Directed by: Jonathan Kaplan
Story By: Albert S. Ruddy, Charles Finch & Gary Frederickson
Written By: Ken Friedman & Yolande Finch
Cinematography: Ralf Bode
Editor: Jane Kurson
Score: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Madeline Stowe, Drew Barrymore, Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie Macdowell, Dermot Mulroney James Russo, James Le Gros, Jim Beaver, Robert Loggia, Nick Chinlund
When saloon prostitute Cody Zamora rescues her friend Anita from an abusive customer by killing him, she is sentenced to hang. However, Anita and their two friends Eileen and Lilly rescue Cody and the four make a run for Texas, pursued by Graves and O’Brady, two Pinkerton detectives hired to track them. When Cody withdraws her savings from a Texas bank, the women believe they can now start a new life in Oregon. But Cody’s old partner Kid Jarrett takes Cody’s money when his gang robs the bank, and so the four so-called “Honky- Tonk Harlots” set out to recover the money, with the Pinkertons hot on their trail.
This doesn’t feel like the classic westerns of yore. It feels more like a revisionist look at the genre. It feels more like a female-centered thriller with a western motif or like it is trapped in the western genre. That allows for no one to expect anything from these female characters and underestimate them
At every turn. As we watch them overcome the odds of every situation because of it. Show they are just as dangerous and ruthless if not more than the men.
This film is also beautifully shot. It is a western more an ensemble picture that seems more interested in its fashion and seeking to be somewhat cutting edge more than anything else at times.
The film has it’s fair share of history as at one point it was meant to be directed by Tamra Davis (HALF BAKED) who developed it and was subsequently replaced on the film by director Jonathan Kaplan by the studio. Where after a few days of filming the studio didn’t Like what it saw? So they got rid of Actress Cynda Williams who had the leading role. Had a whole new script written and dumped the old screenplay but kept the general idea of a female western tale. They began filming again two weeks later with new production design making the film more colorful and expansive than Originally envisioned.
Director Jonathan Kaplan does a good job but by replacing the female director it seems the studio also took what was supposed to be the film’s point in the first place by having a female-centric western action film directed by a female for one of the first times with a noted mostly Female cast. Then all of a sudden the female director is brushed aside and replaced for an experienced older white male director. He does a decent job but it feels like a tone-deaf decision. Where the studio wanted to make something more mainstream and commercial and was worried at the time the film would be too female-centric and more about feminism in a genre women aren’t noted to see but men are.
This might be why the film seems sexier than it needs to be and seems to use Drew Barrymore more or less as pure eye candy. Though one has to also look at the fact women might not be fans of westerns and action films at the time because they were barely represented other then. Damsels in distress, pure innocence, wives, mothers sexual objects, femme Fatales or just evil and old.
The film keeps your interest, nothing awe-inspiring but it is nice to see a film that feels routine try something different when it comes to formula adding a little something new to the typical.
There are some sharp images and beautiful imagery as well as a stylistic approach to the scenes and outfits.
The characters and setting especially the costumes feel a little too clean and polished but downright orderly. Not to mention the story just feels average more then it should. It just happens to be that the main characters are female. They still mostly depend on men in most of the film. Only get a chance to stand up on their own and for themselves at the end
It was one of the last times it seems Madeline Stowe plays a leading role. Which is a shame. She was one of my favorite actresses. She has beauty but also always seemed to bring intelligence and dignity to her roles. She always seemed tough and no-nonsense. She was never a pushover or a total damsel. Here she plays the leader of the female gang and tends to dress and have the demeanor of a male desperado.
Again Drew Barrymore plays the sexy one who is the ruthless right-hand woman to Stowe’s character. This was at the height of Barrymore’s popularity.
It’s a shame that this film was only a modest hit at the time and none of the cast really got more lucrative offers or films. Nor did the studio green light more female-centric genre films at the time. One can only guess because though they put a film like this out. It’s to test the wants and to seek to serve what they believe is a niche audience and once it becomes a hit they figure it’s a fluke more an anomaly with not enough evidence to make more films like them. This shocks me as you would figure a studio could corner the market on that type of film before other studios copy the idea. Then once the market is flooded it can be more about quality. If the box office on the films goes down then blame it on the abundance of the product but for then as well as now. If you make something of quality it will find an audience eventually but also there is such a drought if these films that this audience waiting for films like these will flock to it. As it is like water finally coming to them. Representation matters, if it’s decent they will convince others to come while coming back themselves.
It’s an example of the movie BRIDESMAIDS brought to light. When it comes to female-centered films. Which they will use the excuse of it being an ensemble cast. Yes, the whole cast who all play their roles brilliantly and that you want to see each character and actress have their own movie though there is a clear lead.
The film plays more like an enjoyable crowd-pleasing action film that happens to be a Western. As the film only seems to note a little of what it was like to be a woman surrounded by men in that type of environment and time.