Tag Archives: Eagle Pennell

The Whole Shootin’ Match (1978)

whole1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to get rich.

Frank (Sonny Carl Davis) and Lloyd (Lou Perryman) are lifelong pals who’ve never been able to get over the financial hump. Both harbor starry-eyed ideas of getting rich, but Lloyd’s inventions never attract the interest of any investors. Then one day while driving his car through the local car wash Lloyd is inspired to create a type of mop that he coins the ‘Kitchen Wizard’. They’re able to sell the rights  and make a thousand dollars with the promise that more money will be on the way, but when the patent gets stolen by an unscrupulous company it sends the normally stoic Frank over-the-edge in which he begins to ponder suicide as the only answer to his despondency.

This film, produced on a minuscule budget where the cast and crew agreed to work for free, became the forerunner of the modern-day indie film movement that not only inspired cult director Richard Linklater to get into movie-making, but also gave Robert Redford the motivation to start-up the Sundance Film Festival. Director Eagle Pennell, who was born as Glenn Irwin Pinnell, even attracted the attention of Hollywood studios after the film’s release, which lead to him getting a development deal with Universal, but when this failed to get any of his movie ideas produced he came back to the Lone Star State feeling as disillusioned as the characters in this movie. Eventually it lead to alcoholism and homelessness where he ultimately died while living on the streets of Houston at the age of 49.

This movie works much like Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 indie hit Stranger Than Paradise, which was also filmed entirely in black-and-white and featured mainly static shots of people having extended conversations. While some of the scenes are funny there are also a few dramatic ones particularly Frank’s dealings with his wife Paulette, played by Doris Hargrave. There are also some moments that don’t work at all. The one featuring Frank and Lloyd conversing while supposedly riding inside a pick-up is particularly problematic as it’s quite clear to the viewer, despite Pinnell’s attempts to camouflage it by editing in shots of traffic, that the vehicle is stationary. The dream sequence where Frank has a nightmare about going back to the company that stole their mop idea is interesting, but then ultimately gets defeated by repeating it almost exactly in real-life, which gets redundant and the music becomes intrusive as we’re unable to hear what anyone is saying as they confront each other.

The characters are not appealing especially Frank who’s quite controlling and possessive towards his wife despite cheating on her. The two lead’s personalities flip-flop near the end where Lloyd, the perpetual optimist, suddenly turns dour while Frank manifests into Mr. positive, which to me didn’t seemed earned, or believable.

For patient viewers the third act is a payoff as it takes place in the Texas Hill Country where the foliage of the forests are quite different than those in the Midwest with trees unique only to central Texas and thus giving the sequence a surreal vibe like the two have traveled off to a strange and exotic place. I also liked the fact that the phony sound effects used in most other movies are non-existent here. This comes into play when a crotchety old man, played by James N. Harrell, shoots at the two from his porch with a rifle, but instead of a loud cannon sound like in most films, it’s more of a realistic fire cracker noise. The fight inside a bar works the same way as there’s not that annoying loud smacking sound when the punches hit their target making this tussle seem more organic.

This also marked only the second movie to be filmed in Austin, Texas with the first one being Outlaw Blueswhich was released 2 years earlier. If you’re an Austinite, such as myself, living in the city now you’ll not recognize the old Austin that gets shown here. No tall buildings, or cosmopolitan look. In fact after watching it you’d be convinced Austin was just a back woods cow town without even a hint of the bustling metropolis that its become.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 19, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Available: DVD, Fandor

Last Night at the Alamo (1983)

last night at alamo

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

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Studio: Cinecom Pictures

Available: VHS