• Junior Bonner



    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
    Released on: October 21st, 2017.
    Director: Sam Peckinpah
    Cast: Steve McQueen, Robert Preston, Ida Lupino, Joe Don Baker, Ben Johnson
    Year: 1972
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    The Movie:

    Sam Peckinpah’s followup to STRAW DOGS wasn’t really what anyone was expecting. Both derided and praised for his groundbreaking use of violence in films, Bloody Sam was always a tough nut to crack as an artist. STRAW DOGS was his most unsettling work with a fascinating mix of brutal violence and deeply conflicted sexual themes wrapped up in a narrative about the nature of masculinity. Many called the film pro-violence while others claimed it was a treatise on the consequences of male inaction.

    But BONNER moves away from the explicit violence of its immediate predecessor. And it faced a minor critical drubbing for it back in the day. Kind of ironic considering the critical barbs aimed at DOGS.

    The tale of an aging rodeo cowboy (screen icon Steve McQueen as the title character) returning to his small home town to take one last shot at the brass ring, this is a gentle and melancholy film. Immaculately shot, perfectly cast and filled with wonderful performances - it makes a string claim to being Peckinpah’s most emotionally resonate work.

    The plot is as comfortable as a pair of beloved well worn shoes. A rodeo ace on the wrong side of the age divide wants one last ride on a bronco bull to prove himself. The bull is fierce and the rider’s reflexes ain’t what they used to be, but he wants that chance badly. All he has to do is convince salty rodeo owner Buck Roan (Ben Johnson) to give him that shot. But he also has to navigate his incredibly complex family relationships. His father Ace (Robert Preston) is a dreamer and a bit of a wastrel who has a contentious relationship with his mother Elvira (Ida Lupino). Then there’s brother Curly (Joe Don Baker). He’s a real go-getter with a burgeoning real estate business and little interest in the rodeo shenanigans of his family. As such, he’s regarded with a certain amount of disdain by the rest of the clan despite often behaving like the only adult in the room.

    JUNIOR BONNER is one of those films where the narrative drive is its least important aspect. This is a film about people and relationships. And family. And a vanishing way of life. Released in 1970, this was the West of wide open landscapes and single operator gas stations. Rodeos and family picnics. It was disappearing then. It’s truly all but gone now.

    What happens with McQueen and that bull is really secondary. The film’s most underdeveloped aspect, a romance, even less so. What counts here is spending time with people you care about, played by what might be Sam’s strongest cast. Preston is both charming and infuriating as the romantic that just can’t get it together. Lupino - always one of the most outstanding and interesting talents in Hollywood - is superb as mama Bonner. Lupino was a feminist icon in a brutally sexist era. She directed tough as nails independent films like THE HITCHHIKER and an episode of “The Twilight Zone” while keeping an impressive acting career going that saw her going strong through the golden era of Hollywood to regular 1970’s television guest starring roles. Young Lupino was never a doe eyed beauty. She was sexy but edgy. The Lupino of BONNER is a formidable woman who shows the effects of age but remains both captivating and striking. Her scenes with Preston are marvelous. McQueen, often dismissed as little more than a pretty action man by the critics of his day, delivers the strongest acting performance of his career. His enormous physical gifts are put to perfect use, but it’s the quiet and introspective power that McQueen brings to the table that makes his characterization so vivid. Finally, Joe Don Baker brings a wounded dignity to his frustrated brother. Bluff and hearty on the surface, these emotional waters run treacherously deep. It’s a subtle and carefully measured display and a far cry from the larger than life likes of his inimitable Sheriff Buford Pusser in WALKING TALL.

    This is a deeply satisfying film and one of the master’s finest. Like STRAW DOGS, it is a film about the nature of masculinity. It’s just coming from a very different perspective.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Kino’s 2.35.1 framed 1080p AVC encoded transfer is up to the label’s usual standards. This doesn’t appear to be a recent scan, but the basics are well covered. Image detail is decent and the color palette looks natural. This was a grainy film, so you’ll see plenty of that, but it’s properly resolved and the image does not show any signs of digital tinkering. The print itself is also clean and free of damage. It’s worth noting that JUNIOR BONNER’s DVD edition was notoriously poor and non-anamorphic so this is a significant upgrade.

    Audio is covered by a DTS-HD 2.0 track that sounds quite good. You’re dealing with the usual period limitations, but aside from a few crowded scenes with a lot of background and ambient noise, everything here is clear enough. Volume fluctuation and sound imbalance are not an issue. English subtitles are provided for those that require them.

    The first big extra is the previously released Peckinpah posse audio commentary. You know what you’re getting with this gang and it’s all good. Peckinpah scholar Nick Redman moderates Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and author David Weddle. To be crude, these gentlemen know their shit cold and have fantastic chemistry. They talk about the unique crossroads McQueen was at at this point in his career and how it informed his performance, as well as various aspects of the production. All three of these men either knew Sam or have studied his work extensively and have written definitive books on him. Well worth a listen.

    “Passion And Poetry: Rodeo Time”, is an hour long piece that brings together a large group of friends and associates to discuss the film. Ali MacGraw calls it her favorite McQueen film. This is an impressive piece with excellent contributions from heavyweights like L.Q. Jones, Garner Simmons and longtime Peckinpah assistant Katy Haber. A smaller piece that follows collects Peckinpah anecdotes bringing in some of the biggest stars to work with Peckinpah like James Coburn, Bo Hopkins, David Warner, Kris Kristofferson and the amazing Earnest Borgnine. They reminisce with enormous affection but don’t hide the fact that Peckinpah could be tremendously difficult. This one is a real treat and especially poignant considering that quite a few people here are no longer with us.

    There are also some smaller bits in a trivia featurette and a more interesting short piece (3 minutes) shot on the 4th of July 2016 that revisits the original rodeo site from the film. Three generous still galleries are here, with the first and second focused on photos from the set and promotional material with the last showing off an impressive cache of lobby cards and poster artwork. Kino wrap everything up with the film’s theatrical trailer and some TV and radio spots. The radio spots are really fun. Hearing how something like this sold via such a strange and non-visual medium is fascinating. Kino also dump some additional Peckinpah trailers on the disc. And you get reversible artwork!

    The Final Word:

    JUNIOR BONNER is one of Peckinpah’s most beautiful and lyrical films. It never properly got its due back in the day but has steadily risen in stature since it was released. And rightfully so. This is a major upgrade over the previously rather shoddy DVD. Kino have given the film a strong A/V presentation and an extremely generous selection of high quality extras. Therefore, this disc comes with the highest possible recommendation.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!