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As a dyed in the wool Yankee I must confess to a certain weakness for things Southern. They seem to do everything larger than life down there, possessing a daring and a sense of style a million miles away from us hyper-rational northerners, who, though we won the Civil War, seem to have lost the culture war. Anyone ever heard of Yankee fried chicken? In the movies the South can lay claim to not only the most acclaimed movie of Hollywood's "golden age" (Gone With the Wind) to its credit, but a lot of fine little ones as well. Indeed, since the early sixties, around the time To Kill a Mockingbird, there has evolved a genre which for want of a better term one might call the Southern Art Film, which is generally a modest though not B picture with high artistic aspirations, featuring first rate actors playing believable, for the most part un-stereotyped characters (Tomorrow, Sounder, Conrack, The Great Santini, Driving Miss Daisy, The Apostle, to name just a few). Raggedy Man falls more or less into this category, as it tells its modest tale of an abandoned wife and a footloose sailor, their love, the time they spend together, how this affects her children. Not a very eventful film, its slow pace and fine acting saves it. The music, alternately jaunty and wistful is of the sort that has become a cliché, and I wish they hadn't used it. The actors are outstanding, however, with Sissy Spacek and especially Eric Roberts both in peak form. Roberts is an enigmatic presence, which works for this film. Almost too pretty to be credible at times (not his fault), his work here makes me wonder why he never became a major star. In any case, the movie is well worth catching for some very good moments and a story that pulls at the heartstrings, but in a gentle, uninsistant way, with an ending that's sad but not depressing.
I just caught this film again on a cable channel and remembered how much I like it. Most people will consider this a "small" film because it doesn't have a lot of action, but there are some suspenseful moments - especially near the end. During World War II, Sissy Spacek plays a small-town phone operator raising her two sons on her own. In fact, the switchboard is in the home where they live. Many of the townspeople have no phone of their own and come to Sissy's home to make calls and sometimes to receive that dreaded call informing them that their husband/son, etc. has been wounded, killed or is missing in action. Oft-seen character actor R.G. Armstrong turns in his usual strong performance as Sissy's manipulative boss. Sissy's philandering former husband is played well by Sam Shepard in a small but pivotal role. Playing their usual (but this time creepy!) Southern "good ol' boys" are Tracey Walter (seen recently as the provider of "insider" evidence in ERIN BROCKOVICH) and William Sanderson (perhaps best known as Larry with his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl on T.V.'s NEWHEART or for his role in BLADERUNNER). They make great troublemakers in this film. Henry Thomas plays Sissy's older son and reveals the strength of character and sensitivity that he will later show as Elliot in E.T. But the leads, Sissy and Eric Roberts, are my favorites. They are terrific together but also great when apart onscreen. Sissy has a fun moment alone singing and dancing as "Rum & Coca-Cola" plays on the radio while she is housecleaning. She's also good when she tries and finally succeeds at standing up to her boss. And she's definitely believable as the boys' "Mom". Eric, as a young sailor on a short leave, has a great early scene talking on the telephone and is absolutely wonderful in his scenes with the two boys. I love it when he tries to make the boys feel better as he leaves to go back to his ship - he names his two shoes after them so that they will always be with him, calling out their names with each step as he walks off down the street. And then there are the scenes with Sissy and Eric together - tender, sweet and romantic. If you have forgotten like I had, this film will remind you what a beautiful young man Eric was, before the ravages of time and how ever many broken noses he has had, changed him into the more rugged but still handsome man he is today. A few more films (STAR 80, RUNAWAY TRAIN, to name but two) have also shown us what a fine actor he is, but unfortunately, most A-list directors and producers tend to ignore him so that he has become a B-movie regular. I saw him on Broadway about 10 years ago as the lead in BURN THIS, and he was amazing. Come on, somebody, cast him in a really good role in a really good film! He deserves the role and movie-goers deserve to see him at his best. In the meantime, we can enjoy this film.
Anyone who thinks of Eric Roberts as an over-the-top B-movie actor should
see this film, in which he gives a sweet, subtle performance as a young
era sailor on leave.
Roberts and Spacek both shine in this film, and have terrific chemistry as two young adults who manage to steal a moment together despite their overwhelming responsibilities. They don't appear to be "acting" for even a minute, and the rest of cast, especially the two young boys playing Spacek's kids, are just as good.
I agree with the reviewer who said Eric Roberts needs a big role again. He is one of the finest actors of his generation, and it's a shame that most people don't know it. I'd also love to see him on stage one more time.
