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Imagine That. I Learned Something Old Today.
by Jon Schuller

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We're "never too old to learn." How many times have we heard that old adage? Well, it's true as far as I'm concerned. Especially in the computer and I-phone age we all live in. There's so much information and it's sometimes simply overwhelming. But I think we stay vibrant and vital if we let new things enter our lives; if we're willing to try and experiment even if it means we don't "succeed." The movies have shown us 100s of examples of men and women trying to revitalize their lives, to climb out of their everyday ruts and become different, even better. In June, 1991, a film premiered that featured 3 men whose lives had become routine, dull and, in some ways, too predictable. City Slickers starred Billy Crystal as Mitch Robbins, Daniel Stern as Phil Berquist, Bruno Kirby as Ed Furillo, with a great supporting cast: Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater, Jack Palance (in a true comeback role), Noble Willingham and David Paymer.

Mitch is getting bored with his annual trips to faraway places with his boyhood friends, Phil and Ed. All the men are having troubles in their own lives as each of them approach 40 years old. At Mitch's birthday party his friends give him an unusual gift: a
2-week cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado. The 3 men are from New York City and the closest they've ever come to the "West" is New Jersey. There are domestic problems among all of them but Mitch's wife, Barbara (Wettig) insists that he goes, hoping it will help him through his current crisis.

Mitch, Phil and Ed arrive at a cattle ranch in New Mexico, meet the owner, Clay Stone (Willingham) and their fellow cattle drivers, the ice cream millionaire Shalowitz Brothers, father-and-son doctors, Ben and Steve Jessup and a rather alone, attractive woman, Bonnie Rayburn (Slater). Two cowboys try to abuse Bonnie and Mitch and his friends try to stop it. Curly (Palance), the grizzled, experienced trail boss, steps in to break it up. He makes an embarrassing example of Mitch in front of everyone.

As they head out and make their first camp Mitch accidently causes the herd to stampede; Curly tells him that he must go out and round up the strays as Curly goes along. The two men, both as different as they can be, start to bond with each other. Curly's philosophy is summed up with 1 finger as he says "one thing"; you must discover that for yourself, he tells Mitch, the one thing
in life that's the most meaningful. A cow is in terrible pain, about to give birth, and Curly tells Mitch to deliver the calf. He does and names it Norman.

Suddenly, Curly is found dead of a heart attack; the 2 remaining, troublesome trail hands, Jeff and T.R. (who harassed Bonnie) are supposed to take charge, but steal Cookie's liquor, get drunk and again cause trouble. Phil, whose pent-up stress finally breaks through, threatens them at gunpoint and they leave, hoping to avoid problems with Clay Stone when it's all over. The others go, leaving Mitch, Phil and Joe to bring the herd in by themselves.

As the 3 men try to keep the cattle together and not get lost, a terrible storm breaks out and they try to get the herd to cross a river. Norman, the calf, falls into the river and the friends all save him and each other. Their friendship has turned to love and they all discovered strengths in each other they didn't know they had. The 3 friends finish the job, driving the herd back to the ranch in Colorado as Clay Stone and the rest of the people on the drive watch them slowly bring the cattle into the pen. Phil gets a special look from Bonnie as everyone is cheering and
looking at Mitch, Phil and Joe with admiration.

Clay tells them this herd will be slaughtered as beef prices are exceptionally high. Mitch buys Norman and they all head back to New York. Mitch (and Norman) are greeted by his wife, Barbara and their children. Phil gets into a cab with Bonnie and Joe tells them he wants to have children. There's a happy ending after a unique adventure.

City Slickers has a great cast and each character stands out for me. As the 3 principals show us, their physical journeys aren't the only things that make demands on them. Each man is wrestling with life-changing experiences and none of them thinks they're prepared. We watch as their transitions move them from confused adults to more mature, more capable and more loving than ever before. They discover each other, again, as friends, but this time much closer and dearer. There are some truly great moments in this film that are worth watching more than once. The individual actors bring life to their characters and strike chords of reality for me. Watching, as Billy Crystal ad libs and breaks up his fellow actors, is always fun. The movie reminds us that no lessons in life are ever too old to learn.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Life Seems to Imitate Art

One Is All It Usually Takes Redux

A Cornucopia of Great Movies

So Many Famous Folks' April Birthdays

A Very Good Year, No Doubt

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 29 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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