GOIN’ SOUTH (director: Jack Nicholson; screenwriters: Alan Mandel/Al Ramrus/John Herman Shaner/Charles Shyer; cinematographer: Nestor Almendros; editors: Richard Chew/John Fitzgerald; music: Perry Botkin, Jr./Van Dyke Parks; cast: Jack Nicholson (Henry Moon), Mary Steenburgen (Julia Tate), John Belushi (Hector), Chrisopher Lloyd (Towfield), Veronica Cartwright (Hermine), Richard Bradford (Sheriff Kyle), Danny DeVito (Hog), Ed Begley, Jr. (Mr. Haber), Lucy Lee Flippin (Mrs. Haber); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Harry Gittes/Harold Schneider; Paramount; 1978)
“An enjoyable off-beat Western.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Jack Nicholson’s second directing effort is an enjoyable off-beat Western, where he also stars in an insanely comical role as a down-and-out outlaw who is nearly hung but saved at the last second by a woman. Mary Steenburgen and John Belushi make their film debuts. Belushi pleases in a small part as he hams it up doing a “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” impression. The film passed under the radar as one of those outrageous films that deserved more recognition, but never got an audience and never gained cult status for those to catch up with it on the rebound when it came out on DVD.
The film opens with horse thief Henry Moon (Nicholson), a failed prospect for the bank robbing Younger gang, fleeing from the law and trying to reach Mexico, sometime in the late 1860s. He crosses the “river border,” but is dragged back to Texas and sentenced to die by hanging. But he gets a lucky break, as there is a quirk in the law that states that a land-owning woman can claim someone who is about to be hanged and can have him as her husband (the ordinance came about because of a man shortage caused by the Civil War). Just as the noose is around his neck, a lonely spinster named Julia Tate (Steenburgen) agrees to marry him, thereby setting him free. This comes after the first lady to claim him, suddenly kicks the bucket.
Julia needs a hand to help work her farm before the railroad company can foreclose on the place and she puts Moon to work immediately, which surprises him as he thought he would be around only for stud purposes. Julia is serious about finding gold in her mine and with that go to Philadelphia and gain entry into the upper-class society, while he’s seeking a debauched life down south in the cantinas of Mexico. Their awkward relationship is beautifully captured by Nicholson’s nuanced direction. It leads to the shiftless Moon comically courting the proper prim lady, which is mined for all the laughs it can get. After they discover gold and get swept up in greed, the Younger gang discovers their secret and that leads to a gunfight between the gang and the law at the conclusion.
REVIEWED ON 12/28/2003 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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