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Sam Peckinpah is usually stereotyped as a director who is mainly concerned
with violence and confrontation. This is only part of the picture. If you
look past the violence of 'The Wild Bunch' you'll see a movie concerned with
old age, loyalty and changing values. 'Straw Dogs' deals with masculinity
and ethics. 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia' contains a vivid picture
of traditional Mexican culture confronted with modern America's greed and
corruption. These sub-texts and themes are often overlooked because of the
blood and gore.
'Junior Bonner' leaves out the gore, and what happens? Peckinpah detractors who criticise the aforementioned movies ignore it and dismiss it as "slow" and "boring"! It is anything but. 'Junior Bonner' is a thoughtful character study of an aging rodeo performer (Steve McQueen at his best) and his relationship with his estranged family (veterans Ida Lupino and Robert Preston and character actor legend Joe Don Baker - all first rate). It moves at its own pace, which will alienate the MTV-generation, but anyone with a love of good movies will be fascinated. 'Junior Bonner' may not be as widely discussed as Peckinpah's more controversial efforts, but it's just as good in its own way, and shows once again, that he was one of THE greats of American cinema. Don't overlook this one!
Steve McQueen is my favorite actor. Bullitt is my favorite McQueen movie, but Junior Bonner is my favorite McQueen character. McQueen, as usual (and this is what makes him great), communicates more with silence than in delivering a line. The violence of the rodeo is juxtaposed against one man's unwillingness to let go of a lifestyle that is obviously coming to an end. The open west is giving way to trailers, his parents are separating forever, and his home has become a place for strangers. Junior is aging as an athlete, and as a-no-longer- young man. Even his Cadillac is on the downward side of a once successful career. The split screens and slow motion are interesting without being intrusive. This movie is about the triumph of a man who stays true to his own values, regardless of how irrelevant his environment may soon become. One man CAN make a difference. Steve McQueen was always that one man.
I cannot believe this movie is not rated higher. It should be in the Top 250
IMDB movies. I guess most viewers are not really into sociology.
This movie is about telling the tale of a dying breed--the cowboy, and it is about a man who is chasing a disappearing lifestyle.
This movie is about folklore, about the American traditions. I realize that the mass media has wiped out our past; thanks to them we are in a sense, "tabula rasa."
We have forgotten our past. And the media recreates it for us.
Thank goodness for movies like Junior Bonner. They keep the past alive for us. This movie is like an oral storyteller sitting around the fire 10 thousand years ago, telling the tribe the myths of their ancestors.
Long live Junior Bonner!
The true individual will carve out a niche for himself in life, and
gravitate toward those endeavors or communities most conducive to
maintaining that autonomy which is to that person, all important. For some,
it can be a life's work, the occupation of seeking out and accepting
whatever challenge will take them down their own road. And who could better
personify such a man than Steve McQueen, who plays the title role in `Junior
Bonner,' director Sam Peckinpah's character study of a man so determined to
live life on his own terms that the only challenge that means anything to
him is the one he makes with himself. When Junior says, `Rodeo time, I
gotta get it on down the road,' it's his way of saying, `Life awaits.' His
life; and he's working it in such a way that whenever he gets to the end,
he's going to be able to look back and say unequivocally, `I did it my way.'
That's the challenge. That's Junior Bonner.
