Will Penny

Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Will Penny Movie Poster Image
Cowboy character study mixes violence and depth; some peril.
  • NR
  • 1968
  • 110 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Will Penny explores positives messages about autonomy, loyalty, community, helping strangers in need, and the value of familial bonds.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are some bad seeds who are out for nothing but the thrill of cruelty, while other adults are kind-hearted and compassionate. The most sharply drawn character is a loyal cowboy who struggles to find employment and take care of himself while also being a good member of a community who is compassionate and fair.


The film is set in the Wild West, so there's a constant presence of guns, outlaw behavior, roughhousing, and fighting, in some cases with blood shown and a minor body count, but it's all fairly inexplicit. There are a number of scuffles wherein men punch each other. A man is stabbed and blood spills. Horses and cows are shot and sometimes die. A dead body is shown lying around, bloodied. A trio of men makes intimidating and menacing threats throughout as they track and ambush others.


A man takes a bath and is shown naked sitting in a bathtub. Some innuendo when a man needs to get undressed privately. A man and woman are shown growing affectionate toward each other, and, in one scene, they kiss briefly.


Minor profanity and insulting or menacing language throughout, such as "hell," "damn," and threats to do bodily harm. Era-specific racial terms, such as "Injuns."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A dying man requests whiskey. Men do shots of very strong whiskey and remark on how potent it is.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Will Penny is a late 1960s Western starring Charlton Heston about an aging cowboy's next steps. It's a rough-and-tumble environment where scuffles are common, shots are fired often, cows and horses are innocent victims, and someone is occasionally stabbed. There's a menacing trio of toughs who track and ambush others, making vile threats. Some blood is shown. Native Americans are called "Injuns," and the cowboy way of life is highly romanticized. That said, this is a standout character study about an American archetype, a dying way of life, and related issues, all of which add depth to the genre.

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What's the story?

Will Penny (Charlton Heston) is an aging, illiterate cowboy whose work has run out. He must either find better prospects or risk dying on the land he's navigated most of his life. When a band of outlaws led by Preacher Quint (Donald Pleasence) roughs him up, he's taken in by a kind woman, Catherine (Joan Hackett), and her son, who nurse him back to health but also offer a glimpse of a life he passed by, forcing him to consider the road not taken.

Is it any good?

WILL PENNY is a cut above most Westerns: Here, the typical shoot-'em-up is expanded to encompass character in a way that gives the genre some real depth. Heston is stellar as a man too old to cowboy but too cowboy to love, who scores an It's a Wonderful Life-style glimpse of the life he passed up in the softness of a woman and her young son trying to survive on the frontier. He learns to sing carols, take regular baths, and make a home and develops a real fondness for the family way of life. For young kids, there's too much menace and peril for this to be appropriate. For teens old enough to appreciate westerns, this could be an unexpected and unwanted look at the lifestyle, but for parents and older teens who are interested in genre standard-bearers, it's a great film.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about cowboys. Is this how cowboys are normally portrayed? How is it the same? How is it different?

  • How are Native Americans portrayed in the film? Are they portrayed as savages or as a complex people whose motives deserve understanding or compassion?

  • What do you know from history about the cowboy way of life? What do you think it would be like to be a cowboy who is too old to keep working and too uncivilized to join a family?

Movie details

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Themes & Topics

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