Fred Ward stars as Lyle Swann in this 1982 film by Michael Nesmith, he of the Monkees fame who’s gone on far beyond those beginnings. He’s written and produced several good films. writing the music as well. Peter Coyote plays the outlaw leader Porter Reese that Swann crosses paths with in the old west.
The pair are surrounded by a cast of familiar faces, Tracy Walter and Richard Masur as the Dorsett brothers, Ed Lauter as the Padre, a larcenous priest who we’re never quite sure is a real member of the clergy, and L.Q. Jones as Marshall Ben Potter, who has a personal grudge against Reese.
Lyle Swann is a motorcycle racer entered in the Baja 1000. He’s one of those go-it-alone types, disdaining factory support, though his partner and he get plenty of offers. During one leg of the race, he gets lost trying to follow directions from his partner on cassette to a short cut.
Deep in the desert, secret government experiments are happening. Scientists are sending the first biological back in time, a small monkey, just a quick hop and then back. As usually happens in these things, Swann crosses into the temporal field at just the wrong time. It happens so fast that no one knew what has happened until they check the tape and, finally, figure he’s in 1877.
Swann is spotted first by a young woman named Clair Cygne(Belinda Bauer) who’s bathing in a river and sees him doing the same. Reese and his band see him and his “machine” and Reese wants it, figuring it will come in handy in their outlawing.
Everyone, it seems, sees financial potential in the “machine.” Clair is sort of a con artist herself, working with the Padre fleecing the poor with expensive holy water. She and the Padre take a hand in the fight.
Ben Potter(Jones) and his deputy just want to arrest Reese.
Swann, at times, seems a bit dense. It takes him to nearly the end of the movie before he realizes exactly what happened to him. The rural life of the Mexican populace probably is not all that different from today(I’m no expert), but horse riding outlaws shooting at him every time they get close just wouldn’t look right in today’s world. Maybe riding jeeps or trucks, but not horses.
When Clair and Swann get intimate, she asks about the unusual necklace he’s wearing. “An old family heirloom,” he explains, belong to his great- great- great-grandfather, stolen by his grandmother to remind them of their one intimate night, then he left. She goes to L.A. to find him, never doing so, and starts her own business(they don’t know what type), and becoming the matriarch of the Swann family line.
One doesn’t have to be hit on the head to know where this is going, but it didn’t spoil the fun. Watching the by-play between old west outlaws and a motorcycling rider from the future kept me interested. It was well played with the local townspeople thinking him the devil with his loud “machine” and bright red jumpsuit.
It wasn’t until his rescue at the end when she reaches out, snatching the necklace from his neck as the helicopter takes off that he realizes the truth.