City Slickers (1991): Part 2 of 2
Director: Ron Underwood
Writer: Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel
Cinematographer: Dean Semler
Producer: Irby Smith
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Although it’s a strange relationship in that essentially the ranch owner is having tourists pay him to do work, over a two week period they will learn how to herd cattle, taught by the few remaining cowboys who within about two hours, hit on Bonnie and help to demonstrate how far we have come as a society, as with 80s comedy-type flavor, the men harass the customer and yet remain on the job, as though it was just a simple mistake.
They head into the open canyons and the antics begin, where after Mitch causes the cattle to run off when grinding some fresh coffee beans with his electric, he enrages Curly who demands they alone round them up.
What I failed to remember were the volume of heart to hearts, as during their detour, Curly mentions how he was in love only once in his life, with a girl he never admitted his feelings to; later telling Mitch that the meaning of life is finding that cryptic “one thing”, which I remember feeling frustrated about as a kid, and now fully comprehend. They later deliver a baby cow (which Mitch names Norman), in what I don’t recall being such a graphic scene (we see a baby cow actually exit the mother), but leaves Mitch speechless until Curly shoots the mom in the head as she suffers post-birth. For as heavy as all this, the film never feels pedantic or heavy, always balancing the philosophy with good humor.
As the three men ride, after Ed asks whether Mitch would sleep with Bonnie even if she was an alien that came to Earth and no one could possibly find out, Phil asks each of them for their best and worst day (excluding having children). Mitch mentions going to Yankee Stadium for the first time with his dad, the worst day being that Barbara had once found a lump, thinking it might be cancer; later finding out it was innocuous. Ed says that Mitch is a “glass-half-empty-kinda-guy”, failing to see why discovering it was nothing should have made it the best day of their lives (both perspectives make sense). Phil mentions his wedding day as the best, and every day after being the worst, ending on Ed who offers a fairly grim story of his deadbeat dad moving out of the house as both the best and worst day of his life.
Mitch goes on to tell them about Curly’s One Thing Philosophy, unsure of what it exactly meant. Curly dies later that evening, leaving the crew in the hands of the two cowboys who, without supervision, proceed to get drunk and shoot off their guns, soon aiming them at Norman the baby cow, causing Mitch and Phil to come storming out. Phil attacks the pair, wrangling the gun out of Cookie’s hand and pointing it as his face, and in another scene that was far more somber than I remember, seems to consider shooting him dead, as after over a decade of abuse by his wife and father-in-law, the last thing he wanted was for another bully to get their way. Mitch calms him down and the two cowboys take off that night, leaving them with no food or supplies and all the cattle to drive in.
Ed, Phil, and the rest of the crew, including the Shalowitz brothers, the doctor and his son, and Bonnie all decide to leave, abandoning the cattle. But Mitch refuses. Ed and Phil remain, and so begins one of the most impressive and elaborate climatic sequences I can remember seeing in recent times. The rain begins to storm down, leaving them to drive these wild cattle, culminating in getting them to descend a muddy slope and into and across a river to reach Colorado on the other side. There is no CGI. What it looks like is that - with very few digital effects - they actually film real cattle doing all of this, including Herman getting taken away in the river, which Mitch then dives into, roaring through the rapids, catching up to the baby cow and barely hanging onto a branch before being whisked away, saved at the last moment by Ed and Phil.
Mitch returns home to his wife and kid, realizing they’re his one thing; and for as cheesy as the ending is, where in pure 90s fashion, he meets them outside the airport, and while hugging them and getting into the car, a helicopter shot pulls out as the voice over continues. Regardless of the sentiment, it somehow works, and in shere conservative fashion, we see the character return to and find meaning in family, no longer worried about his monotonous and repetitive job. While it was the adventure of outdoor living and his bond with nature that provided the answer, somehow it put the previous life in perspective. It’s not wrong; it’s just the inherent conservative conclusion of Hollywood.
What makes the movie work is the perfect combination of western tropes within popular comedy. I was close to saying it was the first time such a thing had been done, then realized how stupid it was. But the film feels unique; as though nothing like it had been done before. It’s not easy to make a movie about heavy things, and while it stands a better chance with humor, I struggle to think of many more films that can be seen by youth as an action-adventure comedy, which reveals an additional layer about relationships and life’s meaning in modern American. Many of us had large dreams, and while some are closer to others, I don’t know personally anyone that’s fully actuated their goals; they too are going through the grind, at times frustrated, and there’s no shame in family being what’s most important in the brief time we’re here.
It’s a movie like that I would have watched in college and found as a precaution; to avoid the 9-5 track of life I rather pursue my dreams. I’m now making a living by directing, but it’s not the most fulfilling work. I too find myself thinking about quitting, until I pinch myself to think I’m making a pretty good life out in Santa Monica and living with a partner I love. Still, there’s an never0ending feeling of wanting more out of life; strikingly similar to what I felt in college before deciding I’d give LA a shot. I came out here to make movies and the years are now flying by. The sad reality is that the vast majority of people pursuing their dreams are going to fail and likely fall back on something else. And so I’m left in this odd phase; of being so close and yet so far. Either way - we will all fade faster than we imagine and so it's about this moment, what we're doing, and if a pursuit provides an optimal of healthy pleasure, to either myself or others, then that's what matters most. Whatever happens, it’s at least one thing.
BELOW: One of my favorite monologues
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