Jul 27, 201212:20 PMThe Telegraph
The Premier Blog of the West
Off The Beaten Trail: Rediscovering A Lost Andy Griffith Western
The passing of Andy Griffith earlier this month was mourned by millions of fans, particularly those who fondly recall weekly visits to Mayberry on his classic television series, The Andy Griffith Show.
But Griffith’s career was far more substantive than his role as Sheriff Andy Taylor. From his early comic monologues (“What it was, was football”) to a Broadway triumph in No Time for Sergeants, from his still frightening portrayal of Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd to the comforting presence of Ben Matlock, Griffith was a versatile performer who played heroes, villains and hayseeds with a unique southern charm.
Between Mayberry and Matlock, Griffith appeared mostly in made-for-TV movies, but he also co-starred in Hearts of the West, a big-screen homage to the Republic-style westerns of the 1930s. It’s a film that is almost forgotten today, despite a cast that also includes Jeff Bridges, Blythe Danner, and Alan Arkin.
Bridges plays Lewis Tater, a pulp fiction writer who dreams of following in the footsteps of his idol, Zane Grey. Through a series of complications, he winds up in Hollywood, where he joins a B-western production crew. Andy Griffith plays Howard Pike, a once famous movie cowboy billed as Billy Pueblo. He steals every scene he’s in.
Despite being an observant comedy and a charming salute to the golden age of moviemaking – the film even opens with the classic black-and-white MGM roaring lion logo – Hearts of the West bombed at the box office. After the blockbuster success of the MGM documentary That’s Entertainment! the previous year, the studio tried releasing it again under the title Hollywood Cowboy, hoping nostalgia-hungry audiences would give the film another chance. It didn’t work.
After being out of circulation for decades Hearts of the West is now available from the Warner Archive Collection, and will be of interest to anyone who still loves the earnest 1930s westerns, or who still misses a genial gentleman actor who was much more than a Mayberry sheriff.