Archive for April, 2015

On Pete La Farge and His Illustrious Family

Posted in American Folk/ Country/ Western, AMERICANA, BOOKS & AUTHORS, Music, Native American Interest, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2015 by travsd


Today is the birthday of the late Oliver Albee “Pete” La Farge (1931-1965). With protest roiling all around it seems timely to contemplate folksinger/ songwriter La Farge’s life and works. But before I get there, I feel compelled to take a roundabout route. There’s no way for someone like me to talk about him without mentioning his lineage, for he was a member of what you might call America’s cultural aristocracy, with deep roots not only in my home state, but in my home town.


La Farge was the great-great-great grandson of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1818), one of America’s first notable military figures, hero of the War of 1812, and also America’s quasi-war with the French, and the naval battles with Barbary pirates. He is famous for the slogan on his battle flag: “Don’t Give Up the Ship” and for uttering the immortal phrase “We have met the enemy and they are ours…” (later parodied in the comic strip Pogo as “We have met the enemy and they are us.”) Perry was born and raised in my hometown South Kingstown, Rhode Island, so I’ve known his name since I was a school child. (It turns out that I am distantly related to him as well, through our common ancestors the Wilbores).


“Girl in Grass Dress (Seated Samoan Girl)”, John La Farge, 1890

In 1860, Perry’s granddaughter Margaret Mason Perry married John La Farge (1835-1910), an influential painter, illustrator, and stained-glass artist. Of French parentage, the wealthy La Farge was born in New York and studied painting with William Morris Hunt in Newport, Rhode Island. He traveled widely in Asia with Henry Adams (whom I recently learned I’m related to) and brought back influences of Japan and the South Seas which he expressed through his famous work, which you can read about here. 


Of John La Farge’s eight children (all born at Newport), several were distinguished. Christopher Grant La Farge (1862-1938), the oldest, became a noted Beaux-Arts architect, whose best known work includes the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and several buildings at the Bronx Zoo. There’s a good article about la Farge’s firm here. His younger brother Oliver Hazard Perry La Farge (the first) was also a notable architect, writer and real estate developer. John’s youngest son John La Farge Jr., a Jesuit priest, became a famous and influential crusader against racism and anti-semitism.

Of the next generation, several more La Farges were equally famous.


The best known is Oliver Hazard Perry La Farge (the second), Christopher’s son, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and anthropologist. His main field of study was Native American culture, which he wrote about in several books, both fiction and non-fiction. Laughing Boy (1929) was the one that won the Pulitzer, and remains his best known work. (This Oliver was Pete’s dad).

Oliver’s older brother Christopher La Farge, was also a distinguished and prolific novelist, poet and playwright, known for writing verse novels about life in Rhode Island. Remarkably, he also worked as an architect at McKim, Mead and White. I am one degree of separation from this La Farge! For when I was in high school, his son the poet W.E.R. La Farge came to my high school class and did a writing work shop. Not for nothin’, but he actually singled out a poem of mine and showed it to the class! (In retrospect, we behaved like, well, teenagers, and didn’t give this special opportunity the respect it deserved. If only I could turn back the clock -!) W.E.R.’s daughter Annik maintains a loving web site in his honor, and has also taken up the family business of writing and love of architecture, penning an excellent book and blog about New York’s High LineLearn all about it here.


Now we come to Pete. Pete was the son of the Pulitzer prize winning OHP. Born in NYC, but raised largely in New Mexico and Colorado, when he was still a boy he met the legendary Josh White, who inspired him to become a folk singer.  In the late ’50s, he moved to Greenwich Village and became one of the key players in the scene I wrote about here. His western upbringing imbued him a love of both cowboy culture and the culture of Native Americans. It gave him an interesting authenticity that set him apart from many of the folk musicians of his generation, and in reality he was kind of a bridge between that older (30s and 40s) generation of folk and blues players and his contemporaries (Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, etc).

