There's a storm blowing up in this region of the Dust Bowl of the nineteen-thirties, so the family of young Whit (Kyle Eastwood) set about battening down the hatches in preparation for its arrival. However, just as things are getting bad outside, a car roars up and smashes into the windmill, knocking it over, and the family rush outside to open its door, whereupon a body falls out. Is he dead? Nope, just dead drunk - it's Whit's uncle Red Stovell (Clint Eastwood), an aspiring country and western singer who has been celebrating some good news for a change. He has an audition at the Grand Ol' Opry which could really see him go places and make a name for himself...
Firefox was Clint Eastwood's big movie of 1982, but while successful, it wasn't much cop as entertainment. Far more nuanced was Honkytonk Man, a complete flop that proved no matter how he liked to play around with his screen persona, audiences did prefer to see him as a winner rather than a loser, as he was here. Well, almost, there's a hint Red may go on to some form of success after the credits have rolled, but it was not enough to satisfy the public who heard from the critics that Clint has made a misstep and didn't much like the sound of a Depression-set drama about a failed country singer anyway, even with the director-star doing all his own singing and strumming.
Or maybe because of that: Red is not the greatest performer around, half because Eastwood has a voice that's serviceable but not inspiring, but also half because Red as a character is not intended to be the next Hank Williams in Nashville superstar mode. He's not only a loser, but he makes terrible decisions as well, though the promise of that audition may finally be setting him on the right track as he takes Whit and Whit's grandpa (John McIntire) who wants to return home to Tennessee after nearly half a century away, on a trip that in road movie style crafted an episodic journey across the Southern states that was more akin to the nineteen-seventies character drama than the brash eighties.
But there were jokes here too, not that anyone realised this to any huge extent at the time, and some of them are very funny. Mostly they were of a disarmingly broad nature, such as when Red steals chickens from a coop they encounter only to fall flat on his face and smash up the henhouse in the process of going back for one more bird. There was also a meeting with a bull while Red takes a bath in a water tub, which would not have been out of place in one of Eastwood's orang-utan sidekick comedies, it was the same kind of laughs he was aiming for, which did not necessarily tally too pleasingly with the latter stages when the gags dried up and we were invited to start taking this buffoon's antics a lot more seriously. Maybe it was that sincerity that rubbed so many up the wrong way in 1982.
And it's not as if Honkytonk Man has gone on to win a following as one of Eastwood's cult movies, it has not been rediscovered at all, those who have seen it and already fans of the megastar appreciating what he was trying to do, merely a smaller number actually enjoying the tonal shifts. But it was another of his state of the Union impressions, with a variety of jus' plain folks he could hold up to the light and decide that they were the salt of the earth, or otherwise. Barry Corbin was otherwise as he tried to cheat Red out of the money owed, but though she was a figure of fun, Alexa Kenin was a more decent sort, if deeply misguided that she believes stardom awaits her (with horrible irony, the promising actress never fulfilled her ambition in real life as she was found dead in unexplained circumstances a while after making this film and not many others). Through this we were asked to judge whether Red was good as a role model for Whit, and often the answer seemed to be no, but every once in a while he did right by the kid, and a sign of a good heart was visible. Not perfect, then, but worth a second chance considering Eastwood made it to please his co-star son. Music by Steve Dorff.
Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.
Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys, American Sniper and The Mule to his name.