The most glorious scene of the film - a lovely and loving sequence in which Sissy Spacek dances with her broom as she sweeps the house, singing along with the Andrews Sisters' "Rum and Coca-Cola" - has been brutally excised from the video - I assume due to rights restrictions -and it's enough to make you cry. That sweet, simple scene is one of those priceless film moments that will haunt you always - if you were lucky enough to see the film before it was raped. Still, even a ravaged "Raggedy Man" (inside joke) is a marvelous film - especially for the honesty in Spacek's and Eric Roberts' portrayals, the surprise redemption delivered at the end, and the charming presence of a pre-"E.T." Henry Thomas.
Go Rent This Movie! Really, it's a very good drama, set in what looks like South Central/Central Texas during WWII. Spacek and Roberts reach their thespian peaks in this film. It is a true classic with tones of despair and hopelessness, followed by love/passion and intestinal fortitude. Tremendous Realism, you'll push back the tears.
Sissy Spacek, in her first movie after her triumphant, Oscar-winning turn as Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter", excels once again as a single mother with two small boys working out of her home as a telephone operator in WWII America. Eric Roberts (in surely his best performance ever) is gentle and appealing as a sailor who takes a shine to Spacek and her kids, which causes gossipy tongues to wag back in town; Sam Shepherd is the mysterious title character who lives across the street and harbors a dark secret. Fine-looking movie has a strong sense of time and place, a fairly solid script and terrific players, but the tone of the film shifts in the melodramatic final act and the narrative gets all fouled up. This portion of the picture almost feels tacked-on, and as a result the conclusion is somewhat limp. Still a pretty good entertainment, and Spacek never hits a false note. *** from ****
Sissy Spacek has this kind of part down pat, so praise comes too
matter-of-fact. I liked the 'Aw Shucks" charm of Eric Roberts as the
sailor who receives a 'Dear John" telephone call, and once he
disappeared from the film, a lot of its life fizzled away. It's a small
film with limited exposition, so that the dinner scene with the boys
substituting their long lost father for the departed Teddy seemed to
come from almost nowhere. Then despite all of their wailing, they
gladly fall in with Mom's desire to move to San Antonio. Then it is
headlong into a scene that is part To Kill A Mockingbird and part Straw
The problem with the script, and I suspect the screenwriter realized this, is that the Raggedy Man sails too close to Boo Radley, and so the plot must steer away from devices like having the boys be afraid of him. Yet he cannot disappear, so we have shots of him lurking about, or shots of his shop, lest we forget he is part of the story.
I think the film would have worked without him even being part of it, a small tale of a thwarted four day liberty if told from the sailor's point of view, or better, simply a tale of a four day honeymoon for the divorced women. But heaven forbid, there would have been little action. Somehow the ending violence robbed me of my memory of Sissy dancing with her broom while the Andrews Sisters sang.
"Raggedy Man" is not a perfect film. It has a lot of good things going
for it, making the unnecessary sideroads seem unlikable with their
constant insistence. But as a straightforward drama, it is only just
short of wondrous. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. Ralf
Bode makes this as stunning to look at as other great midwest dramas of
the period like "The Stone Boy", "Tender Mercies" or "Country". The
performances by the leads - Spacek, Roberts, and young Henry Thomas (in
his first role before E.T.) - are all excellent. The main story itself
is also believable, and the dramatic arc is well conceived by William
But as I mentioned, that's if "Raggedy Man" was a straightforward drama. Unfortunately, it isn't. Building up throughout the film, and culminating in a grandly ill-advised finale, it has aspirations of being some sort of domestic thriller. The reasons for this are beyond my comprehension. Perhaps someone wanted a little unneeded excitement interjected into the film? That's not something I'd generally be opposed to if it weren't so poorly put across. It's a similar mistake made in a film called "The River Rat", which insisted on turning a low key father-daughter drama into a adventure movie for kids.
I have to say, though, that in spite of its sometimes misguided nature, the overwhelmingly well made aspects shine through. The vast majority of "Raggedy Man" is emotionally raw, pure and understated. It holds a convincing humanity and purity of heart. And that means something in a film that's just a bit too schizophrenic for its own good. I recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sissy Spacek is beautiful. Let me put that up there at the very front
and center. She may not be classically beautiful(though I suppose one
could make an argument that,in fact,she is) and certainly not
conventionally "hot" or "sexy",but she's--to me,anyway--always radiated
a warmth and attractive femininity that makes the characters she fills
out to be(for lack of a better term)beautiful. I've often felt,in
fact,that as she's gotten older,she's become more graceful and
alluring,equal parts loving "Earth mother" and MILF(please pardon my
French) next door.
