I Saw A Film
This one is a psychological pot boiler loaded to the hilt with iconic screen presences. I’d seen it before but had forgotten it precisely. Though it’s not hard to pull the trigger on anything with Brando and Redford a-and Dickinson. It also has Jane Fonda and Robert Duvall, but Janice Rule kinda steals the show as an irreverent hot housewife obviously bored to death with her square husband, played like a post by Duvall. E.G. Marshall is the town’s rich feudal lord Val Rogers. Signs all over the region and his oil business celebrate his name. The film is directed by Arthur Penn who also did one of my favorites, Little Big Man (which is based very well on a tremendous book).
Redford is “Bubber” Reeves a convict who no one can quite remember why was sent off to prison. He either crashed someone’s plane or wrecked someone’s Caddy, at any rate he’s escaped with a monster who slays a hapless salesman and ditches him at the scene.
Bubber is kinda stuck, very quickly blamed for the slaying and trying to find a way to Mexico, but goes the wrong way and finally ends up heading back toward his wife, Fonda. His wife is shacking up with the son of the big man, but she’s not so happy about it. At one point giving him a rough time about a gift she can’t possibly wear anywhere without causing a stir. She doesn’t want expensive presents.
This is a Hollywood “southern” film. Which is to say that the most Southern thing that’s been leveraged into it is the kitsch name “Bubber”. In the wonderful short dark comedy The Accountant, Ray McKinnon plays a quirky and dour numbers man who tries to save southern farms. He also laments bitterly the way outsiders misunderstand and abuse the South. He chooses the name “Bubber” as a particular thorn along with “Cleetis”. I may have to have a separate write-up for this little 2001 gem one day.
Brando is the town sheriff rather tired and frustrated with the job. He longs to go back to family farming, but doesn’t quite have the money. Occasionally Mr. Rogers (this is before our Mr. Rogers of kid television fame) offers him the money, but Brando is too proud to accept that and works hard to keep his life free of favors provided or owed (though he did take the job, and every day he works it he loses more and more respect for himself and the position).
In town, real-estate barons are offering poor black folks pittances for their land so they can flip it to the black-gold industry and make a killing. These things aren’t just spelled out, they’re expertly displayed. There’s no tension sting in the music to alert you to a crime. The movie is not leading your conclusion.
The news arrives that Bubber is on his way and has murdered. The townies are all aflutter. The mix of family and enemy (after all, what was he sent up for?) clash as well as friends of black folks, and so racism is lit as well.
Brando’s sheriff moves too slowly, and too despondently. He doesn’t want this job, but is soon fired to action, unlocking his desk (Andy Griffith style) and employing his weaponry.
Sometimes it feels like there are too many characters in the film, but that’s because we’ve been weened on stripped-down modern story-telling. The excess of characters provides the feel and meaning and political bearing of the town. We are shown the modern injustices to blacks and laboring Mexicans. We see the inherent and wholly unleashed power of money even if the wealthy Val Rogers is a moral man, his son isn’t. The only right is strength and only capital provides it. In service to capital, anything is permitted. Saying our lives aren’t much different today is a bit too obvious, our Val Rogers family son now sits diffidently in the White House doing his best to rub people’s noses in his self-aggrandized position of emperor.
When the only quality is having been born into a position of easy money and with it a willingness to selfishly wield it, only rot can come of it. When a people know nothing but a worship and respect of the well-monied society arts and science decay. Blame is leveled at those who can’t defend themselves and pogroms are inevitable.
Sorry for the political bent there, but this is a tough movie! Not the usual lark I like to aim my attention at. Capitalism has great things about it, it has provided tremendous freedom to the world, and pulled most of it out of warfare and poverty, but this particular concoction is a brew for trouble.
Will Bubber survive? Will his name be cleared? Will Brando’s sheriff be able to quell the unrest? Janice Rule has the best line about punishing the sexual players in the town, she snorts, well that’d lock-up half the town! Her cynical outlook may be more than just posturing.
This one is a few bucks on Prime, but it’s a worthwhile purchase. It’s possibly Brando’s best.