Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 28, 2019)
Clint Eastwood earned two of his biggest hits via 1978ís comedy Every Which Way But Loose and its 1980 sequel Any Which Way You Can. Between those two, Eastwood put out 1980ís Bronco Billy, a modern adventure-comedy with links to the actorís roots in Westerns.
ďBroncoĒ Billy McCoy (Eastwood) operates a traveling Wild West show, one that struggles to find audiences. With dwindling income, Billy canít even muster the resources to pay his employees.
As they travel, they encounter Antoinette Lily (Sandra Locke), an heiress whose husband abandoned her on their wedding night and made off with her money. Now short on funds herself, she agrees to join the show as Billyís assistant, and a romance eventually blooms.
As mentioned earlier, Billy came out during a period where Eastwood enjoyed good box office appeal. That didnít help this film.
Whereas Any Which Way You Can wound up in fifth place for the yearís ticket sales, Billy sputtered to 26th place. Clearly Eastwood hoped itíd find a bigger audience.
However, like its lead character, Billy seemed like a relic by 1980. Even 39 years ago, this film felt resolutely old-fashioned.
The movieís gentle qualities and its throwback feel allow it to muster some charm. However, Eastwood creates such a slow, semi-meandering effort that Billy never makes much of an impact.
Billy clearly attempts to meld screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s with the Western, but Eastwood canít make the two genres connect. Whereas the comedies thrive on energy and wackiness, Eastwood gives Billy a lumbering, laconic vibe that doesnít suit the potential laughs.
Locke clearly bases her performance on Katharine Hepburn, a choice that reminds us even more of the comedies from earlier decades. With a nod toward classics like Philadelphia Story, Billy needs more kick than Eastwood wants to provide.
The movie largely seems to exist as Eastwoodís love letter toward days long gone. He views the Wild West show and its participants in a romanticized way that makes them uniformly sweet and charming, without a seedy grifter in sight.
If Eastwood allowed the film to show more spark, this fantasy take on carnival life might seem less awkward, but Billy really does ramble. It includes a plot related to Antoinette and her husband/family, but it ignores that thread for too long, as it prefers life on the road with the performers.
Again, some of these scenes manage charm, but too many drag and feel superfluous. Bronco Billy fails to present an especially entertaining ride.