She's the main reason I decided to rent this(And had been kind of aware of this movie ever since I first looked through her long career backlog of films),and since it being a not-far-from thirty year old film that was probably NOT a box office blockbuster and therefore a somewhat obscure rent title,when I saw this in the library recently,I felt compelled to get it. I also got it for the presence of one Henry Thomas,a guy about my age who will probably much more forever be known as Elliott from E.T.--the Extra-Terrestrial,but has also patched together quite a collection of work as a character actor(Legends of the Fall,All the Pretty HOrses,Suicide KIngs). He made his film debut at the tender age of nine as Spacek's oldest boy. Who surprises me here is a then twenty-something Eric Roberts as an in transit NAvy sailor,due to ship out for the WAr. He's genuinely pleasant and likable,a contrast to a great deal of creepy,unlikable sorts he's portrayed in his prolific(if perhaps easily ignored)career as a character actor.
THe movie's plot(or plots),moves as thus: in 1943(?) rural Texas,a divorced mom of two named Nita(Spacek,able to convey emotions through her big blue eyes alone,and able to do so much more)works as a rural telephone operator. THe period of time,plus the rural atmosphere makes for a less than forgiving climate for Nita,so when a handsome stranger(Roberts,of course)shows up at her abode and she agrees to let him stay until his deployment is up,causes a fair amount of gossip and consternation from the locals.
The first half to 2/3 of the film is basically a quiet,subtly-paced story where as much is limned from the reactions and actions of all characters involved as the words they say. The interactions in this piece are priceless,as single mom Nita does not have it easy with job,kids or relationships,yet perseveres as a sort of quiet defiance. THe last half to 1/3 of the movie is a little harder to reconcile with it,and twice as hard to figure out. A sub-plot about a couple of heartless thugs(future "Newhart"stand-by William Sanderson and character actor extraordinaire Tracey Walter)who take an oily shine to single and vulnerable Nita is,simultaneously,predictable and strangely discordant. Then there's Sam Shepherd,third-billed,who really...well,to explain his presence might be just a bit of a spoiler,I suppose,so I'd just as soon let you,the perspective viewer watch this if you want to find out.
Spacek's husband JAck FIsk,normally an art-director and cinematographer,is able to transparently guide this film,probably due to both his familiarity with the star and his probable affinity for the script. A little too ambiguous in total composition and not probably sexy enough to be more than a sleeper hit,this movie is still a solid cheap rent,mostly due to the actors who fill out the parts beautifully.
Raggedy Man is an unusual mix of themes and styles, but maybe somehow
that helps the film to work. The film has quite a lot going for it. The
acting, casting, locations, and strong nostalgia are all there. And
there is even a surprise twist ending that we see in so many thrillers
today. Maybe the ending was a bit out of place. This just is a tough
film to really put your finger on, but it basically works.
Sissy Spacek, who is as terrific as ever, plays a divorced woman working as a telephone operator in a small Texas town, and trying to raise two rambunctious little boys between phone call transfers. She desperately wants out of this job and the little town, but her boss keeps telling her she's "frozen" because a war is going on. The majority of the film does take place in 1944. Apparently changing jobs was not possible back then if you were doing civil servant type things while a war was going on. Who knows? But Spacek is stuck there in her house, and very lonely and unhappy. That is until one rainy night, a polite sailor comes to the door hoping to use her public phone. The sailor, played by a somewhat subdued Eric Roberts, learns on the phone that his girlfriend has just dumped him. With nowhere to stay before he ships out in four days, Roberts is taken in by Spacek. The two quickly discover they have feelings for one another, and this does not sit well with the gossipy small town.
Further complicating matters are a couple of local louts who have the hots for Spacek and get very jealous of the sailor. Also hanging around and peeping in windows is the "raggedy man" himself. Who is this mysterious deformed man who also seems to be taking an interest in Spacek and her boys? Well, the final twist pretty much answers that question. And this revelation is a bit difficult to swallow. The film ends somewhat violently, as the louts are dealt with. And things generally seem to be upbeat as the credits roll.
The film has some wonderful selling points. The acting is top-drawer by all involved. The casting choices were absolutely perfect. Especially in support. Tracey Walter and William Sanderson were born to play parts like the two louts. They are very recognizable character actors. If you don't immediately recognize Sanderson, just think, "I'm Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl." Yes, he was Larry on Newhart. Look for little Henry Thomas who did this film just before E.T.. Bill Thurman of Last Picture Show fame has a bit part as the Sheriff. The town in this film looks a lot like Anarene in that film. If you were alive and recall the way things were on the home front during WWII, then this film will certainly take you back there mentally. The film is ultimately a strange cross between Summer of '42, To Kill a Mockingbird, and.... God knows what else. But somehow it all seems to work. The great cast can probably be thanked for that as much as anything. 7 of 10 stars.
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