By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Life at the bar.
It’s the last night of business for The Alamo bar in Houston, Texas. Some developers have purchased the land and plan on constructing a skyscraper on the site much to the dismay of the regular patrons. There’s Icabod (Steven Mattila) a wiry, creepy looking fellow who seems to bitch about everything and anything. There is also Claude (Lou Perryman) who has just been kicked out of his house by his wife and spends he majority of the night on the phone begging her to let him comeback as well as Cowboy (Sonny Carl Davis) who has big dreams of becoming a Hollywood star, but can’t seem able to hold down a job for any lengthy duration.
The film was shot in black-and-white on a measly budget of $25,000. The majority of it was done inside a place called The Old Barn, which was a popular neighborhood bar in Houston. The scenes where done during the day, so as not to interfere with the regular customers coming in during the evening. Kim Henkel who is best known for penning The Texas Chain Saw Massacre wrote the screenplay as well as appearing as a character named Lionel. Director Eagle Pennell appears briefly as Bo and his wife Peggy can be seen as Ginger.
What makes this film so interesting is the fact that nothing really happens. Instead it gets filled with a lot of rhetorical arguments, insignificant conversations and down-and-out characters much of what you’re likely to find on a regular night at any neighborhood bar across the country. The film takes the ‘Cheers’ format, but with more of a caustic, darker sense of humor. Although this minimalistic approach may sound boring it actually isn’t and in many ways is surprisingly engaging, refreshing and even daring.
The eclectic cast, many of whom were local performers who had not appeared in a film before, really helps. The Davis character who wears a big cowboy hat to cover up is balding head and goes to great lengths to try to save the bar even calling the state capitol in Austin for assistance only to find that there is nothing they can do because nobody ‘important’ had ever gone there is especially endearing. Perryman, who was tragically murdered in 2009, is quite amusing in his desperate attempts to reconcile with his wife and Mattila has his moments as well particularly when he decides to hold a conversation with a wall because he feels it’s more interesting than talking to his girlfriend.
Barflies young and old should appreciate this low budget gem as it hits the essence of bar life and those that frequent them head on while taking an offbeat approach that most Hollywood films wouldn’t dare to do. Henkel and Pennell reteamed 10 years later to create the similarly themed Doc’s Full Service about people who frequent a Texas service station.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: October 2, 1983
Runtime: 1Hour 21Minutes
Director: Eagle Pennell
Studio: Cinecom Pictures
I really like this movie. Glad to see you give it its due. Also check out their previous film, “The Whole Shootin’ Match” for another dose of their low budget, black and white charm.