He became most famous for penning a song called “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” — a true story about one of the guys who raised the flag at Iwo Jim in that famous WWII photo. Hayes was a Pima Indian from Arizona. After all the heroism hoopa he went back home, where there was no opportunity and he drank himself to death. Johnny Cash had a hit record with the song in 1964, and Bob Dylan did a version on his 1973 Dylan LP, although the version I know best is Patrick Sky’s, recorded on his eponymous debut album in 1965. I’ve been listening to Sky’s record quite a bit over the past year…it was exposure to that version that led me on the journey to this blogpost.

La Farge also co-wrote a song with Dylan called “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow”. He made several records during the folk boom of the early 1960s, and died by accidental overdose (there are conflicting reports) in 1965.

Just learned there is a Pete La Farge web site ( and a book and a documentary about him are out. Here’s about the doc, which came out in 2010:

Ranty Rant, Part Three

Posted in Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre with tags , , , on April 28, 2015 by travsd


To follow up some on the rant that began here and continued here…because we just can’t let go.

First I realize I need to apologize to the nice lady who invited me to see the show in the first place. I know she felt sucker-punched and I’m sure I got her in trouble with her boss. She is just an innocent by-stander in this drive-by. She was a friend, and now we’ll be dead-eyeing each other at events, and that sucks.  I guess she didn’t realize that that’s what I do , and hence this introduction to me. I’m a critic; I have very little interest in hanging out at parties.

She got it wrong when she accused me of jealousy though. I just had a couple of successful (sold out in fact) shows at some pretty prestigious venues, so it’s not quite that. And I’m smart enough to know that things go much better when you make nice-nice. And yet I GRATUITOUSLY, flagrantly did not do that.

Why would I do that? Why would someone do that? Recklessly damage relationships. For fun? For the heck of it? Ya think so?

Look at this post from yesterday. It’s because I CARE about these people. I care about protecting and promoting their art, their lives and their legacies. I don’t want to see them disrespected or treated lightly or shat upon. And — WOW — if you invoke the Holy Name of ZIEGFELD on 42nd Street — for God’s sake! — what you’re doing had better goddamn well be WORTHY of that name. And if you are presenting someone who is supposed to be EDDIE CANTOR in a BROADWAY HOUSE, hadn’t that person BETTER be the BEST Eddie Cantor impersonator in the country? Hadn’t he at least BETTER be doing an Eddie Cantor impression? And shouldn’t the music be period appropriate? These are, like, fundamental. This is before tying your shoes and brushing your teeth in the morning kind of stuff. Yet the caliber of the almost uniformly positive reviews the show is getting are like this one from Theatremania, which says off-handedly, “Fink eschews Cantor’s eye-rolling routine in favor of….” Something else. That’s okay?! That’s NOT okay! What sort of “reviewer” are you? You don’t get to just blow it off! The actor doesn’t get to blow off his role! That’s not a choice! It’s either what it’s supposed to be or it’s not.

So this thing is slipshod, amateurish, unresearched, uninformed, and unworthy of the Deuce. This venue happens to be a showplace in the heart of Times Square, the cocoon and the pinnacle of the Best in American Theatre. So take this amateur dinner theatre thing to Epcot Center or Las Vegas or someplace where people don’t know the difference! Oh, I forgot. You’re next door to Applebees, so it looks like you’re already there.

Charlie Chaplin IS “Caught in a Cabaret”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Mabel Normand, Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2015 by travsd

Chaplin with Chester Conklin. Hank Mann’s in the eye patch. The rest of ’em are somebody too

Today is the anniversary of the release of the great Keystone ensemble comedy Caught in a Cabaret (1914), directed by Mabel Normand, written by and co-starring herself and Charlie Chaplin. The film has two locations, a low-down cabaret and a posh society party: because of this anyone who was anyone in the Keystone company is in the film too, and it’s fun to pick them all out.

The film is also seminal for being the first of many “stolen identity” plots Charlie would star in. Based on the earlier Biograph comedy The Baron (1911), it casts Charlie as a waiter who rescues society girl Mabel from a robbery attempt. She invites him to her house. When he shows up (on a break from his work as a waiter in a cafe) he claims to be the “Ambassador to Greece” (a slight joke; he works in a greasy spoon). Charlie the comedian pulls out the stops at the party, introducing a lot of funny business that would become part of his standard repertoire: dabbing booze behind the ears as though it were perfume; pretending to pour some in his ear and then spitting it out his mouth. And predictably he gets drink.

