Tag Archives: Horton Foote

Tomorrow (1972)

 

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aiding a pregnant woman.

Jackson Fentry (Robert Duvall) is a lonely farm-hand who has never married and lives in a tiny shack on the grounds of the farm that he’s been hired to maintain. One day he comes across a pregnant woman named Sarah Eubancks (Olga Bellin) near the property who’s been abandoned by both her husband and his family. He brings her back to his modest shed to warm her up and since she has nowhere to go he eventually agrees, with the help of a local midwife (Sudie Bond), to assist through the birth of her child. Sarah though dies soon after the baby is born, but not before Jackson agrees that he’ll raise the child. For several years Jackson is able to do just that until the brother’s of the boy’s father arrive and take the child away. Then many years later Jackson is called-in for jury duty on a trial that, known only to him, has a connection to the boy he lost contact with. 

There’s been many movies that have tried to recreate the rural 1800’s, but many for the sake of drama, or to make it more relatable to modern audiences, tend to cheat things. They may make it authentic in some areas, possibly even painstakingly so, but then compromise in others due to the entertainment factor. This though is one film that could genuinely be described as being about as minimalistic as any director could possibly make it. Filmed on a farm in rural Mississippi that was owned by the grandfather of Tammy Wynette the movie gives one an authentic taste of life back then with little to no music and no sense of any staging. The bare-bones shack that Jackson must reside in gives the viewer a stark sense of the grim, no frills existence that many dealt with back then. The slow pacing aptly reflects the slower ways of life and having the camera virtually trapped in the shed, or at most the nearby property, symbolized how people of that era had to learn to endure and expect little.

While those qualities hit-the-mark I felt that black-and-white photography detracted from it. By the 70’s most films were shot in color and only a few like The Last Picture Show, Young Frankenstein, and Eraserhead just to name some, were not, but this was more for mood, or style. Here though with everything already at an intentionally drab level the color could’ve at least brought out the beauty of the outdoor scenery of a southern winter and offered some brief striking visuals and a cinematic presence that was still needed, but missing and kind of hurts the movie. 

Surprisingly I had issues with the acting. One might say with Robert Duvall present that couldn’t be the case, but his overly affected accent, he got it from a man he met once in the foothills of the Ozarks, was from my perspective overdone and even borderline annoying. Bellin is alright though behind-the-scenes she created problems by refusing to take any advice from director Joseph Anthony. She had done mostly stage work up until then and was used to having leverage about how she approached her character once she was onstage and considered that once the camera was shooting meant the same thing. It was okay, like with a play production, for the director to give advice during rehearsals, but when the actual filming started she should have free rein over her craft and having Anthony repeatedly reshoot scenes, like in typical film production, or suggest she do things differently as the filming was going on, was all new to her and not to her liking, which caused numerous arguments not only with Anthony, but Duvall as well making them both later admit that they regretted casting her and she never performed in another movie again. Out of the entire cast it was Sudie Bond as the lady who helps with the birthing that I found to be the most memorable. 

While the story has many commendable moments it gets stretched pretty thin especially since it was based on a short story by William Faulkner and then adapted first as a play and then to the big screen by Horton Foote (the first of two collaborations that he did with Duvall with the second one being Tender Mercies 10 years later). Almost the entire third of the film gets spent on Jackson’s conversations with the woman while his relationship with the son takes-up less than 10 giving the pacing and flow a disjointed feel. It’s also a shame that, like with The Owl and the Pussycat, which came out 2 years earlier, the producers compromised on the elements of the original piece as in Faulkner’s story the pregnant woman was black, but here she gets changed to being Caucasian. Had the character remained black then what Jackson does for her would’ve been more profound as he would’ve been taking great personal risk in helping her in an era and region of the country where racism was high and by no longer being a colored woman it lessens the drama and is not as impactful as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 19, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joseph Anthony

Studio: Filmgroup Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Plex, Tubi, Amazon Video

 

The Trip to Bountiful (1985)

the trip to bountiful 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old lady goes home.

Carrie Watts (Geraldine Page) is an elderly woman living inside a cramped apartment with her grown son Ludie (John Heard) and his wife Jessie Mae (Carline Glynn) in Houston, Texas during the 1940’s. Carrie dreams of one day returning to her childhood home in the small town of Bountiful and ‘escaping’ from Jessie Mae who is overbearing and treats her like a child, but she lacks the transportation or funds. She secretly hides her government checks with the hopes of saving enough to take a train. When she finally makes it to the train station she finds there is no longer any stops to her old town, which is now essentially abandoned, but with the help of the local sheriff (Richard Bradford) he takes her there while Ludie and Jessie follow close behind determined to drag her back with them.

Peter Masterson’s directorial debut shows a great appreciation for Horton Foote’s script as it manages to stay true to the period and tone. I especially liked the part where Carrie describes the quietness of her childhood home while the camera slowly pans the yard and allows the viewer to essentially experience what she is talking about. The recreation of the ‘40s is on-target making you feel like you are living there yourself. Having some tunes of the era playing on a phonograph in the background is a great touch and it’s nice to hear a soundtrack that isn’t from the preverbal classic rock period.

Page shines in her Academy Award winning performance. She has played evil characters with such a relish for most of her career that it is nice seeing her portray a sweet old lady for once and do it so well. Her presence adds to every scene she is in and helps make them more interesting particularly with her conversation on the train with Thelma (Rebecca De Mornay) and the way she holds up everyone in line at the train station specifically two men standing behind her who in real life where her twin sons. She also manages to cry effectively with tears actually coming out of her eyes as opposed to De Mornay whose tearless attempts at it where so pathetic it seemed almost embarrassing.

Carlin is quite good in the snippy adversarial role and I was surprised she didn’t at least get a nomination for her efforts. Heard is solid as a sort of mediator and De Mornay is perfect for the part simply because her fresh youthful face makes a great contrast to Page’s worn one.

The on-location shooting adds a lot of flavor and helps to make this superior over its original stage version. The story itself is slow moving, but a wonderful character study on aging that at times manages to be dryly humorous, honest and sad, but never maudlin.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 20, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Masterson

Studio: Island Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD