Tuesday, August 02, 2016
Directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Jeb Rosebrook, Junior Bonner is the story of a rodeo cowboy who returns to his hometown for a rodeo events as he deals with his estranged parents and his brother. The film is an intimate portrait of a man dealing with aging as well as trying to make amends with his family where they all deal with change in their surroundings. Starring Steve McQueen, Joe Don Baker, Robert Preston, Ben Johnson, and Ida Lupino. Junior Bonner is a heartwarming and evocative film from Sam Peckinpah.
Set in the 4th of July weekend, the film revolves around an aging rodeo cowboy who arrives to his hometown for an event as he meets with his estranged family as his parents are going through hard times and a separation while his brother has become a successful businessman. It’s a film that plays into a man trying to see his family during the weekend as he copes with the fact that his brother has torn down the old family home to create a line of mobile homes as well as other things relating to his family. It’s a film with a simple story as it play into changing times but also a man trying to make amends as he deals with his family. Jeb Rosebrook’s script follows the titular character (Steve McQueen) who has been down on his luck in the rodeo circuit as a bull he’s trying to ride remains undefeated as he wants another shot in his hometown of Prescott, Arizona. Yet, he is aware that it’s his last shot as he’s broke and in need to do something for himself.
While his brother Curly (Joe Don Baker) would offer him a job, it is done with a sense of arrogance as Junior doesn’t like what Curly is doing. At the same time, their father Ace (Robert Preston) wants money to go to Australia for prospecting believing there is something there as Curly thinks it’s a bad scheme while Ace’s estranged wife Elvira (Ida Lupino) agrees as she sells antiques for a living while being unsure about living in a mobile home. Junior’s relationship with his father is a unique one as both men are dreamers in some ways where Junior understands what his father wants no matter how foolish the dream is as Junior is like his dad in some ways. Though Ace is a womanizer, he still carries a torch for Elvira as he wants her to join her yet she doesn’t know considering the many failures he’s had. Even as the family becomes unsure if Junior can pull off one last victory in the rodeo as it is clear he doesn’t have much time left as well as very little options in his life.
Sam Peckinpah’s direction is very understated in terms of the fact that it’s a more subdued film in comparison to a lot of the films he’s known for as they’re very violent. With the exception of a comical barroom brawl and a fight between Junior and Curly, the film isn’t very violent at all as it’s more about the life of a family in this small town in Arizona. Shot largely on location in Prescott, Arizona, the film does play into a world that is changing as the images of the old Bonner family home being destroyed is startling while there are these shots mobile homes from afar that are being shown to play into this sense of change. Many of Peckinpah’s compositions are simple as well as have an air of intimacy in the medium shots and close-ups to play into the interaction of the Bonner family. The wide shots would play into the locations as well as some shots of the 4th of July parade while Peckinpah would just maintain that sense of Americana that feels like a community coming together and celebrate. The rodeo scenes are quite stylish as Peckinpah presents them with that air of energy but also excitement as it is a world that is in its own time no matter how much the world around it changes. Overall, Peckinpah creates a somber yet touching film about a rodeo cowboy returning home to make amends with his family and go for one last victory in the rodeo.
Cinematographer Lucien Ballard does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the grainy, low-key look of the flashback scenes of a rodeo in the film‘s opening scene to the more colorful look of the exteriors in Prescott as well as the interiors inside the bar. Editors Frank Santillo and Robert L. Wolfe do amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, split-screens, slow-motion cuts, and other stylistic cutting as it plays into the vibrancy of the rodeo as well as the world of the American West in its modern context. Art director Ted Haworth, with set decorators Angelo P. Graham and Jerry Wunderlich, does nice work with the look of the home that Elvira lives in as well as the bar where many of the locals hang out at. The sound work of Larry Hooberry is terrific for the sound of the crowd at the rodeo and at the bar as well as the quieter moments involving Junior and his parents. The film’s music by Jerry Fielding is superb as it‘s mainly a country-based score with its guitars and sliding guitars as well as some songs in that style of country-western music.
The casting by Lynn Stalmaster is excellent as it features some notable small roles from Sandra Deel as Ace’s nurse Arlis whom Ace flirts with, Don “Red” Barry as a rodeo impresario named Homer Rutledge, Bill McKinney as a rival rodeo cowboy named Red Terwiliger, Barbara Leight as Rutledge’s girlfriend Charmagne who takes a liking towards Junior, and Mary Murphy as Curly’s wife Ruth. Joe Don Baker is terrific as Curly Bonner as Junior’s brother who has become a successful yet arrogant businessman that is eager to make money out of mobile homes as he believes it is the future while not understanding that Junior and their father are part of the old ways of the world. Ben Johnson is superb as Buck Roan as a rodeo owner who knows Junior and his father as he is reluctant to let Junior ride this bull knowing that Junior’s luck has been running out.
Ida Lupino is amazing as Elvira Bonner as the estranged wife of Ace who is a down-to-earth woman that is happy to see Junior though she is aware of the path he’s taking as she tries to understand why he can’t exactly give up the world of the rodeo. Robert Preston is brilliant as Ace Bonner as Junior’s father who likes to drink and chase around women as he laments over the ways of the world as he hopes to go to Australia to mine and raise sheep there as a way to be with the old ways. Finally, there’s Steve McQueen in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as this aging rodeo cowboy that is aware that he’s running out of chances as well as try to make amends with his family no matter how complicated things are as it’s a very grounded and solemn performance from McQueen.
Junior Bonner is a remarkable film from Sam Peckinpah that features great performances from Steve McQueen, Ida Lupino, and Robert Preston. While it is a very different western of sorts from Peckinpah as well as a more dramatic-based feature. It is still a fascinating film about the ideas of the old ways vs. the new ways where a man tries to cope with change and help his family. In the end, Junior Bonner is a marvelous film from Sam Peckinpah.
Sam Peckinpah Films: The Deadly Companions - Ride the High Country - Major Dundee - Noon Wine - The Wild Bunch - The Ballad of Cable Hogue - Straw Dogs - 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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Good call on this being subdued Peckinpah. He is definitely more reflective with this one and I like it. It showed that he could be more than the slow-motion violence guy and could go deeper, which he certainly does in this fascinating character study. A very underrated McQueen film.
@J.D. Lafrance-I agree that it's underrated as I like how subdued it is and it shows that Peckinpah can do a whole lot more. Especially as I see it as a film that is part of oeuvre with a lot of his films about how people contend with the modern world.
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