A minor contribution to the early-’70s conversation about cinematic vigilantism that primarily revolved around Straw Dogs (1971) and Death Wish (1974), Sunday in the Country benefits from immersive location photography and a zesty leading performance by Ernest Borgnine. The filmmakers take a bit too much time setting their narrative trap, then end up spinning in circles toward the end while searching for the satisfying conclusion that they never find. Nonetheless, Sunday in the Country is very nearly a serious film questioning how far citizens are entitled to go while endeavoring to preserve public safety. Borgnine plays a farmer who learns that three escaped bank robbers have been sighted in his rural county, so he loads his shotgun just in case he needs to protect himself and his teenaged granddaughter. By the time the crooks inevitably reach his property, the farmer knows that they’ve killed two local residents, so he surprises the crooks by immediately shooting one of them down. Thereafter, he imprisons the other two and commences psychological torture, aggrieving his granddaughter’s more liberal notions of justice.
Director John Trent does a fairly good job of creating mood and texture, contrasting the film’s ominous first act with peppy country songs, and it’s fun to watch Borgnine think on camera while his character contemplates where events might be headed; too often during the ’70s and subsequently, Borgnine was asked only to be crude and loud. Yet there’s only so much Borgnine and Trent can do with the overly schematic storyline. The criminals are one-dimensional, and there’s never any question of whether they’ll reach the farm. Therefore, after the film plays its one ace—the moment when Borgnine greets the criminals with a loaded gun—believable suspense gives way to silly contrivances, like a far-fetched sequence involving the criminals and the granddaughter. As for the picture’s third act, it starts strong but then spirals into nonsense. Also spiraling into nonsense is costar Michael J. Pollard’s annoying supporting performance as the most trigger-happy of the criminals—Pollard’s work is a compendium of pointlessly weird flourishes, right down to the pastel-colored briefs his character wears.
FYI, this picture is sometimes marketed under the titles Blood for Blood and Vengeance Is Mine.
Sunday in the Country: FUNKY