James Stewart’s last lead (when he was just 63) was in this decent enough Depression Era whopper that shoulda/coulda been better. He’s an ex-con, fresh out of jail with a $25,000 check to show for his 40-yr stint. Kurt Russell (a charmer in an early post-Disney gig) and Strother Martin tag along as his just released pals, but their dreams of a new start bump against George Kennedy’s corrupt prison official & David Huddleston’s two-faced bank manager who plan to grab the loot and leave three bodies. The storyline is probably too straightforward for its own good, especially in the first half, but top-notch support keeps things interesting. As does a spirited Stewart, perhaps invigorated by his cheap, state-issued glass eye. The problem is that the populist tone & period elements need a bit of patience & gentle coaxing to make their mark. The sort of touch director Marty Ritt might have gotten out of a Ravetch/Frank script. (Think HUD/’63; CONRACK/’74; MURPHY’S ROMANCE/’85.) Instead, we get awful Andrew McLaglen, a director whose specialty is hitting us over the head with the obvious. He pretty much wrecked the even better story Stewart did with him last time out (THE RARE BREED/’66). At least this one gets by, much helped by lenser Harry Stradling, Jr. who can’t do much with the overly neat sets (very Henry Ford-Greenfield Village), but who gets miraculously right 1935 color values up on screen. If only Henry Vars’ dreky, tv-ready score were half as good. He must have been hand-picked by McLaglen.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Note our poster with a substitute title of pure desperation from Universal UK.
DOUBLE-BILL: Martin Ritt did Depression Era to fine effect in next year’s SOUNDER/’72.