantic angle with (attractively unadorned) Linda Evans goes nowhere. Heavyweight western authors (and all-round wildasses) Thomas McGuane and Bud Shrake shared screenplay credit: McGuane’s original script was 450 pages long. Wyoming was played by Arizona (it’s been done before). Ernest Gold kicks it off with a dramatic blast of scoring.
McQueen is relaxed and solid, and there’s flavorful support from Richard Farnsworth, Billy Green Bush and Slim Pickens. The action scenes are excitingly handled. While not the world-shaker envisioned, the maligned film is certainly better than its blah reputation.
A gross of $10,200,000 placed 71st for the year, outgunned by The Long Riders. With Geoffrey Lewis, Chuck Hayward, Roy Jenson, Elisha Cook (he doesn’t end up in the mud this time).