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Wild Rovers

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Blake Edwards

United States


Music director


Wild Rovers movie poster

Release date
June 23, 1971 (1971-06-23) (United States)

(Ross Bodine),
Ryan O'Neal
(Frank Post), (Walter Buckman), (Sada Billings), (John Buckman), (Paul Buckman)

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They were damned good cowboys, until they robbed a bank.

Wild rovers the song from the movie 1971

Wild Rovers is a 1971 American Western film directed by Blake Edwards and starring William Holden and Ryan O'Neal.


Wild Rovers movie scenes

Originally intended as a three-hour epic, it was heavily edited and changed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer without Edwards' knowledge, including a reversal of the ending from a negative one to a positive. Edwards disowned the finished film as released, and later satirised his battle with the studio in his comedy S.O.B., which also starred Holden.



An aging cowboy, Ross Bodine, and a younger one, Frank Post, work on cattleman Walt Buckman's ranch in Montana. A neighboring sheepman, Hansen, is in a long-running feud with Buckman.

Ross has a dream of riding off to Mexico to retire from the hard work of the range, but he doesn't have much money saved up. Frank suggests they rob a bank and head for Mexico together.

While Ross thinks this over, he and Frank brawl with Hansen's men at a saloon. Buckman intends to withhold their pay to make restitution for the saloon's damages.

Desperate for money now, Ross agrees to the holdup. He takes banker Billings to town at gunpoint while Frank holds the banker's wife, Sada, hostage at home. Ross rides back with $36,000. Before making a getaway, he gives Billings $3,000 so that Buckman's other cowboys won't lose any pay they have coming.

Sada tells her husband to keep the money and not inform the sheriff. A posse is formed that includes Buckman's two sons, hot-tempered John and easy-going Paul, told by their father that no cowhand of his is going to get away with breaking the law.

Ross and Frank get as far as Arizona and go into town for supplies. Ross hires a prostitute while Frank plays poker. A card player dislikes Frank's winning of a huge pot and shoots him in the leg. Ross comes to his partner's aid and a shootout commences, leaving several people dead.

Back home, Buckman and Hansen have a run-in that results in both their deaths. John and Paul hear about their father's fate from a Tucson sheriff. Paul wants to turn back but John becomes obsessed with fulfilling the old man's last request, catching the bank robbers.

Frank refuses to see a doctor, and his leg injury grows much worse. Ross has to pull him behind a horse on a stretcher. Frank dies from the wound just before John and Paul turn up on the trail, where Ross is gunned down. Disgusted with the entire affair and sorry he had to shoot Ross, Paul rides off, leaving John alone struggling to return Ross' dead body to the scene of his crime.

The movie ends with a flashback of Ross riding a bucking bronc while Frank cheers him on.


  • William Holden as Ross Bodine
  • Ryan O'Neal as Frank Post
  • Karl Malden as Walt Buckman
  • Joe Don Baker as Paul Buckman
  • Tom Skerritt as John Buckman
  • James Olson as Joe Billings
  • Lynn Carlin as Sada Billings
  • Leora Dana as Nell Buckman
  • Victor French as Sheriff Bill Jackson
  • Rachel Roberts as Maybell Tucker
  • Production

    The film was made for MGM through Blake Edwards' own company. William Holden and Ryan O'Neal agreed to play the leads and filming began in late 1970. It was O'Neal's first movie since Love Story.

    During post production MGM management - in particular James Aubrey and Douglas Netter - took out 40 minutes of the film, to Edwards' displeasure. "There was no discussion; an integral part was simply removed," said Edwards. "If I take a chair and removed one leg, you still have a chair but it won't stand up, will it?"

    "He cut the heart right out of it," Edwards said of Aubrey. "I wrote and conceived it as a Greek tragedy. Aubrey and Netter just said 'the audience wants to see Ryan O'Neal.'"

    Douglas Netter said the changes were made after disappointing previews. Shortly after filming finished it was announced O'Neal and Holden would reunite on Top of the Mountain based on a script by Peter Viertel about hunting in Kenya. The film was never made.


    The film performed disappointingly at the box office on its initial release.

    The ad campaign was blamed with some saying the poster of O'Neal hugging Holden from behind was unintentionally hilarious. Variety magazine published an article mocking the campaign causing a dispute between MGM management and Variety. The ad campaign was later changed.

    Home media

    Most of the deleted footage discussed above was restored for the film's 1986 home video release by MGM/UA. An official DVD-R release was issued on February 22, 2011, through the Warner Archive Collection.


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