By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Rival fishing boat captains.
Tom (Peter Fonda), a lifelong drifter, moves back to his hometown of Key West, Florida where he hopes to start up his own charter boat business. However, Nick (Warren Oates) already owns one and not happy about having competition. He along with his friend Carter (Harry Dean Stanton) decide to play a cruel practical joke on Tom, who in an effort to get some revenge, destroys Nick’s boat, which sets off a warring rivalry.
Thomas McGuane was lucky enough to get to direct his own novel despite having no experience behind the camera yet frittered it all away with wild parties as well as an affair with the film’s co-star Elizabeth Ashley despite being engaged to Margo Kidder who was also cast in the movie and which set off quite a few fireworks behind-the-scenes. On a technical level I loved the way the working class/old town side of Key West gets captured along with the glowing gold sunshine of the region and Michael J. Lewis’ soothing banjo strumming soundtrack helps bring out the film’s laid-back ambiance, but outside of a few amusing moments that’s about it.
Initially the leisurely pace and quirky nuance is refreshing and I liked the contrasting personalities of the two leads, but not enough happens. By the second act you wonder what happened to the story as too many extraneous scenes and characters get thrown until it ends up being an abyss to nothingness.
The cast though is definitely game. The wacky dialogue between Burgess Meredith and Sylvia Miles, which I’m pretty sure was all ad-libbed, is quite amusing although the scene where she tries to shatter a glass by wailing out a high-pitched screech should’ve been extended. Joe Spinell, one of cult cinema’s great character actors, practically steals the whole thing with his few minutes of screen time. The scene where he is taught about the different kinds of fishes by having them displayed on top of a pool table is the funniest moment of the movie although the garish outfit that he wears when he goes out on the boat with Fonda comes in as a close second.
The ending, at least in this recent version I saw from Amazon Video, took me by complete surprise. I had seen this movie twice before and both of those times it ended with Oates confronting Fonda on his boat, but instead of attacking him they sit down and have a friendly chat. Here it ended with Oates shooting Fonda and then immediately freezing the frame and rolling in the credits.
For me this alternative ending was frustrating as it left open too many unanswered questions. Having a film drag on as it does with virtually nothing occurring during its second and third act only to abruptly end it when it finally gets interesting is like a slap-in-the-face to the viewer and helps to explain why this bombed so terribly at the box office.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: August 22, 1975
Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes (Alternative ending) 1Hour 33Minutes (Original ending).
Director: Thomas McGuane
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD, Amazon Video.