Retro-View: QT III Fest – Good Ol’ Boy Night
The festival gallops along with a perfect country duo of Sam Peckinpah’s JUNIOR BONNER (1972) and the rarely-shown TICK…TICK…TICK (1970). This promises to be a welcome change from the sex, grue and gore of the past nights (not that I’m complaining). Plus, there’s something about watching cowboys on horses onscreen when you’re living in Texas…But Quentin came out to promise that these two were not your typical redneck drive-in flicks. He wasn’t talking GATOR BAIT here. He went into a fun spiel on how bad-azzz Jim Brown was, especially in THE DIRTY DOZEN. This film was his first serious acting role and QT praised him for pulling it off. He detailed the odd history of director Ralph Nelson, who went from the gentle LILIES IN THE FIELD and SOUNDER to the brutal SOLDIER BLUE and beyond. I’d been wanting to see this movie for a long time, since I noted the Mike Curb soundtrack in various record stores over the years. The mic hit the stage and I lit into my nachos. There was a good array of Southern fried trailers and then TICK…TICK…TICK.
This MGM transitional production was definitely going for a IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT vibe. Harry Knowles has his in-depth report here. And I really enjoyed this film. It’s more gentle than one might think from the explosive title, but it’s a lovely character drama about the transition to a new age where a Black Man is elected sheriff in a bigoted Georgia town. George Kennedy (in a fine subtle performance) plays the decent, confused ex-sheriff who reluctantly helps the man who’s taking his job amid the usual racial tensions. Frederic March is the crotchety mayor and he’s a pleasure as usual in his last film. A great unsung actor (and still the best screen Mr. Hyde). There are lots of nice character touches and one of the most amazing dissolve edits I’ve ever seen. Ralph Nelson creates a palatable ambiance of Southern sweat and rage, and the confrontational ending promises change if not evolution.
After the amiable TICK…TICK…TICK, Quentin took to the stage and shyly began to explain why JUNIOR BONNER from 1972 was such a special film to him. He made it clear he was in no way being an “egotistical asshole” or comparing himself to Peckinpah in any way, he just felt like he appreciated the film more after the mixed reception of JACKIE BROWN. He said that when Peckinpah finally made a film with no slo-mo bullet bursts or violent territorial imperatives, critics and audiences were puzzled, unable to process the film the way some couldn’t get into the mature, thoughtful JACKIE BROWN (the touching, bittersweet relationship between Pam Grier and Robert Forster still makes me cry at the end). You could see Quentin was being sincere as he spoke, even modest, and his heartfelt introducton to JUNIOR BONNER was the best of the festival.
After that preface and more drive-in trailers, I settled in to enjoy Peckinpah’s warm, subtle tribute to an aging rodeo star, expertly played by Steve McQueen in one of his very best quiet performances. Framed by Lucian Ballard’s exquisite Panavision cinematography, JUNIOR BONNER is about a day in the life of the titular hero as he returns home to try and ride one more bronco to victory. His business-savvy brother (Joe Don Baker) is buying the future with mobile home sales while his Quixotic father (a vibrant Robert Preston) and his stoic mother (the great Ida Lupino) try to hold onto their past.
Filled with many terrific character moments and a sad understanding of where men like McQueen are headed, JUNIOR BONNER is Peckinpah’s most gentle, generous film, an elegy for a vanishing cowboy in the modern age. I loved it. A cool title scene with good Jerry Fielding music too. Quentin said if anybody had a soundtrack, he’d make it worth their while.
After the screening, winding the BMW down the 35 as “Chilly Winds” blow from the speakers (from the Osmond’s Greatest Hits CD at Tower Records on Guadalupe (RIP), I again reflect how lucky I am to be riding under Texas stars at this time in my life. Tonight, I’m jes’ a good ol’ boy myself…Yee-haw! Tomorrow, I’ll be saddling up for Westerns!