More than anything else in life, Lewis Tater (Jeff Bridges) wants to be a writer of Western novels. When he sees an advertisement for the University of Titan, he decides to enroll in some correspondence writing classes. The University of Titan had a Nevada address, so despite the advice from his family, Lewis decides he’d rather take classes in person so he can enjoy the atmosphere of being out west.
After making the long trip out to Titan, Nevada, he shows up at the address only to find out the University of Titan doesn’t actually exist; the “school” is run by a couple of con artists operating out of a local hotel. As fate would have it, Lewis ends up staying in the same hotel as the con artists and gets into a fight with them. In the tussle, Lewis takes their car and drives out into the desert until it runs out of gas. Then he decides to get out and walk through the desert and happens to wander onto the set of a movie being filmed by Tumbleweed Studios, a studio that specializes in “B” Westerns.
The film crew helps him out and let him ride back into town with them. He has a crush on their production assistant Miss Trout (Blyth Danner) and makes friends with actor Howard Pike (Andy Griffith), who recommends he get a job at a local restaurant. At least this way he can spend time around cowboys and get some inspiration for his big novel. He also applies for a job at the studio and is hired by Bert Kessler (Alan Arkin). Lewis starts out doing stuntwork, but works his way up to featured roles and becomes a star. Meanwhile, he has to watch out for the con artists from the University of Titan, who are looking for him.
Not one of my favorite movies, but Hearts of the West is quite pleasant and good for some laughs. The cast is fantastic; it’s full of great stars who I never knew were in this movie, mostly because I’d never even heard of this movie until I saw it in today’s lineup on TCM. Jeff Bridges was perfectly cast as the youthful and naive Lewis and I really liked Alan Arkin as Bert Kessler. Andy Griffith was a pretty good fit for playing a cowboy film star. It’s a little too slowly paced for my liking, I found myself starting to tune out here and there. Not bad, but not that great, either.
Hard to believe it’s already almost June! June’s Star(s) of the Month are Teen Idols. Every Thursday will be showcasing movies starring the likes of Elvis, Frankie and Annette, The Monkees, and Troy Donahue. TCM will also be doing a series called The Immigrant Experience every Wednesday night this month. June 10th is a very noteworthy day as it marks what would be Judy Garland’s 90th birthday. TCM will be celebrating by playing her movies for a full 24 hours, all chosen by noted Judy Garland expert John Fricke. The Essentials, Jr. series also makes its return to Sunday nights this month.
Spending some time in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct turns out to be a life altering event for Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith). While he’s in jail, Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) stops by to broadcast her radio show and the sheriff makes a deal with Larry that he’ll be released early if he sings on the air. He agrees, and Marcia quickly realizes that his charisma and folksy charm would be a great hit on the radio. She nicknames him “Lonesome” and her uncle hires him to host the morning show at the radio station. Sure enough, Lonesome Rhodes is an instant sensation. Meanwhile, Marcia is becoming more and more smitten by Lonesome Rhodes and although he comes onto her, she turns him down. The only man in town competing with Lonesome for Marcia’s attention is Big Jeff, who is running for mayor. When Lonesome becomes jealous of him, he successfully convinces his audience to take Big Jeff down a peg and for the first time, Lonesome realizes just how much power he wields over his audience.
Lonesome quickly works his way up from small town radio personality to television personality in Memphis. While doing his show in Memphis, he ends up making fun of the sponsor and is yanked off the air. The crowd protests, the sponsor realizes their sales are actually up because of Lonesome Rhodes, and he is given his job back. Not only does he get his job back, but someone who works for the sponsor manages to get Lonesome his own show in New York. His New York show is sponsored by an energy pill, Vitajex, and sales soar when it’s being pitched by Lonesome Rhodes.
Lonesome becomes completely and totally drunk on power and fame. When he isn’t on camera, he makes fun of his audience, treats his staff badly, and even stabs Marcia in the back when he suddenly marries a young majorette (Lee Remick). When Lonesome is introduced to a senator in the midst of a failing presidential campaign, Lonesome becomes the senator’s media consultant and, once again, the Lonesome Rhodes touch proves to be golden. However, what goes up, must come down and Marcia takes it upon herself to destroy the monster she helped create. While the end credits of his show are rolling, Lonesome’s microphone would be cut off. But when Marcia was left alone in the control room, she turned his microphone back on and revealed Lonesome’s true thoughts about his audience to millions of viewers. Oblivious to what has just happened, Lonesome returns home expecting it to be filled with dignitaries, only to find an empty penthouse.