Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Noon Wine (1966 TV Film)
Based on the short novel by Katherine Anne Porter, Noon Wine is the story of a farmer who takes a man into his home to help revive their dairy farm only for its fortunes to end in tragedy. Written for television and directed by Sam Peckinpah as part of ABC‘s Stage 67 TV movies, the TV film is a look into a man trying to do what he thinks is right only to be caught up in secrets and lies. Starring Jason Robards, Olivia de Haviland, and Theodore Bikel. Noon Wine is a chilling yet evocative TV movie from Sam Peckinpah.
Set in the late 1800s in Texas, the film revolves around a dairy farmer who meets a Swedish immigrant from North Dakota and hires him to work in his farm. For three years, things seem to go well for the farmer and his family until a man comes in asking questions which leads to a tragic outcome. It’s a TV film that explores a man trying to protect his own fortunes as well as another man unaware of the latter’s past as it creates all sorts of trouble. Sam Peckinpah’s script doesn’t just explore the world that Royal Earle Thompson (Jason Robards) live in but also what he is trying to protect despite the fact that he doesn’t do much for his farm letting this immigrant named Olaf Eric Helton (Per Oscarsson) to do much of the work with Thompson’s sons. With an ailing but able wife in Ellie (Olivia de Haviland) questioning what her husband is doing, it would eventually lead to some tragic outcomes as it relates to Helton and a man trying to find him.
Peckinpah’s direction is very simple although it is very typical of the TV films made in the 1960s. Especially as it doesn’t go for anything visually-astonishing for something that is more intimate where there is a lot of medium shots and close-ups to play into the world of farm life in the late 19th Century. While it is shot on tape, which was the norm for the times, Peckinpah is still able to create some images as well as moments that play into the suspense and drama. Especially for the moment right around half of the film where Thompson meets Homer T. Hatch (Theodore Bikel) as it would be a meeting that would undo everything Thompson is trying to create and protect. It would set a change of tone of sorts for the film but it would also some realities that Thompson and his family are forced to face as the outcome is tragic. Overall, Peckinpah creates a riveting yet haunting film about a family’s fortune undone by tragedy.
Cinematographer Lucien Ballard does excellent work with the black-and-white photography where despite its grainy look and low-key lighting does help play into the period of the times. Editor Arthur Schneider does nice work with the editing as it is straightforward with a few stylish dissolve montages to play into the progress of the farm and Thompson‘s fall late in the film. Production designer Walter Scott Herndon does terrific work with the look of the farm Thompson and his family live in as well as the courthouse late in the film. Costume designer Joe Markham does brilliant work with the costumes as it has looks that are ragged as it play into the look of Helton and the Thompson boys as well as the more revered look late in the film of Thompson and his wife. The sound work of John Pawley is superb for its sound to play into some of its natural elements as well as a few effects for dramatic purposes. The TV film’s music by Jerry Fielding is wonderful as it is this mixture of orchestral and country-folk music to play into the times with the former providing some element of dramatic tension.
The TV film’s brilliant cast include some notable small roles from Steve Sanders and Peter Robbins in their respective roles as Thompson’s sons Arthur and Herbert, L.Q. Jones as a deputy, and Ben Johnson as a local sheriff trying to deal with the chaos that happened late in the film. Per Oscarsson is terrific as the quiet Helton as a Swedish immigrant who does his work and tend to himself while rarely socializing with the family whose respect he slowly gains. Theodore Bikel is fantastic as Homer T. Hatch as this man trying to find Helton for reasons he wouldn’t divulge as he would later antagonize Thompson in a way that would cause trouble. Olivia de Havilland is amazing as Ellie Thompson as an ailing wife trying to make sense of all of the chaos as well as some of the moral implications over what had happened. Finally, there’s Jason Robards in a marvelous performance as Royal Earle Thompson as this farmer that is trying to control things as he sees Helton as a chance to succeed only to be undone by himself as it’s a performance filled with bravado and power as it is one of Robards’ great performances.
Noon Wine is an excellent TV film from Sam Peckinpah that features great performances from Jason Robards and Olivia de Havilland. While it’s a TV movie that isn’t easy to find and rarely shown anywhere. It is still a gem that is worth seeking out as well as something fans of Peckinpah’s work must see. In the end, Noon Wine is a brilliant TV film from Sam Peckinpah.
Sam Peckinpah Films: The Deadly Companions - Ride the High Country - Major Dundee - The Wild Bunch - The Ballad of Cable Hogue - Straw Dogs - Junior Bonner - The Getaway - Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid - Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - The Killer Elite - Cross of Iron - Convoy - The Osterman Weekend - The Auteurs #62: Sam Peckinpah
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