Like Cinderella, he must go back to work and the real world, where his boss (Edgar Kennedy) brow beats him for lateness. Then even this is too good. Mabel and her friends come to the cabaret on a slumming party and thus he is “caught”, as it says in the title. Both sides are up in arms about the situation, Kennedy literally so as he chases everyone out by shooting a gun off, which is a bit excessive if you ask me! But Mabel gives Charlie a good beating too.

While Mabel directed this picture, it seems to me that Charlie had to have been driving the scenario, or at the very least “owning” it. He returned to this predicament so many times: A Jitney Elopement, The Count, The Idle Class, City Lights, and I’m probably missing a few more. See-sawing between two lives. Chaplin, who’d been among the poorest of the earth, was now suddenly already living a dream life. (“Really? I get paid a lot of money? For this? My dream? Surely I’m an imposter. ) He must have been pinching himself daily.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc


To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Dorothy Dwan: Larry Semon’s Leading Lady

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Larry Semon, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2015 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Dorothy Dwan (Dorothy Ilgenfritz, 1906-1981).  Today she is best known (when she is known at all) as the leading lady and wife of Larry Semon, although the majority of her films were without him — most of them westerns.

Originally from Missouri, she moved to the Hollywood area with her single mom who became a movie publicist. Through her influence, the gorgeous teenager began to get parts at Vitagraph starting in 1922. (Her screen name was taken from director Allan Dwan). Semon began to cast her in 1924, when she was still only 18. Her films with him include Her Boy Friend (1924), Kid Speed (1924), The Wizard of Oz (1925, as Dorothy!), The Dome Doctor (1925), The Cloudhopper (1925), The Perfect Clown (1925), My Best Girl (1925), Stop Look and Listen (1926), and Spuds (1927). She was married to Semon from 1925 through his death in 1928.

Fortunately, she had a movie career of her own to cushion the blow. She’d been appearing in westerns, mysteries and other kinds of films right along, in fact many more of them than comedies she made with Semon. She appeared opposite the top western stars of the day, guys like Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, and Tim McCoy. Her career lasted until the early days of the talking era. Her last film was The Fighting Legion (1930). She retired in 1931 to raise a family.

Now here she is one of her first roles, Her Boyfriend, with Larry Semon and Oliver Hardy:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc


To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


An Introduction to ME, or Don’t Invite Me to Your Shows

Posted in ME with tags on April 25, 2015 by travsd
My review of the scenery around Los Alamos, New Mexico

My review of the scenery around Los Alamos, New Mexico

An adverse reaction to a review I posted here a couple of days ago convinces me of the necessity of this public declaration that I hope will make one thing abundantly clear: unless you have some unmistakable reason to suspect otherwise I would be more than ecstatic never to be invited to your shows ever again. This means YOU.

I don’t mean that I don’t wish to buy tickets to your shows. I don’t even wish to be COMPED to your shows. The most valuable thing to me in my life is my time, and spending that time in activities which I know will either be productive or that I will enjoy. And the odds that your show will rate that description (unless you already know that I am a friend or a fan) are infinitesimal. So much do I value my time that I can’t put a dollar amount on it. Would it be worth $10,000 to me to devote four hours of my life (two hours in travel time, two hours for the performance) to watching your shitty show? I should say not. Not when I could be walking in the woods, writing, reading a book, having a conversation with my brilliant girl friend, or watching far superior entertainment on that machine across from my sofa in the comfort of my own home. I have already said as much here. You got that? Not only don’t I want to attend for free, I WOULDN’T TAKE $10,000. Well, I’d take it but I wouldn’t like it.

This isn’t to say that I don’t go to the theatre or that I won’t ever go to the theatre. In fact I often love the theatre. Just look at this and this. But it is to say that whatever theatre I do so see struggles against an innate handicap. It begins in the red and it will have much to do to break even, let alone get ahead. Don’t ever suffer any misapprehension that you are doing me a favor by letting me attend your performance. I don’t care if it’s a hit, I don’t care if Ben Brantley called it the greatest invention since Wonder Bread, if I don’t want to be there (I almost always don’t) you are STEALING SOME OF MY SHORT TIME ON THIS EARTH. Instrinsically. I don’t attend theatre to socialize, I don’t give a shit about keeping up with the Joneses, and if you’re “hot”, then so much the worse for you as far I’m concerned, because all that means to me is that you swindled a lot of lemmings into walking off your cliff. If there’s one thing I pride myself on it’s seeing with my own eyes and forming my own opinions.

