Apparently this movie helped inspire Robert Redford to become a champion for independent cinema, and, indeed, there’s much about The Whole Shootin’ Match that epitomizes the anti-Hollywood ethos. Shot on black-and-white 16mm film with a slight budget near Austin, Texas, the picture eschews modalities that make big-studio projects feel false and manipulative. Tracking the adventures of two rural losers as they bounce from one failed get-rich scheme to another, the film never leaves the confines of the characters’ small world, and it never introduces wild contrivances that radically transform the characters’ circumstances. Put bluntly, the story never goes anywhere, in the sense of advancing the protagonists from one level of being to the next; although the dudes in The Whole Shootin’ Match end the picture with a deepened friendship, they don’t evolve much, and they don’t learn valuable life lessons. Both would have happened in a Hollywood treatment of similar material. Yet The Whole Shootin’ Match should not be misconstrued as some vital chapter in the history of American independent cinema, except perhaps because of its impact on Redford’s attitudes. The two main characters are essentially rough-hewn versions of “types” viewers have encountered in countless other stories. They’re cousins to, say, the scamps played by Lee Marvin and Paul Newman in Pocket Money (1972). Additionally, because filmmaker Eagle Pennell employs a jokey style and favors tidy conclusions at the ends of scenes, The Whole Shootin’ Match has more Hollywood in its DNA than might seem apparent at first glance.
Frank (Sonny Carl Davis) and Lloyd (Lou Perryman) are uneducated guys staring down the barrel of middle age with little to show for their time on Earth. They run a light-hauling business in between failed entrepreneurial endeavors. Frank is married to Paulette (Doris Hargrave), though that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with every compliant woman he encounters. In some ways, his friendship with Lloyd is the most important relationship in his life—they keep each other alive, spiritually speaking, by convincing each other that their next scheme will pull them from poverty, no matter how many previous attempts have ended in disaster. Emboldened by the advice he reads in a self-help book, Frank persuades Lloyd the trick to wealth is “getting your mind right,” so they apply their newfound philosophy to a polyurethane roofing business. Typically, this goes poorly, because neither man has the tactical or technical knowhow, much less the operating capital, necessary for making the business soar. And so on. Open-minded viewers can find things to like here, since the acting and locations have authenticity, as does the Texan vernacular (“I’m so dry I can’t even spit!”). Nonetheless, this is a matter of low risk and low rewards. Pennelll’s filmmaking lacks ambition, beyond the inherent challenge of making a movie from nothing, and the insights his story presents are neither new nor profound.
The Whole Shootin’ Match: FUNKY