Gid Frye (Anthony Perkins) in 1925 was a young Texan with his whole life ahead of him: would he stay on the farm of his father (Edward Binns) and look after the cattle, or would he spread his wings and try his luck further afield? There was one person keeping him in this rural location, and she was Molly Taylor (Blythe Danner), who was so free-spirited that she courted the attentions of at least two other men, each of whom believed she was the right woman for them. Complicating matters was that one of those others was Johnny (Beau Bridges), another farmer's boy who Gid regularly, literally wrestled for the affections of Molly. But she would have to settle on one eventually...
Wouldn't she? After The Last Picture Show was a significant success, bringing a touch of the arthouse to popular drama, its producer Stephen J. Friedman was keen to repeat that formula, so took it upon himself to pen the screenplay for another Larry McMurtry novel, Leaving Cheyenne, seeing it as a can't fail proposition. Unfortunately for him, the results were nowhere near as welcomed as the Peter Bogdanovich effort, he having understood what made the source author tick, whereas the director Friedman drafted in to helm this was happier in the urban milieu - seeing Sidney Lumet's name on the credits is baffling if you are at all aware of his other work.
After all, Lovin' Molly arrived between Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon on his filmography, two not inconsiderable hits so wedded to New York City that Lumet was one of the quintessential portrayers of The Big Apple ever after. What attracted him to the Deep South locations was something of a mystery, and apparently he did not enjoy the experience which more than explains why he blatantly has no feel for the material whatsoever, but it's not merely the director who was at fault, as even without reading the book there appeared to be other problems too, not least in the casting: Anthony Perkins as a horny-handed son of the soil was its most bizarre misstep as far as the actors went.
He did his best, but came across as far too constipated emotionally to convince that he would ever be comfortable getting his hands dirty and running a cattle farm. Beau Bridges was a little better, he had played Southerners very well in his career, yet the script called for Johnny to be something of a buffoon in contrast to Gid, and you really could not understand what Molly saw in either of them. That was not necessarily thanks to the performances, though they did not help, but it was in the writing too as she was so capricious in awarding her affections that she was never believable as a real person, far more as a dramatic construct that even an actress of Danner's ability was all at sea trying to turn into a three-dimensional personality. In the early stages it looked more like she was hired because she was willing to take her clothes off outside.
Also not helping was that the story was split into three, so we could get this menage a trois from three different perspectives, yet as none were satisfying and labouring under the trio of stars trying to sound authentically Southern, the narration they were required to provide was by and large ludicrous, never mind that it was taken from the page. That was not all that was ludicrous, as while once the action moves to the forties there was a little ageing makeup on them, when they were in the sixties the makeup was farcical, barely good enough for a stage play when you would not be near enough to get a good look at the thespians, but those closeups in the film were starkly unforgiving (what has Molly done to her hair?!). Sadly, this was not enough to make this bad movie funny, as for the most part the complete lack of understandable motivation appeared to have been left out, which rendered Gid, Johnny and Molly wholly artificial. As much a disaster as The Last Picture Show was a success, this was a hicksploitation flick in disguise badly in need of a car chase or shootout. Music by Fred Hellerman.
Esteemed American director who after a background in theatre moved into television from where he went on to be the five times Oscar nominated filmmaker behind some of the most intelligent films ever to come out of America. His 1957 debut for the big screen, 12 Angry Men, is still a landmark, and he proceeded to electrify and engross cinema audiences with The Fugitive Kind, The Pawnbroker, Cold War drama Fail-Safe, The Hill, The Group, The Deadly Affair, The Offence, definitive cop corruption drama Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon (another great Al Pacino role), Network, Equus, Prince of the City, Deathtrap, The Verdict, Running On Empty and his final film, 2007's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Often working in the UK, he also brought his adopted home town of New York to films, an indelible part of its movies for the best part of fifty years.