Goin’ South (1978)
Lovely Mary Steenburgen made her film debut in this comedy western directed by and starring Jack Nicholson. Assembled within is a solid group of comedians though the laughs are too far and few between.
Jack starts the film on the run. A posse is in hot pursuit on horseback led by Christopher Lloyd and John Belushi. The Rio Grande river into Mexico isn’t about to save him from a typically loony looking Lloyd. Brought back to justice for horse thieving Jack is sentenced to hang. The only thing that can save him now is if a woman is willing to marry him. There’s been a shortage of men available for wedlock since the civil war death toll. Against the advice of sheriff Richard Bradford, Miss Steenburgen takes Jack in.
Nicholson thinks he’s hit the jackpot. Perhaps even more so than he realizes by the close of the movie. While Jack thinks he’s free to partake in any and all sexual desires with his new bride, she’s not of the same mind. Her reason for wedding him is strictly to help her with her gold mine. She’s been trying to turn some color but needs more muscle to do so.
Could this odd duo find love and live happily ever after? Perhaps though it’s hard to see what Mary could find likable in this version of Jack. He’s just not that lovable or funny either. It almost feels as if I’m watching a comical variation on Charles Manson due to Jack’s bedraggled look.
Into the fray comes Jack’s old gang of outlaws who quickly pinpoint that Jack has changed somewhat and is holding out on them. When they realize it’s for the gold they want a cut as well. Veronica Cartwright, Danny DeVito and Tracey Walter round out the old gang.
There are sure to be some double crosses before the fadeout involving our leading players and their desires to be rich while settling in to a life of luxury.
As much as I like both Jack and Mary there is just too much going on here in a script that just didn’t seem ready to go before the cameras. There is an under developed story line involving the railroad buying up the nesters small ranches and pools of oil bubbling to the surface that go undetected though I suspect at one point they were to be a featured plot point.
Both Lloyd and DeVito had by this time a history with Jack. They both appeared in what might be the greatest Jack film of all, One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest. Danny would in turn direct Jack in the 1992 bio film Hoffa.
Casting Steenburgen would prove to be a wise decision by Nicholson as she has never really slowed down since. She’s won an Oscar along the way and starred in a few of my favorites as well. Time After Time and Cross Creek would be a pair that I frequently recommend.
This was the second of three films that are actually credited to Jack the director. The others being Drive He Said and the Chinatown follow up, The Two Jakes. Goin’ South would be the final film of the decade for Nicholson. The next time we’d see him on the big screen would be in one of his most remembered roles playing Jack Torrance in The Shining.
Not much to recommend here other than the on screen talent. That alone should be enough to get most of us film nuts tuning in for a quick look.