I remember a couple of years ago a friend, stung by a bad review asked the evergreen question, “What good are critics anyway? One guy wrote a good review, and one guy wrote a bad one, so what good are they?” The answer in 2015 (the era of democracy, the internet and a woeful lack of education even among “educated” people), is that a large percentage of them — almost all of them — are worthless. It is my considered opinion that even most contemporary PROFESSIONAL critics are unequal to the task they purportedly undertake, never mind the vast army of citizen journalists who throw in their two cents, both of which are counterfeit. Almost all of them are worthless, that is, except….

I won’t say my own opinion is unerring, but I will say that I am uncommonly well informed about the theatre. I began taking courses in theatre history when I was 13 years old, I had read every extant Greek and Roman play (including the fragments of Menander) by the age of 19, and subsequently every play of Shakespeare’s and most of the other Elizabethans, all the classics of the Restoration and the French classicists, every significant American play (including every single available play by O’Neill, Williams, Miller, Odets, Maxwell Anderson etc etc), scores and scores of 19th century melodramas and comedies by people you never heard of, everything by Shaw, Wilde, and many of their contemporaries, everything by Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Coward, all the Absurdists, everything by Brecht, the American musical theatre canon, and I’m sure I’m still leaving out hundreds of others.

Reading plays is one thing; from the time I was a teenager I’ve also seen hundreds upon hundreds of productions, most of them in the course of reviewing for publication: I wrote nearly 100 pieces for Time Out New York, 30 for the Village Voice, numerous ones for American Theatre during my fellowship there, a monthly column for The Villager for four years, and pieces for The New York Times, The New York Sun, Reason and others (including this blog). To learn to write reviews I read widely in the criticism of Shaw, Wilde, Max Beerbohm, George Jean Nathan, Dorothy Parker, Harold Clurman, John Mason Brown, Walter Kerr, John Lahr, and many others. By “read widely”, I mean hundreds and hundreds of essays. I also studied criticism at NYU, and am a trained and experienced actor, playwright, director and producer. And of course there have been all those years researching vaudeville, burlesque and theatre history in general, resulting in things like books.

I left a lot out because I don’t want to brag. Consequently when I take a black eye from reviewers and critics myself in reaction to my own productions, it’s rarely from a place of “Why, that pompous, superior ass!” it’s generally more like “How dare they send that retarded teenager to judge my masterpiece? The orangutan they sent as a reviewer is not qualified to evaluate my farts!” And I can generally be fairly certain that I’m correct.

How do you do? This is an introduction to me. You may have known me for several years without knowing THIS. Invite me to your show, I will be only too glad to tear out your jugular vein in revenge for depriving me of my walk in the woods. I might well love your show. The odds are fairly certain, for example, that I will love what I’m seeing tonight. But I generally have a pretty good instinct for seeking out and finding what I think I will like and not resent on my own. I make no pretense of ever being “fair” about this highly subjective undertaking. But I will say that if you don’t badger me to see your fuckin’ show, you’re on safe and solid ground.

Speakeasy Dollhouse’s Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic

Posted in Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Women with tags , , , , on April 24, 2015 by travsd


We were grateful last night to receive some free passes to see the show currently ensconced in the venue occupying the historic Liberty Theatre, site of the original productions of shows like George M. Cohan’s Little Johnny Jones and Little Nellie Kelly and legendary revues like George White’s ScandalsHitchie-Coo of 1919, and Blackbirds of 1929Nowadays its a restaurant and party space behind the Liberty Diner, but still an appropriate place, one would agree, for an attempted re-creation of Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic. Though amazingly (given all that has been razed in that area) the actual theatre that served as venue for that historic series of revues still stands: it’s the New Amsterdam (although the Frolics took place in a second venue on the New Amserdam’s Roof).

