The Electric Horseman (1979)

PG | 120 mins | Drama, Adventure, Romance | 21 December 1979

Director:

Sydney Pollack

Writer:

Robert Garland

Producer:

Ray Stark

Cinematographer:

Owen Roizman

Editor:

Sheldon Kahn

Production Designer:

Stephen Grimes

Production Companies:

Rastar Films , Wildwood Enterprises
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HISTORY

End credits include the following written statement: “We would like to thank the management and staff of Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas for their assistance and co-operation."
       As described in a 24 Dec 1978 LAT article, the story originated with writer Shelly Burton in the early 1970s. Director Sydney Pollack and actor Robert Redford were approached early on, but were involved in other commitments. While the project was being developed at Columbia Pictures under producer Ray Stark, Martin Ritt was announced as director, according to a 11 Mar 1977 HR news item. After Pollack and Redford abandoned a film based on the Robert Penn Warren book, A Place To Come To, they returned to The Electric Horseman, which represented their fifth collaboration as director and actor.
       Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that the project was Redford’s first feature following a three-year hiatus from acting.
       Robert Garland received final screenplay credit and shared screen story credit with Paul Gaer, but sources indicate that other writers contributed, although none are credited onscreen. A 27 Mar 1978 LAT article noted that Carol Sobieski rewrote an earlier script by Gaer and Walter Bernstein, and the 24 Dec 1978 LAT article referred to Alvin Sargent as revising the screenplay during production. In a 4 Jan 1980 NYT article, Pollack stated that, in early drafts, the character “Sonny Steele” kidnaps the horse for ransom instead of setting it free.
       Although production notes mentioned that the role of “Hallie Martin” was created with Jane Fonda in mind, actresses Jill Clayburgh and Diane Keaton were also ... More Less

End credits include the following written statement: “We would like to thank the management and staff of Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas for their assistance and co-operation."
       As described in a 24 Dec 1978 LAT article, the story originated with writer Shelly Burton in the early 1970s. Director Sydney Pollack and actor Robert Redford were approached early on, but were involved in other commitments. While the project was being developed at Columbia Pictures under producer Ray Stark, Martin Ritt was announced as director, according to a 11 Mar 1977 HR news item. After Pollack and Redford abandoned a film based on the Robert Penn Warren book, A Place To Come To, they returned to The Electric Horseman, which represented their fifth collaboration as director and actor.
       Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that the project was Redford’s first feature following a three-year hiatus from acting.
       Robert Garland received final screenplay credit and shared screen story credit with Paul Gaer, but sources indicate that other writers contributed, although none are credited onscreen. A 27 Mar 1978 LAT article noted that Carol Sobieski rewrote an earlier script by Gaer and Walter Bernstein, and the 24 Dec 1978 LAT article referred to Alvin Sargent as revising the screenplay during production. In a 4 Jan 1980 NYT article, Pollack stated that, in early drafts, the character “Sonny Steele” kidnaps the horse for ransom instead of setting it free.
       Although production notes mentioned that the role of “Hallie Martin” was created with Jane Fonda in mind, actresses Jill Clayburgh and Diane Keaton were also considered for the role, according to reports in the 17 Feb 1978 HR and the 13 Sep 1978 DV.
       The Electric Horseman marked the motion picture debut for singer-songwriter Willie Nelson. A 28 Jul 1980 Box article stated that Pollack expanded a three-line part to a supporting role when he saw Nelson’s ease in front of the camera.
       Livestock supervisor, Kenny Lee, spent six months searching for the ideal horse to play “Rising Star,” according to production notes. At a dressage school near Los Angeles, CA, Lee eventually spotted a five-year old thoroughbred, named “Let’s Merge,” that had speed, intelligence and particularly the gentle temperament required for scenes inside the casino and on the streets of Las Vegas, NV.
       A studio press release announced that principal photography began 1 Nov 1978 in Las Vegas and that the film would shoot primarily at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino. After the Christmas break, production resumed early Jan 1979 in southern UT. According to an 18 Dec 1979 HR column, the film crew spent approximately six weeks in Las Vegas and an equal amount of time in UT. A 28 Jan 1979 Salt Lake Tribune article revealed that the original setting was NM, but Redford was influential in relocating the story to southern UT, where he had a residence. The production was based in the town of St. George, UT, and also utilized locations at Snow Canyon and Ivins Reservoir, known in the screenplay as “Cisco Falls.”
       The flashing light ensemble created for Redford and the horse was made by costume designer, Bernie Pollack, brother to Sydney Pollack, and cost $35,000, according to production notes.
       The world premiere took place 12 Dec 1979 at Plitt’s Century Plaza Theater in Los Angeles, CA, to benefit the Women’s Guild of Cedars Sinai Medical Center, as reported in a 14 Dec 1979 LAT article.
       Although Columbia Pictures relied on the untapped potential of country music radio to market the film and hosted press junkets featuring Willie Nelson, as described in the 3 Dec 1979 HR, they did not want the picture to be perceived as a Western, a genre that had proven unprofitable over the previous decade. An 11 Feb 1980 Village Voice column noted that producer Stark initiated a “‘Redford-Fonda-Electric’” campaign to highlight the romance of the story, while diverting attention away from the word “Horseman.”
       A 29 Jan 1980 DV article pointed out that the budget was $14 million, plus advertising expenditures of $6 million. The financial costs were shared between Universal Pictures and Columbia, with the latter handling domestic distribution.
       Studio executives were disappointed in the first week box-office results, which were just under $6.5 million, according to the 31 Dec 1979 DV. However, in the following weeks, the box-office outlook brightened and the picture became “the word-of-mouth film of the [holiday] season,” as described in the Village Voice column. After fourteen weeks in national release, the film had grossed over $50 million and was considered a blockbuster hit, according to briefs in the 13 Feb 1980 HR and the 1 Apr 1980 DV.
       The film received Academy Award nominations for Arthur Piantadosi, Les Fresholtz, Michael Minkler and Al Overton, Jr. in the category of Sound.

More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
28 Jul 1980
p. 1, 11.
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1978.
---
Daily Variety
1 Dec 1978
p. 14, 16.
Daily Variety
31 Dec 1979.
---
Daily Variety
29 Jan 1980
p. 1, 65.
Daily Variety
1 Apr 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Dec 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 1979
p. 3, 12.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Dec 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Feb 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
27 Mar 1978
Section E, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
24 Dec 1978
Calendar, p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
14 Dec 1979
Section H, pp. 2-3.
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1979
p. 31.
New York Times
21 Dec 1979
p. 10.
New York Times
4 Jan 1980
Section C, p. 10.
Salt Lake Tribune
28 Jan 1979.
---
Variety
5 Dec 1979
p. 22.
Village Voice
11 Feb 1980.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures Present
A Ray Stark-Wildwood Production
A Sydney Pollack Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Scr story
Scr story
Based on a story by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Gaffer
Key grip
Cam op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Gaffer
Best boy
Elec
Best boy
Dolly grip
Grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed, L.A.
Apprentice asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Set des
Const coord
Leadman
Swing gang
Swing gang
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Stand-by painter
Const foreman
Const foreman
Const painter
Painter
Propmaker
Propmaker
Propmaker
Propmaker
Const laborer
Const laborer
COSTUMES
Cost des
Men`s cost
Men`s cost
Women`s cost
Women`s cost
Asst men's cost
Asst women's cost
MUSIC
Songs sung by
Mus scoring mixer
SOUND
Prod mixer
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd asst
Sd asst
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Boomman
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Extra makeup
Extra hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Asst to Mr. Pollack
Prod coord
Scr supv
Prod associate
Transportation coord
Loc mgr
Unit pub
Livestock supv
Asst to auditor
Prod's asst
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Horse driver
Craft service
First aid
Projectionist
Transportation capt
Transportation cocapt
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Honeywagon driver
Caterer
Caterer
STAND INS
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunts chase seq
Stunts chase seq
Stunts chase seq
Stunts chase seq
Stunts chase seq
Stunts chase seq
Stunts chase seq
Stunts chase seq
Stunts chase seq
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
[Col by]
SOURCES
SONGS
"Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up And Be Cowboys," music by Ed Bruce and Patsy Bruce
"Midnight Rider," music by Gregory L. Allman
"Hands On The Wheel," music by William M. Callery.
DETAILS
Release Date:
21 December 1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 21 December 1979
Production Date:
began 1 November 1978 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. & Universal City Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
7 January 1980
Copyright Number:
PA54238
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
120
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25724
SYNOPSIS

Former rodeo world champion, Sonny Steele, has traded competition for advertising as the national spokesman for Ranch breakfast cereal and he tours the country in a jeweled cowboy costume, braided with flashing lights. However, his manager, Wendell, and assistant, Leroy, struggle to keep Sonny sober, and the global conglomerate, AMPCO Industries, who hired Sonny, is increasingly disappointed in his performance. In Las Vegas, Nevada, a television newscaster from New York City, named Hallie Martin, arrives for an AMPCO media event and is curious why the company discourages interviews with the cowboy. During rehearsals for the AMPCO variety show at Caesars Palace, Sonny notices that Rising Star, the $12 million champion racehorse he will be riding on stage and the company’s new corporate symbol, has been drugged with tranquilizers. He barges into the sales reception and complains to AMPCO’s chairman, Hunt Sears, that the thoroughbred stallion is being exploited, but Sears reminds Sonny about his generous contract and walks away. When Sonny arrives backstage for his act that evening, he mounts Rising Star and goes on stage in the middle of a disco musical number as the director screams for him to stop. Tipping his hat to the audience, Sonny carefully rides the horse down the runway, out of the nightclub and through the casino. After trotting down the Las Vegas strip, Sonny and Rising Star gallop out of town. In the aftermath of the incident, AMPCO executives are desperate to locate Sonny before the press does, worried that the cowboy might raise concerns about the company’s treatment of the horse, which could jeopardize an upcoming $300 million merger. At a ... +


Former rodeo world champion, Sonny Steele, has traded competition for advertising as the national spokesman for Ranch breakfast cereal and he tours the country in a jeweled cowboy costume, braided with flashing lights. However, his manager, Wendell, and assistant, Leroy, struggle to keep Sonny sober, and the global conglomerate, AMPCO Industries, who hired Sonny, is increasingly disappointed in his performance. In Las Vegas, Nevada, a television newscaster from New York City, named Hallie Martin, arrives for an AMPCO media event and is curious why the company discourages interviews with the cowboy. During rehearsals for the AMPCO variety show at Caesars Palace, Sonny notices that Rising Star, the $12 million champion racehorse he will be riding on stage and the company’s new corporate symbol, has been drugged with tranquilizers. He barges into the sales reception and complains to AMPCO’s chairman, Hunt Sears, that the thoroughbred stallion is being exploited, but Sears reminds Sonny about his generous contract and walks away. When Sonny arrives backstage for his act that evening, he mounts Rising Star and goes on stage in the middle of a disco musical number as the director screams for him to stop. Tipping his hat to the audience, Sonny carefully rides the horse down the runway, out of the nightclub and through the casino. After trotting down the Las Vegas strip, Sonny and Rising Star gallop out of town. In the aftermath of the incident, AMPCO executives are desperate to locate Sonny before the press does, worried that the cowboy might raise concerns about the company’s treatment of the horse, which could jeopardize an upcoming $300 million merger. At a press conference, they announce that Sonny is facing grand larceny charges. Meanwhile, in the Nevada desert, Sonny borrows a camper van from his friend Gus Atwater and drives to Utah with Rising Star. Along the way, he begins to detoxify the stallion and treat the animal’s swollen tendon. Back at the casino, Hallie investigates Sonny’s whereabouts. After piecing together clues from Leroy and Wendell, Hallie tracks down Gus and cajoles him into revealing Sonny’s location. Sonny is angry when Hallie finds his campsite, so he refuses to answer questions about why he took the horse. Before continuing on his way, he punctures the tires of her car. Unable to trail Sonny, Hallie returns to Las Vegas and reports on television that she found the rebel cowboy and the kidnapped horse, but keeps the location confidential, which frustrates AMPCO executives. Driving into St. George, Utah, Sonny hears on the radio that a massive search is underway for Rising Star and he is annoyed that AMPCO accuses him of being an alcoholic who might not have the horse’s best interests at heart. He telephones Hallie and says that if she can leave Las Vegas without being followed, he will give her a story. Arriving in a remote canyon with video equipment, Hallie records Sonny on camera as he reveals that the champion racehorse was pumped with drugs and put on stage with dancing girls, but has “earned a better life.” Following the interview, Sonny discloses to Hallie that he will turn Rising Star loose at a secret destination. Based on information obtained earlier from Sonny’s estranged wife, Hallie assumes that Sonny is taking Rising Star to Rim Rock Canyon, Utah. In a nearby town, Hallie telephones her producer and requests a camera crew at Rim Rock. When she notices an army of police cars on the streets, she arranges for a truck driver to deliver the videotape to a television affiliate in St. George and returns to warn Sonny. Scrambling into the camper, she insists she must accompany Sonny, or the authorities will force her to reveal all she knows. After arriving in town, Sonny orders Hallie to drive the camper to a lake near Cisco Falls, while he distracts the police and gallops away on Rising Star. Using his rodeo skills and the horse’s speed, Sonny evades the police and by nightfall, meets Hallie at the lake. Meanwhile, the videotape of Sonny is broadcast on television, and the public perceives him as a hero. Since authorities have been alerted to the camper, Sonny, Hallie and Rising Star leave it behind and begin walking. Along the way, they encounter a local farmer who admired Sonny’s statement on television and offers to drive them to the next county in a tractor-trailer, foregoing the $50,000 reward for Sonny’s capture. The farmer also provides rations as Sonny and Hallie continue on foot. During the isolated journey, the animosity between Sonny and Hallie dissipates, and they become lovers. Hallie is impressed by Sonny’s knowledge of the outdoors and his integrity, and likewise, Sonny admires her street smarts and talents as a reporter. Meanwhile, the AMPCO executives notice that Sonny’s newfound popularity has boosted cereal sales, and they begin to reverse their position. Getting closer to their destination, Sonny and Hallie spend the night at an old hunting cabin, but Hallie appears anxious. She confesses to Sonny that she ordered television cameras to meet them at Rim Rock, but now regrets her actions. Despite the possibility that police might be there, Sonny will not change his plans. The following day, Sonny stops in a valley and announces that they have arrived, but Hallie is confused because she does not see the camera crew. Sonny explains that this location, where he always intended to set Rising Star free, is Silver Reef, not Rim Rock. Relieved, Hallie kisses Rising Star goodbye, and Sonny releases the stallion to join a herd of wild horses. Meanwhile, AMPCO executives wait at Rim Rock with television reporters and a welcoming banner before realizing that they have been misinformed about his arrival. At a café in St. George, Hallie and Sonny enjoy a meal together, kiss goodbye and go their separate ways. Later, from the television studio in New York City, Hallie reports on her journey with Sonny and mentions that all charges against the cowboy have been dropped while the whereabouts of Rising Star are still unknown. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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