He's been a rodeo cowboy most of his life; a former champion-- like his dad, Ace Bonner (Robert Preston)-- he's worn out and weary, but not down. The glory days may be behind him, but that's not what it was ever all about anyway, at least not for Junior. And who he is and what he's all about becomes perfectly clear when the circuit takes him back home to Prescott, Arizona, for a Fourth of July show. When he hits town, Junior approaches Buck Roan, the man who owns the rodeo stock and will be overseeing the draw for the bull ride; Junior wants to ride Sunshine, the meanest, toughest bull in the bunch, and he's willing to pay for the privilege-- he'll pay to ride the very bull that most cowboys would pay to stay off of. But the way Junior puts it, `There's one of him, and one of me. I need it--'
In the meantime, Junior reconnects with his family: Ace, who is still looking for that gold ring, living on the memories of his forty plus years riding the rodeo, and dreaming of a new start in Australia; Elvira (Ida Lupino), his mom, who has long suffered Ace's fantasies; and his brother, Curley (Joe Don Baker), a successful entrepreneur who wants Junior to hang up the rodeo and come to work for him selling mobile homes-- which he has to know is never going to happen. The difference between Curley and Junior, in fact, is summed up when Curley says to him, `I'm working on my first million, you're still working on eight seconds...'
Stylistically rendered, Peckinpah's film is affecting, and at times almost disarmingly sincere. Junior's relationship with Ace, for example, is so subtly underscored with honesty that it rings true-to-life and gives a perspective to both characters that is contextually invaluable. The way Peckinpah presents it is definitive, as is the way in which Junior relates to Elvira, Curley, and even the rodeo itself. It's Peckinpah's way of examining the individualist, beginning with the outstanding screenplay by Jeb Rosebrook, then by setting a perfect pace and utilizing some imaginative split-screen photography and slow motion shots to great effect. And, as with all of Peckinpah's films, there's a sense of violence-- understated here, less pronounced than that of say, `The Wild Bunch'-- but present, nevertheless; you can feel it, lying just beneath the surface of all that's happening, but definitely there. You can see it in the confrontation between the cowboys and the bulls they ride; in the way Junior lives his life, that constant challenge of man against beast or against nature; or in the bulldozers razing an old ranch house, grinding down the old and weak in favor of the new and the strong. It's pure Peckinpah, and it's brilliant filmmaking.
Tough, adamant, iconoclastic; Steve McQueen was the perfect choice for the role of Junior. One of the most underrated actors ever, he has a daunting magnetism and a commanding screen presence that allows him to dominate any scene if he so chooses, and he doesn't have to be the guy doing the talking to do it. Consider his scenes with Preston; Ace may have the lines, but your attention is drawn to and focused on Junior. And everything McQueen does tells you something about who Junior is, from the way he walks-- has he spent a lifetime astride broncos and bulls? You bet-- to the way his hat sits on his head. It's the kind of natural and detailed performance that sets McQueen apart, and looking back on this character, and on his whole body of work, you can say without hesitation that he did it his way. This is one gifted, singular actor who never gives less than 110%. And there will never be another like him.
Preston, too, is memorable as Ace, a man who, if not larger than life himself, has dreams that are. You can tell Junior is cut from the same cloth, though Ace still thinks there's going to be gold for the taking around the next bend, if only he can get there. Junior, though, has been there and knows there's nothing around that bend but the next rodeo-- which for him is enough. The biggest difference between them is the fact that Ace still seems to have the need to prove himself to the world, while Junior has nothing to prove to anyone but himself. There's something of `The Music Man's' Prof. Harold Hill in Ace, but overall Ace is unique, and Preston plays him to perfection.
An absorbing drama that captures a sense of time and place that no longer seems to exist, `Junior Bonner' is a glimpse at a dying breed, the individual who takes life head-on without trying to put a spin or a `politically correct' perspective on it. Like Junior said, `There's one of him, and one of me.' And that about sums it up. It's the magic of the movies. 10/10.
When Robert Preston makes that toast to his grandchildren at some level
he knows his best days are behind him. But he's determined to live out
his life to the fullest. Drinking, wenching, prospecting for gold and
just hanging around the rodeo because it's his way of life.
It's the way of life for his son Steve McQueen and McQueen was 42 years old when Junior Bonner was made. Even if you figure he might be playing younger than his actual age by about five to seven, that's older than Methusaleh in the rodeo game. Especially as McQueen participates in the most dangerous of events.