“Interactive, immersive” experiences are rarely my thing. I’m one of the few people it seems who found the original Speakeasy Dollhouse to be a torturous ordeal. I strongly dislike the pressure of being expected to “participate” and the performers always fall so far short of what I imagine the actual experience to have been like that it can only engender contempt. It always seems to me they’ve mastered about 5% of whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing, yet they’re most insistent about doing it in my face anyway. Thus the paradox of my inevitable reaction: I have a strong desire to run away, but I also want very much for them to go away as well. Or, barring that, I want the opposite. I want to be picked up, whisked away, told precisely where to go immediately and moved from point to point by thrilling and compelling action. I have no time or inclination to mill about like a cow at some place I wouldn’t otherwise be.

At the Midnight Frolic we found ourselves most confused on that score. After checking in outside the door to be admitted to the venue, we were asked our names once again once we got inside. I couldn’t tell if the second check-in expected my real name or some fictitious name on the “passport” we were handed, but we later surmised that perhaps it had something to do with dinner reservations (it’s a dinner theatre experience). At all events, once inside, it was unclear where we should go. As though we were in some Kafka story, the room was full of empty tables, all marked “reserved”. This left standing around on the floor, where we could see some performers cavorting around on a balcony above. Apparently, there is a narrative about the death of Olive Thomas (which happened in Paris, not at the Frolic itself), but we didn’t make it that far because then the show started and that drove us from the room.

The performance starts out with a wretched, apparently original song that sets the period tone for the evening by mentioning something about testicles. And then we are confronted by a great confusion of anachronisms and slapdash gestures in the direction of traditional show business. A gentleman who is supposed to be Eddie Cantor, but who for some reason looks much more like Dwight Frye  in his role as Renfield, comes out and sings in a vocal style much more characteristic of the late 20th century, which I suppose matches the piano bar music the band plays that does everything BUT evoke the ‘teens or ‘twenties of the last century. The gentleman doesn’t seem to be doing an Eddie Cantor impression. He just kind of seems to be named “Eddie Cantor”. When “Will Rogers” came out and neither told jokes nor did rope tricks but SANG the 1929 Rodgers and Hart song “I’ll Take Manhattan” (I guess this was supposed to be that time when Will Rogers got hit on the head and thought he was Ella Fitzgerald), we had already had more than enough and vamoosed.

The one element we found enjoyable (while were there) was the re-creation of the chorus line, which included an impressive and adorable array of fetching females: about a dozen of them, which alone is impressive. Watching them sing “Ain’t We Got Fun” was joyous and infectious. Personally, I would have opened with them doing that number and STAYED in the spirit of that, instead of the atrocious non-impressions. (Later I’m told there is also a promising Gallagher and Shean (Glen Heroy and Charley Leyton) and an excellent Josephine Baker, played by Delysia LaChatte. We hope to see them do these acts on some future occasion.)

The pleasure of seeing so many friends and colleagues in the cast gave us a boost. We spied Melody Jane, Kat Mon Dieu, Syrie Moskowitz, and others we know as well. It is always good to see them employed. And for that reason we hope the show will continue on as the tourist abattoir it is so obviously set up to be. For New York theatre buffs, it will be like fingernails on chalkboard. But for a stranger in town, it is probably better than watching television in your hotel room, although personally I’d much rather do the latter, because then I could lie in bed and flip the channel.

Note this review has two more parts: here is part two and here is part three. 

To learn about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Jack Nicholson: The Westerns

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Movies, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2015 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Jack Nicholson (b. 1937). Nicholson is not normally associated with the western genre, his career is pretty eclectic, but I do happen to have some notes in my trusty notebook, with thoughts about four western pictures he has appeared in. They all have their suitable weirdnesses and sundry points of interest. Warning: we always include spoilers!


The Shooting (1966)

Directly after his early Roger Corman horror pictures The Raven and The Terror, Nicholson worked on several low-budget pictures with fellow Corman protege Monte Hellman (best known perhaps today for Two-Lane Blacktop). Two of these (The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind) were westerns. In The Shooting Warren Oates and Will Hutchins play two men hired by a woman (Millie Perkins, best known as Anne Frank in the titular bio-pic) to go cross country on a manhunt. They are then joined by a gunslinger, played by Nicholson. The four of them have an ordeal crossing the desert. Nicholson and Millie Perkins kill the other two and that’s pretty much the whole story. It’s an interesting revelation to watch a western made on such a low budget.  The only special feature (the closest thing to a production value) the Hellman films have are the locations. The casts are very small and there is very little by way of sets. But a story can be told with these simple elements. In this case we are nearly stripped down to a Samuel Beckett level of inputs.


Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)

This one, also directed by Hellman, not only starred Nicholson, but was written and co-produced by him as well. Very low budget, but with a solid cast: Nicholson, Cameron Mitchell, Harry Dean Stanton and once again the lovely Millie Perkins.  In this one, three cowhands spend the night unwittingly enjoying the hospitality of a gang of stage coach robbers. Then a posse shows up and the three innocent heroes are pursued as part of the gang. They are chased for the rest of the movie. By the end, two of them die, one is still running. There’s little character development, and little character, and somehow it doesn’t add up to a story. Still it’s a conversation piece.


The Missouri Breaks (1976)

An amazing movie, directed by Arthur Penn (who had a previous western under his belt, Little Big Man). The Missouri Breaks pits a rancher and his seemingly insane “regulator” (Marlon Brando) against a gang of rustlers led by Nicholson. The rancher is a ruthless law and order man; he hangs rustlers summarily without trial. When he hangs one of Nicholson’s boys, the plot begins. The dialogue (by Thomas McGuane) is really good in this film — a cut above. Especially well written and directed is a scene early in the picture when Nicholson comes home from a trip and reunites with his buddies (who include Harry Dean Stanton, Randy Quaid and John Ryan) and learns the bad news. The scene feels rich and real and seems intended to pave the way for what happens in the end, as all Nichoson’s buddies are killed by Brando.

Brando’s regulator is a weird, comical character, at once funny and terrifying, kind of like the clown from Stephen King’s It. He wears perfume. Through most of the movie he has an Irish accent. In another scene, when he goes undercover to snare Quaid, he has a completely different accent.

The movie loses focus along the way, seems unsure what story it wants to tell. In order to better facilitate their rustling the gang buys a ranch on the bad rancher’s property for “relays”. Nicholson stays behind while the rest go to Canada to rustle horses from the Mounties. The film slows down considerably. Nicholson takes to farming, and liking it, and falls in love with the rancher’s daughter. This bogs the film down and it feels like another story, one that is not fully told. At any rate, Brando tracks down and kills (through fairly brutal means) the rest of the gang. Nicholson sneaks up on Brando while he is sleeping and slits his throat. He goes to kill the rancher and learns that he has had a stroke. Stroke or no stroke, the rancher starts shooting anyway, and Nicholson kills him. In the end, it seems like he and the daughter will get together. Great acting (esp. Brando in one of his most memorable roles), great dialogue and directing — up to a point, but the story needs work. Seems to me there’s two different movies jockeying for dominance here and neither gets fully told.


Goin’ South (1976)

A very funny comedy western and a special treat for Nicholson fans, for he not only stars in this film but he directed it as well. Nicholson plays a guy who about to get hung but then is saved at the last minute by a local ordinance from the Civil War days that says a man can be freed if any eligible woman in the town wants to marry him. Mary Steenburger offers to do it, mostly so she can use him as slave labor to work the gold mine on her land. Other characters include Christopher Lloyd and John Belushi as deputies (Belushi as a Mexican — boy, how I miss him roles like this, offensive as it is). Danny Devito and some others play Nicholson’s old gang. (Clearly Nicholson had bonded with Lloyd and Devito on the set of the previous year’s triumph, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). There are a couple of distasteful rape scenes played for comedy which really don’t make the grade today, but otherwise, it’s mighty enjoyable A buddy picture, with the prim virgin Steenburgen and the stinky, bearded roughneck Nicholson growing on one another until they are a bona fide couple. Ed Begley, Jr.’s in it too as a fellow “gallows groom”.

%d bloggers like this: