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A week with Junior Bonner, a rodeo pro on the wrong side of 40, broke, bruised, and headed into Prescott, his home town, for the annual 4th of July Frontier Days. His dad, Ace, is a dissolute dreamer fixed on finding gold in Australia; his mom is resigned to Ace's roving; his brother Curly is tearing up the countryside to make a million in real estate. Junior just wants to stay on a bucking Brahma for eight seconds, hang out with Ace, find a way to spend time with a beautiful woman whose eyes catch his, and earn enough to get to next week's rodeo. As the old West and its code give way to progress, Junior is lonesome, laconic, and on the road - just where he wants to be. Written by
One of the main reasons why I enjoy this film is because of Steve McQueen's performance. Like other Peckinpah characters such as Pike Bishop (The Wild Bunch) and Steve Judd (Ride The High Country), McQueen's Junior Bonner is forced to confront change occurring to his Western surroundings, but is quietly determined to go on with his way of life. This is different from William Holden's Pike Bishop, who is vocal about his desire to survive historical change--"thinking beyond our guns," as he put it--and is more reflective than determined. Bonner, however, wants to succeed (even though there may not be much of a future left for him), but he is not very vocal about it. Bonner is the closest personification of the type of men of the Old West that Peckinpah mourned in his films, ones that did it--not said it and did it, but just DID IT. Junior desperately wants to win, enough to use questionable methods to get Buck Roan (Ben Johnson) have him ride Sunshine, the bull that previously defeated him, but he is silent on his chances. He just wants to successfully ride Sunshine, not expound on his possibility of winning. Throughout the film Junior is determined, but non-violently confrontational--his questioning of Curly's (Joe Don Baker) success at the expense of history, his revelation of his state to his father Ace (Robert Preston, in an excellent, colorful performance), his pursuit of Charmaine (Barbra Leigh). McQueen is superb at revealing various emotions by his facial expressions alone, and it's his low-key but internally energetic performance that endears me to this film. Along with "Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid" and "Ballad of Cable Hogue," one of Peckinpah's most underrated films.
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