Will Penny

Will Penny is a 1968 western film written and directed by Tom Gries and starring Charlton Heston, Joan Hackett and Donald Pleasence. The picture was based upon an episode of the 1960 Sam Peckinpah television series The Westerner called "Line Camp," also written and directed by Tom Gries. Heston mentioned that this was his favorite film in which he appeared.[2] The supporting cast features Ben Johnson, Bruce Dern, and Slim Pickens.

Will Penny
Will Penny.JPG
Directed byTom Gries
Produced byFred Engel
Walter Seltzer
Written byTom Gries
StarringCharlton Heston
Joan Hackett
Donald Pleasence
Ben Johnson
Bruce Dern
Slim Pickens
Music byDavid Raksin
CinematographyLucien Ballard
Edited byWarren Low
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • February 16, 1968 (1968-02-16) (Finland)
  • April 10, 1968 (1968-04-10) (U.S.)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,800,000 (US/ Canada)[1]


A trail drive is coming to an end, with the resulting payoff of the now out-of-work trail hands. A trio of punchers, Blue (Lee Majors), Dutchy (Anthony Zerbe), and an aging Will Penny (Charlton Heston) decide to drift south and avoid the oncoming winter.

One morning Blue is about to fire at a bull elk near a river bottom. Mysteriously, the elk is shot by an unseen party. As Blue and Dutchy move in to claim the elk anyway, they encounter the shooter, a "rawhider" and his family. They rightfully contest the right to the meat. Gunfire erupts, and Will shows up, shoots and kills one of the rawhider's family. The rawhider swears a biblical revenge. Dutchy accidentally wounds himself in the exchange, so Will and Blue head to a nearby trail store, where they encounter Catherine Allen (Joan Hackett) and her son Horace (Jon Gries). After leaving Dutchy at the doctor, Blue decides to look for a job in the town, while Will proceeds alone. He comes across a horse without a rider and locates a dead cowboy, thrown from his saddle. Will turns the body over to the ranch that he rode for and is offered a job.

Will hires on to ride the far-off boundaries of Flat Iron ranch over the winter. As he arrives at the upper range, he finds Catherine and Horace staying in the line-rider's cabin after being abandoned by their guide. He rides away to inspect the fence line, warning them that they must be gone when he returns in one week.

The next morning as Will is sleeping outside near the fence, he is ambushed and savagely beaten up by the rawhider group. They leave Will for dead, but he drags himself to the cabin, where he is slowly nursed back to health by Catherine.

As the winter passes, Will and Catherine fall in love, and Will develops fatherly affection for Horace.

As Will and Catherine prepare for Christmas, the Quint family bursts into the cabin, force Will into hard labor, and coerce Catherine into making plans to marry one of the ne'er do well, belligerent, hair-trigger sons. After some days, Catherine distracts two of the Quints so Will can make an escape. A few minutes later, his two former saddle pals Blue and Dutchy arrive looking for him. The three return to attack the cabin to free Catherine and Horace, using a bag of sulfur that was at the cabin to smoke out the rawhiders.

Ultimately, Will realizes that he is too set in his ways to settle down into a domestic life. Deeply regretful about what he is leaving behind, he rides away from the woman and boy, never to return.



The film features a David Raksin and Robert Wells song "The Lonely Rider" with vocals by Don Cherry. The exteriors were filmed in Inyo County, California.


"The admirable thing about the movie is its devotion to real life. These are the kind of people, we feel, who must really have inhabited the West: common, direct, painfully shy in social situations and very honest." — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times [1]

"And I got to really like the guy. A lot of people told me that I wouldn't like him, but I liked him. And he tried very hard. I mean, Will Penny is far and away the best thing he's ever done." — Bruce Dern on Charlton Heston [2]

"Intelligent and thoughtful, Will Penny is a good Western and even a better character study. The West is more than deglamorized here; we get a good approximation of what a real cowboy's life might have been like around the turn of the century." — DVD Savant, DVDTalk [3]

"The villains in Will Penny are so unbelievable and so unrealistic that they almost seem like they came out of a Western spoof, rather than the serious, realistic Western which Will Penny aspires to be (and achieves in most other aspects of the story)." — Erik Rupp, Vista Records [4]

"This is one of the classic movies of all time. It will last for all eternity as a classic in writing and in acting." — Ange Kenos, OPA Magazine

"Charlton Heston told me this was the film he is most proud of and was his favorite screen role." — Rick Schmidlin, producer of the re-edited version of Touch of Evil


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, January 8, 1969 p 15. Please note this figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
  2. ^ Charlton Heston: The Last Interview on YouTube
  3. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

External linksEdit