American filmmaker and stage director Frank Perry was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Director category for his debut feature, the 1962 independent drama film David and Lisa. Thirteen years and eight feature films later, Perry went on to helm his second comedy (the first being Diary of a Mad Housewife in 1970), the anti-western Rancho Deluxe, starring the phenomenal Jeff Bridges. It would be an understatement to say that Perry’s movie changed the actor’s life—it is on set that he met Susan Geston, his wife of forty-four years, who worked as a ranch waitress at the time. With a script written by American novelist Thomas McGuane, this underrated film released in 1975 successfully satirizes the Western genre, while managing to be both highly immersive and cleverly plotted in its own right. Shot on location in Montana, Rancho Deluxe follows two cattle rustlers, whose vocation is more a matter of conscious choice than of genuine necessity. One of them is Jack McKee (played by Jeff Bridges), a rich man from a rich family who traded his sheltered and privileged lifestyle and married status for the freedom to do whatever, go wherever and be whoever he wants. The other member of this lively and unbothered duo is Cecil Colson (portrayed by the amazing Sam Waterston), a Native American who refuses to live in accordance with the traditions of his tribe.

When we first meet the two, we are made well aware of the fact that the scene we are witnessing is just another Tuesday in their books—they kill a cow with a rifle, cut her up with a portable chainsaw and talk their landlady into taking the meat as a means of payment. She makes it quite clear that this is not the first time they have done this, the two promise to pay in cash next time around and we as viewers harbor no illusions pertaining to the truthfulness of their claim. Again, they have consciously chosen this lifestyle—and they do not pretend it to be otherwise, which makes them surprisingly self-aware. As The New York Times’ Richard Eder insightfully points out in his 1975 review of Rancho Deluxe: “Their self-knowledge and their deliberate kookiness is their commentary—and the film's—on Western pretensions of retaining old values while in fact living off all the comforts and shortcuts of urban American life.” In fact, Jack and Cecil are not the only characters guilty of this “crime”, but they are the only ones who are consciously committing it.

The antagonist is rancher John Brown (Clifton James), a former East coast businessman who used to run a New York beauty parlor but decided to trade it in for country life and now rambles on about the importance of preserving a free West, blissfully unaware of just how hypocritical he is being. His wife Cora (Elizabeth Ashley), as bored with her existence as her husband is with his, openly flirts with John’s two ranch hands Curt and Burt (played by Harry Dean Stanton and Richard Bright, respectively), who are not the sharpest tools in the shed. The lifepaths of our protagonists and the wealthy rancher cross at the very beginning, with the aforementioned dead cow belonging to the latter’s herd. And since that is probably the most exciting thing that has happened to Brown in quite a while, he quickly jumps at the opportunity to distract himself from his vapid life by indulging in a game of cops and robbers. In come Curt and Burt, tasked with the assignment of trying to catch the problematic rustlers whose appetite for sticking their noses in Brown’s business only seems to grow.

This includes stunts like them holding Brown’s expensive prize bull for ransom (and delivering it to the rancher in probably the funniest and definitely the most absurd scene Rancho Deluxe has to offer) and a plan to steal a whole lot of Brown’s cattle. In the midst of all of this commotion, Brown hires detective Henry Beige (Slim Pickens) to track down the robbers to his cop, but the old man turns out to be nowhere near what Brown bargained for. Frail and disinterested, Beige does not seem like one for action, with his lovely and innocent niece Laura (Charlene Dallas) being at his beck and call. The sweet girl will inevitably catch the attention of one of Brown’s ranch hands. But in Rancho Deluxe, nothing and no one is as they seem at first glance, meaning that the feeble old man and his angelic niece are no exceptions to that rule.

With all the chess pieces in place, the plot of Rancho Deluxe can begin to seamlessly unfold, offering us a surprise twist made possible by wrong presumptions on the one hand, and highly capable and intelligent chess pieces on the other. The end result is a funny, laid-back and unpretentious satire of the Western genre and an equally clever commentary on the ways in which the old west has changed. Of course, some of the most impressive elements of Rancho Deluxe are its cast members and the truly phenomenal dynamics between them. So, if you are in search of a movie that will undoubtedly quench your thirst for intelligent, yet often overlooked pictures, be sure to get your hands on Rancho Deluxe on Blu-Ray as part of Fun City Editions, Vinegar Syndrome’s new partner label, dedicated to designing deluxe home video editions of timeless films whose value is not bound to the time period of their initial release.

Koraljka Suton is a member of the Croatian Society of Film Critics and has a master’s degree in German and English. For her thesis, she did a comparative analysis of Spielberg’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’. Koraljka trained at a Zagreb-based acting studio for six years and fell in love with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg’s acting techniques. She is also a contemporary dancer and a Reiki master who believes in the transformative quality of art.