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"The Ballad of Cable Hogue" is also the title of a song by Calexico.
"The Ballad of Cable Hogue" is also the title of a song by John Cale.

The Ballad of Cable Hogue is a 1970 feature film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Jason Robards, Stella Stevens and David Warner.

Set in the desert of Arizonamarker during the transitional period when the frontier was closing, the movie follows three years in the life of Cable Hogue, a failed prospector. While unmistakably a Western, the movie is quite unconventional for the genre and for the director. It contains only a few brief scenes of violence and gunplay, relying more on a subtly crafted story that could better be characterized as comedic in nature.


Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) is isolated in the desert, awaiting his partners, Taggart (L.Q. Jones) and Bowen (Strother Martin), who are scouting for water. The two plot to seize what little water remains to save themselves. Hogue, who hesitates to defend himself, is disarmed and abandoned to almost certain death.

Confronted with sandstorms and other desert elements, Hogue bargains with God. Four days later, about to perish, he stumbles upon a muddy pit. He digs and discovers an abundant supply of water.

After discovering that his well is the only source of water between two major towns on a stagecoach route, he decides to live there and build a business. Hogue’s first paying customer is the Rev. Joshua Duncan Sloane (David Warner), a wandering minister of a church of his own revelation. Joshua doubts the legitimacy of Hogue’s claim to the spring, prompting Hogue to race into town to file at the land office.

Hogue faces the mockery of everyone he tells about his discovery. That does not deter him from buying surrounding his spring. He immediately goes to the stage office to drum up business, but is thrown out by the skeptical owner. He pitches his business plan to a bank president, who is dubious about the claim. But the now impassioned Hogue impresses the banker with his attitude and he is staked to $100.

Hogue, who hasn’t bathed since his desert wanderings, decides to treat himself to a night with Hildy (Stella Stevens), a prostitute in the town saloon. They quickly develop a jovial understanding, but before they can consummate the transaction, Hogue remembers that he has still not set up his boundary markers and rushes out, much to Hildy’s chagrin. She chases him out of the saloon in a sequence that wreaks havoc on the entire town.

Back at the spring, Hogue and Joshua get to work, dubbing the claim Cable Springs. The two decide to go into town and are drunk by the time they arrive. Hogue makes up with Hildy and spends the night with her, leaving Joshua to pursue his passion: the seduction of emotionally vulnerable women.

Hogue and Joshua continue to run the robust business, delighting in shocking the often genteel travelers with the realities of frontier life. In moments of solitude, Hogue and Joshua philosophize on the nature of love and the passing of their era. Joshua decides that he must return to town. Hildy arrives at Cable Springs having been “asked” to leave by the modernizing townfolk, who can no longer abide open prostitution in their midst. She tells Hogue that she will leave for San Francisco in the morning, but winds up staying with him for three weeks. This time elapses during a tender, romantic montage.

Then one day, Taggart and Bowen arrive on the stagecoach. Hogue lets them believe that he bears them no ill will. Hogue alludes to a huge stash of cash that he has hoarded, knowing that the two men will return to steal it. When they do, Hogue orders them to strip to their underwear to venture into the desert, just as he had been forced to do. Taggart, believing Hogue will once again hesitate to defend himself, reaches for his gun, but Hogue shoots him dead.

A motorcar appears, driving right past Cable Springs with no need or interest in stopping for water. The drivers laugh at the archaic scene of western violence as they race past. “Drove right by,” says Hogue in amazement. “Well, that’s gonna be the next fella’s worry.”

Hogue takes mercy on the grovelling Bowen. He even gives him Cable Springs, having decided to go to San Francisco to find Hildy. The stagecoach arrives and Hogue gets ready to pack up when suddenly another motorcar appears. This one does stop and Hildy emerges, opulently dressed. She has become prosperous and, now on her way to New Orleans, has come to see if Hogue is ready to join her. He agrees, but while he loads the motorcar he accidentally trips its brake. The car runs over Cable as he pushes Bowen out of the way.

Joshua, who arrives by motorcycle, gives a eulogy over the still living Hogue. This segues into an actual funeral with the entire cast standing mournfully over Hogue’s grave. They are grieving not only the death of the man, but the era he represents. The stagecoach and motorcar drive off in opposite directions, with a coyote wandering into the abandoned Cable Springs.


Defying, as he often would, audience expectations, director Sam Peckinpah immediately followed his violent, critically acclaimed 1969 film The Wild Bunch with this mostly non-violent Western. Utilizing many of the same cast (L.Q. Jones, Strother Martin) and crew members of The Wild Bunch, Peckinpah shot on location in the desert of Nevadamarker. The film was plagued by poor weather, Peckinpah's renewed alcohol consumption and his brusque firing of 36 crew members. When unable to shoot due to weather conditions, the entire cast and crew would go to a local bar, eventually running up a tab of $70,000. The chaotic filming would wrap 19 days over schedule and $3 million over budget, effectively terminating his tenure with Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. In retrospect, it was a damaging career move. The critical and enduring box office hits Deliverance (1972) and Jeremiah Johnson (1972) were both in development at the time, and Peckinpah was considered the first choice to direct both films. His alienation of Warner Brothers left him with a limited number of directing jobs. Peckinpah was forced to do a 180-degree turn from The Ballad of Cable Hogue and traveled to England to direct Straw Dogs (1971), one of his darkest and most psychologically disturbing films.

Largely ignored upon its initial release, The Ballad of Cable Hogue has been rediscovered in recent years and is often held by critics as exemplary of the breadth of Peckinpah's talents. They claim that the film proves Peckinpah's ability to make unconventional and original work without resorting to explicit violence. Over the years, Peckinpah would cite the film as one of his personal favorites.

Critics have called The Ballad of Cable Hogue a "Death of the West" film, depicting the transition from old to modern civilization. Other films of this category include Monte Walsh (1970), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Shootist (1976), Unforgiven (1992), and Peckinpah's own Ride the High Country (1962), The Wild Bunch (1969) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973).


The Ballad of Cable Hogue has a unique score by Jerry Goldsmith and songs by Richard Gillis. Each of the main characters has a theme: Hogue's "Tomorrow is the Song I Sing," Hildy's "Butterfly Morning," and Joshua's "Wait for Me, Sunrise."

John Cale recorded a song "Cable Hogue" on his 1975 album Helen of Troy. Calexico also recorded a song called "The Ballad of Cable Hogue", which appeared on their Hot Rail album.

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