Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Norwood (1970)

          After achieving success on the pop charts, velvet-voiced Arkansas native Glen Campbell displayed a comfortable onscreen presence in the John Wayne movie True Grit (1969), so it was inevitable that some enterprising producer would test Campbell’s viability as a leading man. (Hey, it worked for Elvis, so why not?) In Norwood, Campbell plays upbeat war veteran Norwood Pratt, a good ol’ boy from Texas who bums around the country with his acoustic guitar, crooning innocuous tunes and spewing redneck patois (“Think I’ll mosey on over to the roller rink, see if I can’t pick up a little heifer lookin’ for a ride home”).
          Upon returning from Vietnam to his tiny hometown of Ralph, Texas, Norwood works in a garage and endures sitcom-style quarrels with his sister (Leigh French) and her idiot husband (Dom DeLuise). Eager for escape, Norwood agrees to help a slick used-car salesman (Pat Hingle) transport cars to New York City. He also agrees to transport a sexy would-be performer (Carol Lynley), leading to arguments in which she calls him “peckerwood” and he calls her a “damn squirrel-headed dingbat.” Yeah, it’s like that.
          Eventually, Norwood discovers the cars he’s moving are stolen, so he dumps the vehicles and heads to New York anyway, where he gets laid with a spunky hippie (Tisha Sterling). Sated, he hops on a bus for the long trip back home. Along the way, he forms a bizarre surrogate family with Rita (Kim Darby), a redneck runaway bride; Edmund (Billy Curtis), a little person raised in the carny world; and a chicken. Yes, a chicken.
          To call Norwood inconsequential would be to overstate its value, but some scenes are so random they command attention, like the bit of costar Joe Namath tossing around a football with the dwarf in the backyard of a Southern estate. (Despite his prominence on the poster, former gridiron star Namath has a tiny role.) As for Campbell, he strikes a clean-cut figure with his helmet of shiny hair and his lantern-jawed good looks, but he’s more of a personality than an actor, so assessing his performance is pointless.
          Incredibly, this slight movie was adapted from a novel by True Grit author Charles Portis, though the vapid storyline of Norwood exists a universe apart from the unforgettable narrative of True Grit. Norwood is also notable, if that’s the right word, as one of the gentlest Vietnam-vet stories ever, since the easygoing Norwood seems as if he just came back from a country club instead of surviving a tour in Southeast Asia.

Norwood: FUNKY

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