Times Staff Writer

“Wildrose” (opening Friday at the Beverly Center Cineplex) sets its love story deep in Marlboro Man country, casting its intelligent, resilient heroine (Lisa Eichhorn) in a workplace as unsympathetic to women’s liberation as can be imagined: an open-pit strip mine on Minnesota’s Iron Range, an ugly, bluish-brown gash in the vast stretches of otherwise unspoiled countryside.

As a film, “Wildrose” is as rough at the edges as the men with whom Eichhorn works. It’s easy to take to heart, however, because of its clear and simple sincerity and the sheer likability of Eichhorn and Tom Bower, playing a miner who stands apart from most of the other men in his sensitivity and secure masculinity.

You’d think that Eichhorn’s skill as a driver of the 200-ton, two-story-high trucks used in the mining operations would have earned her the men’s respect. Yet when a cutback, the result of the nationwide recession of the late ‘70s, bumps her into the pit labor pool, the guys have trouble working closely with her. She has to endure the sexist jokes, the immediately expressed fears that she won’t be strong enough to hold up her end of the hard labor and the growing resentment that she’s taking work away from men with families to support, an attitude shared by Eichhorn’s own mother.


Scarred literally and figuratively by her brutal, alcoholic, long-unemployed ex-husband (Stephen Yoakum), Eichhorn is nevertheless determined to maintain her independence and even pursue her dream of building a log cabin home in a lush stand of birch and jack pine. At the same time her new assignment brings her into contact--and mutual attraction--with Bower, also divorced. But she remains traumatized by Yoakum, who has his own dream of returning to his native Wyoming and the fishing business he loves.

Director John Hanson, co-writer of the script (with Eugene Corr) and story (with Sandra Schulberg), generates respect for Eichhorn’s and Bower’s similar, though differing, goals and makes us hope fervently that they can end up together. Hanson, who directed his first feature, “Northern Lights,” with Rob Nilsson, brings out the finest in them (Bower is best known as Dr. Curt Willard on “The Waltons”). What these two can make of a steady, open gaze is wonderful in its honesty and straightforwardness, and Yoakum provides valuable contrast in showing us a miserable, defeated man behind a handsome facade.

Hanson directs with ease, but at some point his concern for his people overrides his concern for style and imagery. “Wildrose” means to be a sturdy slice of rural Americana, steeped in ethnic local color. But the “reality” that his small core of professional actors creates collides with the film’s numerous self-conscious non-professionals, who inadvertently remind us that Eichhorn, Bower and others are, after all, “acting.”

The script isn’t entirely worked out either, never quite resolving, for example, its insistence on Eichhorn’s need to stand up to Yoakum with the fact that the man is clearly so dangerous that she should never be left alone with him.

But the pluses outweigh the minuses. Hanson never condescends, never suggests that Bower is the only miner who’s not a male chauvinist pig. “Wildrose” (Times-rated: Mature for adult situations and themes) tells a captivating love story that’s as contemporary as any set in a big city. It’s taken two years for it to surface, but its arrival is welcome.


A Troma release of a New Front Films production. Producer Sandra Schulberg. Director John Hanson. Screenplay Hanson, Eugene Corr; story Hanson, Schulberg. Camera Peter Stein. Theme music Cris Williamson. Score Bernard Krause. Film editor Arthur Coburn. With Lisa Eichhorn, Tom Bower, Stephen Yoakum, Jim Cada, Cinda Jackson, Dale Nemanick, Bill Schoppert, James Stowell.


Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.