The Hired Hand doesn’t work very well. An offbeat western, starring and directed by Peter Fonda, the film has a disjointed story, a largely unsympathetic hero, and an obtrusive amount of cinematic gimmickry which renders inarticulate the confused story subtleties. Warren Oates appears as Fonda’s loyal and more mature friend, while Verna Bloom is Fonda’s abandoned wife.
The script discovers Fonda en route to California with Oates, a fellow-wanderer in the seven years since Fonda abandoned his wife. Robert Pratt, pair’s younger companion, is brutally murdered by Severn Darden’s henchmen in a frame-up; Fonda and Oates exact an appropriate revenge, then Fonda returns home with Oates.
Film evidently is trying to show a truer picture of early western life, as opposed to formula plotting; but when one is trying to buck an entrenched cliche, extreme care and artfulness are required to persuade those few not already convinced.