A Nice Realistic 1972 Film

about ordinary people’s lives set at a rodeo during Prescott (Arizona) Family Days. It stars Steve McQueen as Jr./aka JR. One of his best starring roles with plenty of coolness, humor, and physical action. Jr has become a washed-up rodeo cowboy of some note who tries to win a big prize wrestling down a very mean bull that other riders are intimidated by.

His funny, charismatic drunken father who wants to seek his fortune in Australia is expertly played by Robert Preston with a lot of Oklahoma bluster and charm. His mother who is separated from the father is played by veteran actress Ida Lupino and she captures the bitterness of a wife deserted by her n’er-do-well cowboy husband. Ben Johnson has a nice cameo as a somewhat sarcastic, but kindly rodeo announcer and rodeo manager who wants Junior to work for him. Also making an offer of a conventional ‘wages’ job is Joe Don Baker who plays JR’s somewhat sleazy brother.

The storyline shows Junior in search of his father, him fighting with his brother, bar scenes, a humorous amateurish parade, and very tough rodeo scenes, the latter the only violence strangely enough for a Sam Peckinpah film. Peckinpah himself shows he is more than capable of getting the viewers to sympathize with all these characters and their ordinary, identifiable problems and issues.

The music by Jerry Fielding effectively conjures up 1972 western town and rodeo culture. The visually attractive film was shot in Todd AO with some split-screening fashionable at that time. Peckinpah is not afraid to show extended scenes with extras and minor characters to give the atmosphere a realistic homespun feel that I, personally, remember well about life (especially the bar scenes) in small town Grand Centre (now Cold Lake) back in 1972-75.

Junior Bonner is highly recommended for McQueen fans, ’70s movies fans. Peckinpah fans, and ‘modern westerns’ about ordinary folks. I think this is definitely one of McQueen’s and Peckinpah’s best. Lots of fun, likable strong understated scenes, top-notch character acting, and good drama.

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