In the fall of 1964 the producers of Burt Kennedy's adaptation of Max Evans's novel were confident enough to announce plans for a sequel months before the film came out. They had to settle for spinning the movie off into a 1967 TV sitcom that lasted less than a season. It was an interesting destiny for a project that was packaged as a kind of adult western. This is the kind of adult western it was; one of the comic highlights is the revelation of a woman's bare buttocks. That was certainly risque in 1965, but it didn't represent any real maturity on the filmmakers' part. You get the real spirit of the picture in the sight gags involving the roan horse that plagues our protagonists. In one scene, the horse gets horny at the sight of a filly and leads her to privacy by grabbing a rope with his mouth. In another, he appears to hear and comprehend a cowboy's threat to have him turned into dog food. His head droops across the top of his stall on the cowboys' truck and Kennedy freezes the frame to sell the animal's chagrin. This sort of business seems intended for the kiddie audience that might not be let in if parents knew about the butt shot. Throughout, Kennedy seems torn between telling a slice-of-life story of the two middle-aged modern-day cowboys (Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, in order of billing) and goofing off. The surety of tone he demonstrated while writing for Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher is absent. The inconsistency and the prevailing crassness, while all too typical of Hollywood comedy from the Sixties, calls into question Kennedy's aptitude for comedy, despite his later success with Support Your Local Sheriff, if not the true extent of his contribution to Boetticher's movies, though it must be admitted that those screenplays have little comic about them.
Ford and Fonda spend lonely months toiling for skinflint Jim Ed Love (Chill Wills was the only cast member to resume his role on the sitcom) and struggling to break the roan. There are lots of shots of stuntmen being thrown from horses and similar slapstick. Ford's a dreamer while Fonda's more easygoing, more sensible yet more submissive. "Whatever suits you just tickles me plumb to death" is his motto, eerily echoed by the more stupid of two exotic dancers with Harley Quinn voices (and eventual bare behinds) whom the cowboys hook up with when they head to town for the big rodeo. Their plan is to make a killing making side bets that the other cowboys can't ride that vicious roan. The scheme works and the roan performs as planned until he breaks down in the rodeo ring. The big softies are willing to throw away all their winnings to save the roan, but the story takes a turn toward pathos as Ford grabs a pistol to end the creature's suffering. It takes a hard turn away from pathos as the roan revives to kick Ford through a barn wall. Now the boys are out all their money and more, not just for vet bills but for the cost of repairing the barn, and they're still stuck with the roan. The picture ends on an admirable (in the abstract) no-hugs-no-learning note, with the police in pursuit, but it doesn't really end as big as it should; for once, at the very end, Kennedy isn't broad enough. His fans will find his touch in the dialogue. At its best, Rounders will appeal to viewers for whom westerns are very much about male cameraderie, and Ford and Fonda are at their best when they just talk and tell stories to each other. Kennedy and composer Jeff Alexander can't foul these scenes with obnoxious comedy scoring or leering camera tricks. Other positive elements are the location cinematography of Paul C. Vogel and an uncredited appearance by Warren Oates as a poacher. Overall, Rounders tries too hard to be funny in every possible way and the strain of the effort shows in nearly every frame.