Plantinâ€™ and readinâ€™, plantinâ€™ and readinâ€™. Fill a man fulla lead, stick â€™im in the ground, then read words at him. Why when youâ€™ve killed a man do you then try to read the Lord in as a partner on the job?
â€”Simms Reeves (Hank Worden), Red River
The Ballad of Cable Hogue is tough on the Lord. He gets all of the blame and none of the credit. Abandoned in a wasteland by his gold-prospecting partners, Cable calls on the Lord, albeit with untrusting upward glances. Job-like, he offers to repent for whatever the hell it was he didâ€”mistaking his ordeal for punishment for some unspecified wrong, rather than the trial of endurance, the rite of passage that it is. When he does indeed survive, it becomes his own doing, and none of the Lordâ€™s.
Conversations with Godâ€”who does not answerâ€”bookend the film; and religion, or whatever passes for it, is never far away during the interim. The appearance of the Rev. Joshua Duncan Sloane establishes The Ballad of Cable Hogue as a movie about two men who talk to Godâ€”or who perhaps have their own way with life and write the Lord in as a partner on the deal.
For the Rev. Sloane, religion is a handy vehicle of seductionâ€”and when, after all, was it not? And why is winning someoneâ€™s body any less honorable than winning someoneâ€™s soul? When he tells Cable he has to ride into Dead Dog for the evening because â€œthe calling is upon him,â€ Cable responds: â€œThe Lordâ€™s work? Thatâ€™s a helluva thing to call it.â€ Then, after a pause, he recognizes the truth: â€œI reckon youâ€™re right.â€