Roy Rogers ended a decades-long hiatus from leading big-screen roles with Mackintosh and T.J., a gentle character study about an aging ranch hand who befriends a directionless orphan. The movie isn’t as saccharine as it sounds, and Rogers’ unfussy acting serves the material well—beyond slipping into the skin of a specific character, Rogers incarnates the heartland values that defined his screen persona during the ’40s and ’50s. That he eschews certain things with which he’s closely associated—gunplay, singing, tricky horsemanship—keeps the focus squarely on character work. So even though the material is thin, the presence of an iconic actor in a suitable role lends Mackintosh and T.J. something like gravitas.
At the beginning of the picture, Mackintosh (Rogers) roams the West in his battered pickup truck, looking for a day’s work here and there as he moseys along. In one town, he watches a tough sheriff hassle T.J. (Clay O’Brien), a 13-year-old kid who’s given up on foster homes and orphanages, hence an arrest for vagrancy and orders from the sheriff to vamoose. Mackintosh frees the kid from trouble with the law, so they travel together for a spell, becoming friends. Once Mackintosh lands an open-ended job on a cattle ranch, he swings a gig for T.J. as well, and they begin to set down roots until intrigue reveals their situation is precarious.
Because this movie’s plot is unhurried to a fault, many viewers will grow impatient waiting for complications to arise, but once things get going, Mackintosh and T.J. goes to darker places than one might expect. As directed by journeyman helmer Marvin J. Chomsky, the picture never quite achieves lyricism, though original songs by Waylon Jennings are used effectively to frame the overall narrative. And because the supporting cast is filled with competent players (Walter Barnes, Billy Green Bush, Joan Hackett, James Hampton, Andrew Robinson), the movie is never less than polished. Arguably the picture’s biggest flaw is the choice to withhold crucial backstory about Mackintosh until very late in the running time, but one imagines the notion was to let the character’s actions define him until it became absolutely necessary to reveal secrets.
In any event, Rogers does something interesting by adding colors of age, loss, and regret into the portrait of the quintessential American man he’d sketched so many times previously in his younger years.
Mackintosh and T.J.: FUNKY