Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jory (1973)

          Released amid a slew of Westerns about teenagers becoming gunfighters—including the excellent John Wayne melodrama The Cowboys (1972)—Jory is not a particularly memorable example of its genre, but the picture is significant as the first of many ’70s movies to star blue-eyed heartthrob Robby Benson. So vulnerable he always seemed on the verge of bursting into tears, ’70s-era Benson was a poster boy for teen sensitivity. And while his work in Jory falls far below the angst-ridden standard he set later in the decade, it’s interesting to encounter the actor in an offbeat context, since he’s such an inherently modern creature that he seems out of place among cowboys and frontier varmints. Exacerbating the overall artificiality of Jory is a clichéd storyline about a young man who straps on six-shooters to vent the anger he feels toward an unjust universe. When the narrative begins, 15-year-old Jory (Benson) and his alcoholic father, Ethan (Claudio Brook), drift into a small town. After the pathetic but harmless Ethan gets murdered by a thug in a saloon, Jory kills the assailant, then flees the small town to join a horse drive led by even-tempered foreman Roy Starr (John Marley). Despite Roy’s entreaties to avoid violence, Jory falls under the influence of flashy cowboy Jocko (B.J. Thomas), who collects guns and practices quick-draw stunts. More bloodshed ensues.
          The main drama revolves around Jory’s choice of whether to live by the gun, per Jocko’s example, or by a code of personal honor, per Roy’s example. Jory also falls in love with Amy (Linda Purl), the pretty daughter of the rancher for whom Roy’s crew works. Everything in Jory happens more or less by rote, and director Jorge Fons presents scenes in a perfunctory fashion—except for good pacing, Fons brings zero style to the production. Another awkward element is the cornpone score by Al De Lory. What makes Jory moderately watchable, therefore, is the acting, which runs the gamut from coolly efficient to notably awkward. Marley underplays effectively, presenting an appealing brand of stoicism, while starlets Anne Lockhart (as a prostitute whom Jory befriends) and Purl provide sincerity. Thomas, best known as the singer of pop tunes including “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” makes such an unimpressive acting debut that it’s peculiar he wasn’t recruited to croon the movie’s fruity theme song. Why is he here? At the center of it all is Benson, who hits the same puppy-dog notes so many times that he occasionally seems lobotomized. It’s a testament to the innate sweetness of his persona that his characterization eventually becomes emotionally credible.


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