Movies We Like
Country music fans will get a bang out of this well-acted 1972 feature, an unfairly neglected picture (happily just issued on DVD) with a terrific high-energy performance at its heart.
Rip Torn stars as Maury Dann, a second-rate country singer whose life is playing out like one of his songs. The film follows Maury over the course of a couple of days, as he, his band, his devoted driver (Cliff Emmich), his manager-fixer (Michael C. Gwynne), and his blowsy girlfriend (Ahna Capri) travel from a low-rent honky-tonk gig to a marquee show in Nashville. Along the way, Maury gobbles speed (and shares some with his mother!), guzzles whiskey, screws anything that moves, picks up a dimestore clerk turned neophyte groupie (Elayne Heilveil), and generally rampages over everyone in his path.
Torn can’t really sing – though he’s given a few good Shel Silverstein tunes to croak – but his performance, obviously modeled on the self-destructive honky tonk hero Hank Williams, is a winner nonetheless. His Maury is a human tornado who rips through every life he touches. He’s a fascinating, deadly combination of backwoods unction, pill-addled lunacy, and barely contained rage. His wild-eyed brio somewhat overshadows the strong work by the rest of the performances – especially the profane, slow-burning Capri and the ripe, naÃ¯ve Heilveil.
Every detail in Payday – the cruddy clubs, cheesy motels, country shacks, and chicken-coop radio stations – rings splendidly true, and its sharply-written characters are resonantly delineated. In the end, it’s worth seeing just to watch Torn tear up the screen. (DVD: Warner Bros.)