Arriving a few years after the rodeo-movie boom that included Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner (1972), this humble Canada/U.S. coproduction presents a clear storyline and fairly thoughtful character development. Also working in the picture’s favor are terrific locations, seeing as how events take place at rugged sites throughout Alberta. So in some important respects, Goldenrod—also known as Glory Days—is a commendable film with a humane sensibility and a naturalistic style. If only those things were enough to put it over. Alas, Goldenrod stumbles significantly in other areas. The plot is highly predictable, some of the scoring is so atrocious as to evoke elevator music, and one climactic sequence goes so dark that Goldenrod ceases to be family fare, representing a major miscalculation in terms of tone.
Set in the early 1950s, the picture follows the adventures of cocksure rodeo star Jesse Gifford (Tony Lo Bianco). At first, he seems a man in full. Winner of Canada’s top prize for all-around cowboy, he lives in a custom trailer with his wife, Shirley (Gloria Carlin), and their two boys, both of whom idolize Jesse. Then things take a turn. Badly injured, Jesse has to quit the circuit for a season, which spins him into a long period of self-pity. Shirley leaves Jesse for a rival cowboy, Keno (Donnelly Rhodes), and even though Jesse inherits sole responsibility for raising his sons, he compounds his problems by drinking heavily. Eventually he enters the employ of an alcoholic dirt farmer, J.T. Jones (Donald Pleasence), before suffering the final indignity—his eldest son’s successful entrance into the rodeo game. The specifics of that aforementioned dark sequence are best left discovered by those who watch the picture, but suffice to say things get much worse before they show any promise of getting better.
Lo Bianco, a swaggering Italian-American from Brooklyn, was an odd choice for the leading role, but he puts across the character’s machismo and stubbornness persuasively. And while his efforts at conveying pathos are a bit more forced, he eventually finds a sort of hammy soulfulness during Jesse’s moments of greatest anguish. Whereas the actors surrounding Lo Bianco mostly deliver adequate performances, Pleasence contributes his signature brand of bombastic eccentricity, a welcome counterpoint to the film’s otherwise straightforward approach. Incidentally, don’t look for much in the way of hot bronc-busting action in Goldenrod, because even more than some other rodeo movies, this one treats sports as a springboard for intimate character drama.