By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Father and son reunite.
One night during a drunken rage Harry Graham (Robert Mitchum) kills his wife (Sally Kirkland), which gets witnessed by their 7-year-old son Jimmy (Jan-Michael Vincent). 13 years later Harry is paroled and Jimmy uses this opportunity to try and reconcile with his father and find out why he did it, but Harry has moved on. He has a new job and a girlfriend named Jenny (Brenda Vaccaro) and when Jimmy appears it creates an awkward tension that gets progressively worse.
One of the biggest problems with this film is that the characters and their motivations are not fleshed out enough and their actions make little sense. I’ve watched a lot of true-life crime shows and have found that in cases where this situation has occurred in real-life that the adult child will usually cease communication with their father and completely disown them, so it seemed strange why Jimmy would want to restart their relationship. If he was curious to know why Harry did it then he could’ve simply writing him a letter with that question, which he never bothered to do while the man was incarcerated.
The film also fails to show what happened to Jimmy during the time Harry was in prison. He is shown arriving at an orphanage, but nothing about what does when he gets there or being put into a foster home and getting adoptive parents, or moving in with relatives, which is what usually occurs. He somehow has no friends or job and if this is because of his childhood trauma then it should get explained or more strongly implied, but it isn’t and it leaves a big void in the story.
Harry’s actions are equally confusing. The murder gets played out at the beginning and we see the stabbed mother crawl down the stairs and beg Jimmy for help and then Harry comes down and looks at the dead body before turning towards the boy with a guilty expression, but if he feels so bad about what he has just done and the traumatic impact he’s put his son through then he should’ve thought of that beforehand. I would’ve expected to see a completely different set of emotions in the man’s eyes like anger, rage, insanity or even fear because now he knows he’ll will be going to prison, but guilt wouldn’t play into it, at least not that quickly if ever.
Mitchum’s character is straddled with conveying only one emotion throughout, which is guilt. We never tap into the other side of the man that propelled him to commit such a heinous act and his explanation, which is that he ‘just got drunk’ is insufficient. The character also pops up too conveniently at times. One moment is when Jimmy goes back to their former home, which has now been turned into a whorehouse and he hides in the basement. Harry comes looking for him and despite the fact that there are many people there and it’s a large place he immediately goes to the cellar, but how would he have known to look there? Another segment has him magically coming to Jimmy’s rescue when his son is accosted by a group of sailors underneath a boardwalk even though he was bowling in another building and would have no way of knowing what was occurring outside.
The film has solid production values and director Herbert B. Leonard shows flair with the location shooting, which was done in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There is also a good scene inside a chicken coop and actor Josh Mostel (Zero’s son) has an interesting film debut playing Harry’s young, flippant parole officer who delights in demeaning his client as much as possible, but the story leaves open too many unanswered questions and isn’t impactful or relevant.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: December 1, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Herbert B. Leonard
Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)