In the intervening years since Junior Bonner came out, bullriding has spun out on its own as a single event competition and the best in that sport participate in the Professional Bull Riders as opposed to the all around rodeo events as you see depicted in Presscott, Arizona. As I write this review, the leading bull rider in the country right now is 20 year old J.B. Mauney in terms of point standings. The difference between young Mr. Mauney and the character of Junior Bonner is a whole generation. The skill and the know how is the same, the experience is on McQueen's side to be sure. But those cowboys can sustain some serious injuries and at J.B. Mauney's age he is capable of bouncing back a whole lot faster than Junior Bonner.
McQueen knows this, but it's the way of life that he and his father love dearly. They're active, vital, and vibrant men and no one's going to tell them to act their age, least of all Ida Lupino as Preston's wife and McQueen's mother or Joe Don Baker as her other real estate selling son to whose children Preston makes the title toast.
Junior Bonner is skimpy on plot, but long on characterization. Normally that's not something I like, but in this case it fits the film perfectly. The story is simply about a rodeo family's day at the Presscott Frontier Days Rodeo. It's about Lupino and Baker who have aged and accepted that times change and Preston and McQueen who haven't.
Preston's hoping that if McQueen wins some prize money, he'll stake him to a trip to Australia where there's still wild country to tame. McQueen though his best days are behind him, still loves the life and has a personal goal of riding an unridable bull, Sunshine. In fact he requests stock contractor and prime mover at the Frontier Days Rodeo, Ben Johnson, to make sure he draws Sunshine.
McQueen's goals are a longshot, but not unreasonable. Last year's PBR champion was 36 year old Adriano Moraes showing the younger riders the older men still have something. But how much is left in the cup, only the Deity knows.
Sam Peckinpaugh directed the film to perfection capturing the mood and ambiance of the rodeo scene. The casting is also to perfection with folks like Bill McKinney, Dub Taylor, Donald Barry all western regulars giving standout performances. The violence that usually characterizes a Peckinpaugh film is noticeably absent, but the rodeo is a good subject for his patented slow motion takes.
Junior Bonner joins a great pantheon of rodeo films like The Lusty Men, J.W. Coop, and 8 Seconds in depicting the hard, but rewarding life as a rodeo performer. And this review is dedicated to all the cowboys, to the Adriano Moraeses and the J.B. Mauneys who risk life and limb in the dirt arena trying to do their personal best at what they love.
I first heard of this film on a trip to Prescott for the 1973 rodeo. Three
days of hard liquor, sex and wild livestock (I had sat out Woodstock in an
NYC jail and had to make do) Of course the film was all the buzz but the
highlight of '73 was an ill-advised visit by a chapter of Hell's Angels who
didn't know the locals carried side arms. They had a most humiliating exit.
The former territorial capitol, a moribund Prescott sat between the
exhausted gold fields in the mountains and the ranches suffering from poor
beef prices out on the high prairie. The Palace Bar was the queen of a
raucous grouping of saloons on Whiskey Row. A place to rub elbows with
crazed prospectors and working cowboys. The town's only nod to modernity was
a Western Auto Parts store and Sears Catalog outlet...I don't think they had
Today the faceless crowd savors its victory. The ranchers cried "uncle" and gave in to the developers or joined them. Whiskey Row in name only the bars have become boutiques and the Palace is a salad bar. The city groans in gridlock under the traffic of her sprawling suburbs. Street widening has obliterated the familiar or bypassed now inaccessable charms. Strip malls and the usual fast food joints line the approaches for miles and miles. A flood of California retirees have raised the costs and codes to push Jo Don Baker's trailers to rural ghettos ranging thirty and forty miles out. Phoenicians have taken the old gold camps for summer homes and condos. The once unbroken mountain views and sweep of prairie are dappled blurs of asphalt shingle, stucco and neon. A straggling herd of antelope (a protected species) are under edict of removal in one housing developement and if Junior Bonner comes back to town he better be driving an Escalade.
