Combustible Celluloid
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With: Clint Eastwood, Kyle Eastwood, John McIntire, Alexa Kenin, Matt Clark, Barry Corbin, Jerry Hardin, Macon McCalma, Joe Regalbuto, Verna Bloom, Tim Thomerson, Macon McCalman, Joe Regalbuto, Bette Ford, Tracey Walter
Written by: Clancy Carlile, based on his novel
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 123
Date: 12/15/1982

Honkytonk Man (1982)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Good Mornin', Heartache

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1982 Clint Eastwood was a top action star, but he was known more for his fists, his quips and his orangutans (don't ask) than he was for talent or versatility. So when he attempted this genuinely touching drama about a wandering, carefree, nearly burned-out country singer, critics and fans didn't exactly respond with open arms. Today it looks much better, and contains one of Eastwood's most openhearted performances. He's "Red" Stovall, songwriter, singer and guitar player who makes his living passing the hat around in roadside honkytonks during the Great Depression. His tubercular coughs slowly get worse and he treats them with blasts of whisky. He arrives, drunk, at his sister's farm just after receiving an invitation to audition at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Her son Whit (Kyle Eastwood) instantly bonds with the free-spirited uncle (Red dubs him "Hoss"), and the sister reluctantly agrees to let her son accompany uncle Red on the road to keep an eye on him. Grandpa (John McIntire) also tags along, chipping in his life savings for a ride back to his birthplace. From there, it's a series of adventures as Red tries to collect on old debts, steal chickens, avoid getting speared by a bull, and even playing piano in an all-black juke joint. Some of the episodes are broadly comic, leading critics to complain that the movie was too long and badly edited. (Many other complaints, typically, had to do with departures from the novel.) But most of the scenes are sweetly tender, with a genuine regard for "Hoss" as a true character, rather than a prop for Eastwood's gusto. Eastwood was already experimenting with his trademark stripped-down camerawork, very often bathed in shadows and darkness, and the film has a true feel for dust and poverty. Look for lots of country stars in cameos, and for cult character actor Tracey Walter in a funny performance as a mechanic. Eastwood gave audiences a twofer in 1982, with Firefox opening several months earlier during the summer season.

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