It was a hot, humid, sweltering Fourth of July in middle America as only Fourth of Julys in the middle of America can be. The local drive-in theater was screening its usual double feature. However, its biggest attraction of the evening was the fireworks display that would occur between features. Two feature movies and a fireworks display, what else could one possibly want? -- especially since our home had no air conditioning. Therefore, my wife and I loaded up our three children and headed down the road to enjoy the movies, the fireworks, and especially the cooler night air.
The first movie was NORWOOD (Paramount, 1970). On paper, it didn’t look all that bad. It was brought to us by the same people who a year earlier had brought us a big hit movie, TRUE GRIT (Paramount, 1969). Once again, Marguerite Roberts wrote the screenplay and as before, her screenplay was based on an excellent (and very funny) Charles Portis novel. Hal Wallis was again the producer.
Kim Darby (good) is again in the cast and so is Glen Campbell (uh oh). He is Norwood. And I guess John Wayne wasn’t available so we got Joe Willie Namath (yikes!) as the film’s third lead player.
I have to admit that I didn’t see the entire movie. What I did see was gawd-awful. The problem was not how it looked on paper, but how it looked on the screen. It pretty well terminated the acting careers of the three principals and Hal Wallis never produced another movie at Paramount. I can see why.
The reason that I didn’t see the entire movie (although I did see more than I wanted to) is that about mid-way it began to rain – hard – and we had to roll up the windows which then became fogged and the vehicle took on the characteristics of a sauna.
At this point, I was more than ready to call it an evening – and so was my wife. But not the kids, of course. The fireworks, you know. So we soldiered on.
The rain did let-up, but it never stopped, which certainly put a damper on the fireworks display. I will admit that the folks responsible for the display gave it their best. They kept lighting the damn things and when those fizzled they would light some more. It turned out to be the longest and most unspectacular fireworks display I have ever attended. However, it was better than NORWOOD.
It is now midnight and everybody in the car – except me – is ready to go home. No, not me. The second feature was a film that had surprisingly slipped below my radar. I say this because it was a Western and it had a couple of big names in the cast.
The rain never completely stopped that evening. Everybody else in the car went to sleep, but I was now wide-awake. There were only three vehicles left on the lot when the film ended – and that’s counting ours. I don’t know how many people were awake in the other two, but as I said, I was the only one in ours.
The projectionist should have received some kind of award because he remained alert enough to screen the reels in their proper order. That didn’t always happen at that particular drive-in. I remember that it didn’t happen when I was watching THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (Columbia, 1978). Poor Buddy died in the middle of the film and then came back alive and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Very confusing. Dennis Weaver died in an excruciatingly gruesome and graphic fashion in the middle of DUEL AT DIABLO (UA, 1966) only to recover and return to his unforgiving, snarky, devious, obnoxious ways (his character’s, not his) for the remainder of the film. I knew what was going to happen to Buddy (very sad), but finding out that James Garner and Sidney Poitier could not save Dennis ruined the rest of that film. Nevertheless, it was a Western so I stayed with it to the end – or rather, I stayed with it to the middle.
But this Fourth of July evening the projectionist was awake and through the raindrops, I watched a movie that I would later return to many times. It became one of my all-time favorites. It was MONTE WALSH (NGP, 1970).
I like MONTE WALSH so well that I rank it number two on my list of “Top 21 Favorite Westerns.” It will be the subject of my next post. In the meantime, however, Colin has an excellent review of the film at Riding the High Country, and I recommend that you ride over there and read it by clicking HERE. I agree with all his views regarding the movie and he states them so very well.
By the way, it’s difficult to believe, but for his role in NORWOOD, Joe Namath received a Golden Globe nomination for “Most Promising Newcomer.” It’s almost as difficult to believe as the fact that a year earlier Glen Campbell was nominated for the same award.