Riding Tall (1972)

riding1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He can’t stop losing.

Austin Ruth (Andrew Prine) is a rodeo star who hasn’t won a contest in a long while. He’s so down-on-his-luck that the fans routinely boo him as he leaves. He’s so short on cash that he must siphon gas from trucks and drives in a car that forces other passengers to sit on literal springs since he’s too poor to afford seat cushions for his backseat. When his car breaks down he begins walking on the side of the road where he almost gets hit by Chase (Gilmer McCormick) who fell asleep at the wheel. Chase is the preppy daughter from the affluent suburbs who’s running away from her family and their pretensions while also trying to find herself. She has little in common with Austin, but since they’re both alone decide to forge a relationship, but their differing lifestyles, and Austin’s insecurities about his failing life put a damper on their union ever becoming permanent.

This film was released during a period where stories about the modern day rodeo circuit where in seemingly high demand and while some of them like J.W. Coop and Junior Bonner where met with critical praise and box office appeal this one, despite having a CBS Network television broadcast in 1980, has fallen into complete obscurity. Today it’s only known for having been written by Mary Ann Saxon, who was the wife of the late actor John Saxon.

Initially it had a potential. I really like McCormick. Normally I find films that force in a romance that comes out of nowhere to be annoying, but since this guy was having everything working against him I thought he deserved a break and was genuinely interested in seeing the relationship evolve. McCormick is young and cute, but not in the plastic Hollywood sort of way. She also has a great snarky personality, but her character is poorly defined. At one point she angrily snaps at a traffic cop (William Wintersole) and I thought it would be later revealed when she’d be so unusually angry at him, but it never gets explained and seems to simply play-off the fact that because she was young and in college she’d just naturally hate cops, but this is too broad and makes her more of a caricature than a person.

Prine is dull. Granted his character is run-over by life, so it would be expected that he’d mop around, but he still needs to do this in an interesting way, like a good actor would, but he doesn’t. He’s also never shown actually riding a bronco, until the very end. Even if a stunt double needed to be edited in seeing the character actually on an animal riding it, or attempting to stay on it, is needed instead of just a close-up shot of him being bucked high in the air, which was clearly done by having him sit on top of a mechanical bull and looks fake.

There were a couple of amusing moments like when they try to get a hotel room, but the clerk doesn’t want to give them one because she thinks they aren’t married. When Chase states they are the clerk says she doesn’t believe them at which point Chase replies “Why, because we don’t look miserable enough?”. Overall though it just doesn’t click. Not enough happens. A leisurely pace is okay, but there still needs to be some dramatic moments and they never come making this an uneventful and unmemorable viewing experience.

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Alternate Title: Squares

Released: January 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Patrick J. Murphy

Studio: Plateau International

Available: None

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