Sunday, September 29, 2013

Going Home (1971)

          While I admit that I’m a sucker for Robert Mitchum in nearly any context, and that my appreciation for the early work of Jan-Michael Vincent defies all reason, I’m confident that the praise I’m about to lavish on the little-seen drama Going Home legitimately reflects the film’s intensity, rather than just my predilection toward its stars. A grim chamber piece about a family suffering the lingering impacts of a decade-old tragedy, the movie asks the question of whether some sins are beyond forgiveness. Mitchum plays Harry Graham, a blue-collar guy recently paroled from prison after serving a long term for killing his wife in a drunken rage. Vincent plays his son, Jimmy, who was a child when the crime occurred; he’s now an angry adult who rightfully blames all his emotional difficulties on his father’s alcoholism and violence.
          When the story begins, Harry attempts a transition back into normal life by getting a job and a new relationship—with seen-it-all local dame Jenny Benson (Brenda Vaccaro). Harry also tries to reconnect with his son, whom he barely knows. Even though Mitchum was such an innately interesting presence that he commanded the screen whether he was making an effort or not, it’s a special pleasure to watch him in Going Home because he seems to form a real emotional connection with his character. The anguish he manifests at not being able to distance himself from past misdeeds feels palpable, as does the longing he displays for a father/son bond that’s fated to remain beyond his reach. Plus, there’s a tender quality to the romantic scenes between Mitchum and Vaccaro, because they portray adults who recognize that a union with baggage is better than no union at all. Vincent, who shares with Mitchum a tendency to deliver phoned-in performances, seems at or near the top of his game, perhaps elevated to a higher-than-usual degree of effort by the presence of a strong costar. He seethes believably throughout the picture.
          Director Herbert B. Leonard, who spent most of his Hollywood career as a TV producer, does surprisingly smooth work considering this was only his second feature. (It was also his last.) Together with cinematographer Fred Jackman, Leonard generates gritty texture while shooting the bowling alleys and parking lots and trailer parks of a small city that could be Anywhere, U.S.A. This realistic visual style meshes well with the naturalistic acting of the principal players. Wearing cheap clothes as they trudge through ordinary lives colored by extraordinary hardship, the characters in Going Home feel like people one might pass on the street and never give a second glance. Constructed as a slow burn toward an explosive climax, the script by Lawrence B. Marcus pushes Harry and Jimmy closer and closer toward their inevitable showdown, so it’s painful to watch these men miss every possible opportunity for reconciliation. And then, when the climax arrives, it’s indeed horrible—the means Jimmy finds to exact revenge upon his father reveals that savagery didn’t skip a generation. Some might find this picture hard to take because the final act is so rough, but for those willing to take the journey, Going Home offers the rewards of potent acting and resonant themes.

Going Home: GROOVY


Tommy Ross said...

Today's food for thought..why is it that most artist's (film and other mediums as well) do their best work when they've reached a point of self-destruction and most of their friends or comrades don't want to have anything to do with them anymore? Hint- it's a trick question. Funny enough, I just happened to pull Cable Houge off the shelf Saturday night and again marveled at it's beauty. Peckinpah forever!

Harriet andrade said...

I came in midway through the film, as shown on TCM today. I watched because of the gorgeous cinematography, Ribert Mutchum, Brenda Vaccaro, realism. I had the impression that Jan Michael Vincent was in love with his father's girlfriend. The men were so rough and the women were so degraded. It had the old route 66 atmosphere of ordinary people working through the past. I didn't know who I was supposed to like. Jan Michael Vincent was so gorgeous. It became painful to see him looking moody all the time. I finally rooted for the Mitchum character because he was trying to redeem himself.