Color, 1975, 93 mins. 24 secs.
Directed by Frank Perry
Starring Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Elizabeth Ashley, Clifton James, Slim Pickens, Charlene Dallas, Harry Dean Stanton, Patti D'Arbanville, Richard Bright, Joe Spinell
Fun City Editions (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Among the many, many offbeat buddy movies scattered throughout American '70s cinema, nothing else out there is quite like Rancho Deluxe, a vehicle for the amiable pair of Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston along with a ton of great character actors. At the time it was sold as a kind of counterculture action comedy in the vein of the previous year's Bridges film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, but what audiences actually got was... well, a Frank Perry movie. For those who may not know, Perry (who, yes, was related to Katy Perry) and his wife Eleanor shot to critical acclaim and modest box office success in the '60s and early '70s with an incredible streak including David and Lisa, Ladybug Ladybug, The Swimmer, Last Summer, Doc, the sadly MIA Play It as It Lays, and Man on a Swing. This film essentially closes out that cycle, marking his last theatrical feature of the '70s before he returned in the '80s to a far less hospitable reception with Mommie Dearest, Monsignor, and Hello Again. Complete with a soundtrack by a little rising singer known as Jimmy Buffett, the film was also the first original screenplay by novelist Thomas McGuane (The Sporting Club, 92 in the Shade), who would go on to write two more dusty tales of outsider men, The Missouri Breaks and Tom Horn.
Modern-day Montana cattle rustlers Jack McKee (Bridges), who's shunned his wealthy married background, and Cecil Colson (Waterston), who's of at least partial Native American descent, spend their days stealing meat by butchering cattle mostly belonging to irate land gobbler John Brown (Live and Let Die's James). Less than pleased with the pilfering, Brown sends out two of his less than competent ranch hands, Curt (Stanton) and Burt (Bright), to uncover the rustlers' identity and deal with them. Along the way, lackadasical aging detective Henry Beige (Pickens) enters the mix along with his niece, Laura (Dallas), who becomes a distraction to Curt and Burt as they fall into Jack and Cecil's plan to keep the rustling going with no end in sight.
Though it does function as a kind of easy-breezy buddy crime film of sorts, Rancho Deluxe is more concerned with capturing a snapshot of the region and its quirky personalities including a pleasant off-center bit for none other than Joe "Maniac" Spinell. Of course, Stanton is a secret weapon as always lending a quiet emotional weight to all of his scenes, while Bridges and Waterston have an easy chemistry that carries the whole film along the way to its satisfying finale (which bears an amusing resemblance to a semi-recent Clint Eastwood movie).
Following its theatrical release from United Artists, Rancho Deluxe has remained fairly easy to see over the years including VHS and DVD editions from MGM (as well as its inclusion in a couple of bargain multi-film editions devoted to Bridges from TGG Direct). An HD scan also popped up occasionally on the MGM HD channel, looking excessively noise reduced as with many of the other catalog titles that popped up on there. However, the film never got a special edition until the 2021 Blu-ray from Fun City Editions, who have tricked it out with a nice slate of extras that should answer pretty much any questions you might have. The transfer is listed as a 2K restoration from the 35mm interpositive, and it looks very true to the source with sharp detail and nice color throughout. Be aware though that this is a very, very grainy film, and that's been left intact here versus the previous unsuccessful attempts to scrub it all clean and shiny. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds excellent and features optional English SDH subtitles. A new audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinterkton takes an informative deep dive into many aspects of the film including tidbits about all of the cast members, the background behind Buffett's involvement, the Montana location shooting, ties to other '70s films including its theme of rich kids rejecting their backgrounds, and some other Perry projects that never came to fruition. In "A Very Significant Movie" (21m13s), Bridges chats over Zoom with Fun City's Jonathan Hertzberg about meeting his wife during its production, falling in love with Montana (where he now owns a ranch house with a special Heaven's Gate connection), his recollections of Perry, and stories from the set including the early use of the Pong computer game (long before it turned up in later films like The Fury and The Visitor). Then "Like Playing Jazz" (10m37s) features McGuane chatting about how the project came about during delays with producer Elliot Kastner over 92 in the Shade, the film's reception, his memories of encountering and working with the cast (especially James), and much more. You also get four alternate and extended scenes from the network TV version (broken up into chunks of 3m13s, 46s, and a pair combined at 4m17s) which aired on CBS and completely dropped the more R-rated elements, such as the entire nude love scene with Bridges and a pre-Bilitis Patti D'Arbanville. Also included are the theatrical and a surprisingly substantial (for MGM) gallery featuring 3m28s of really great candid cast shots, In what may be the label's first Easter Egg, there's also a little bonus Harry Dean Stanton goodie tucked away in the extras menu as well, and the packaging features an insert booklet with an appreciative "True West" essay by Gavin Smith.
Reviewed on August 26, 2021