The film is a poignant story proven true. I haven't the heart to revisit the rodeo.
I grew up with these people, and watched, with them, the end of the mythic
West and the beginning of traffic-clogged urban West. When Junior watches
the bulldozers flattening the old ranch, I can empathise
This is a melancholy film, superbly acted (everyone was completely authentic in the movie), and a tragic document of the West as it once was, when there were stll heroic bull riders and classic vistas unpolluted by smog.
'Junior Bonner' was made in 1972 and set in a then contemporary Arizona; but in many ways, it is a true western. The real subject of most westerns was not cowboys and injuns, but the passing of an era; and in this film, about a star rodeo rider, this is typified by the contrast between his father (a man for whom the skills of the ring were also the stuff of everyday life) and his (prescient) brother Curly, hustling for his first million by selling real estate to easterners with no feel for the land. Director Sam Peckinpah is best known for excessive movies like 'The Wild Bunch', but here he plays a surprisingly restrained hand, and the film has a low key, believable feel. As often, Steve MacQueen (who plays the eponymous hero) doesn't really appear to be acting, but simply fits into his role. One thing that's interesting is how far away, to a modern audience, the world portrayed seems, now that the Curlys of this world have transformed the western states into America's fastest growing suburbs; and certain incidental details particularly bring this home: Junior enjoying a relaxing beer while driving, or even the fact that the leading character is called J.R. and his mother Ellie (dating the film to an era before 'Dallas'). In fact, as westerns go, this one is unusually subtle and unromantic; but now seems as historical as any drama set on the frontiers of a hundred years before.
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.
This is one of my favorite films from one of my favorite directors, and
starring one of my favorite actors. I saw a lot of parallels to my own
life in this film and the road I have chosen for my own life. The
simple fact that JR Bonner lives for "the ride" is really what this
film is all about. He continues to ride even though he's past his
prime, and still acknowledges his father amidst the division he finds
upon his return home. His disenchantment with changing times is very
evident here, as this part is pure Peckinpah, who lived and thrived in
the western genre for most of his filmography. This theme of what the
west has become and what it is becoming has been a theme of inspiration
for Sam Peckinpah's films throughout his barely twenty year career as a
director. The Father/Son relationship between Junior and Ace strikes a
chord with me, especially during the cow milking scene when the Bonners
lose, and Ace says "We could've won it", and Junior says "We did Ace".
It is profound, and gets me to thinking of my own Father, whose
Footsteps I walk in and took after even in my Mother's disapproval.
Junior's sole mission in this film is simply to ride "Sunshine", the bull no man ever rode, and his failure to do so continually haunts him, even as he rides the bull and finally succeeds by staying on the bull for the 8 seconds required. His family situation is a backdrop of events leading up to this triumphant moment that motivates him to continue down the road, and follow his own destiny.
The scene between Steve McQueen and Joe Don Baker where Curly (Baker's character) slugs Junior onto the floor of the Palace Bar is a key moment as well. The two are feuding brothers, one becomes a businessman, and destroys the Matriarch of the family's house (Ace Bonner, played wonderfully by Robert Preston). The other (McQueen) follows the path of the Father, not really being around or being there for his family, but wants to. When Curly invites Junior into the real estate business, and Junior refuses lets you know that Junior is his own man. Curly lashes back by saying "I'm working on my first million, and you're still working on 8 seconds". That lets you know who Junior Bonner is, and who he has chosen to be.
Junior has a love for his Father the rest of the family can't understand, he even gives up over half his winnings for riding Sunshine to buy his Dad a plane ticket to Australia to start a sheep farm. This film has a lot of themes in it; changing times, division of family, and dedication to something when you are no longer on top. It is a true interpretation of the life of the rodeo cowboy. It's a shame this film did not do well when it was first released, I guess it was ahead of its time like Sam Peckinpah. I totally recommend this film because it, like The Ballad of Cable Hogue was unexpected and unpredictable, like its maverick director.
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