Bound for Glory (1976) Poster

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Passionate, poetic, exceptional filmmaking
zetes22 January 2002
At its base, Bound for Glory is just a simple biopic about Woody Guthrie. In execution, it turns out to be a lot more. We actually learn very little about Woody Guthrie's life. I don't know the exact statistic, but I would guess that it covers no more than a few years, with an end title that tells us briefly of his death. And basically all of the experiences shown onscreen can be seen in other films, most notably John Ford's brilliant American masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. To be absolutely fair, the scenes of migrant workers' woes are at least equal to those in its predecessor. A good one-line summary of Bound for Glory might read "a modernist equivalent of The Grapes of Wrath told from the point of view of folk singer Woody Guthrie." But Bound for Glory has a few things that make it stand out from other films, that make it as memorable as The Grapes of Wrath.

First and maybe foremost, you have the brilliant and gorgeous cinematography of the great Haskell Wexler. I'm no expert on cinematographers, but Wexler is one of only three I can name offhand (the other two being, if you are interested, Vittorio de Sica and Sven Nykvist). I love Wexler's work in films like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Matewan (a thematically similar film directed by the great John Sayles). But what Bound for Glory most resembles is Wexler's very controversial cinematography on Days of Heaven. Not controversial because of anything specifically photographed, of course, but, if you know the story, a different cinematographer took credit as lead DP, leaving Wexler with a credit that was something along the lines of "with additional photography by". Wexler claims to have photographed more than 50% of the scenes in the finished film. He has sat through the film several times, I have heard, with a stopwatch. Bound for Glory, at any rate, is one of the most beautiful films you're ever likely to see. It's golden colors are beautiful, and the camera is moved gently, but with precision. This film actually has the first shot that used a steadicam, although I had forgotten to keep an eye out for it when the film was playing (I was far too engrossed). My favorite scene is one where Guthrie and a black hobo have left the boxcar of a train and move to the top of it. There they sit and converse as the most beautiful landscapes in our country pass by behind them. These are some of the best shots I've ever seen. And just because of those shots, even if the film didn't contain a plethora of other relevant materials, I would call this film one of the best ever made about the United States.

Secondly and thirdly, this film is about Woody Guthrie, one of the greatest American artists of the past century. David Carradine, who, in other performances, has never convinced me that he was as good as his father, John (who was in Grapes of Wrath, incidentally), or his brother, Keith, breaks apart my former opinion of him and delivers a masterful performance. I don't know whether I could identify why he is so good in this film. It's as if he has an aura about him. He really does, however, seem to enbody Guthrie's convictions. Throughout the film, Guthrie's music is played, whether sung or as an extra-diagetic score. This is great American music. So much of it has become part of the soundtrack to the American life. I mean, I remember learning songs like "This Land is Your Land" and "This Train" in elementary school music class. In his day, Guthrie had difficulty in getting those kind of songs out to the public. His bosses were constantly ordering him to tone down the political edge of his music. Luckily for America, he steadfastly refused to do so. Woody Guthrie was a true American hero. Bound for Glory depicts that as much as he could have hoped for.
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Better than good: Important
Sam Straight20 January 2006
BOUND FOR GLORY compassionately portrays that Woody Guthrie's gift to mankind was about being at life's mercy, deliberately staying on a par with everyday people -- not just understanding and speaking for them, but being them and speaking for himself.

BOUND FOR GLORY had the courage to abstain from the bigger-than-life formula for Hollywood success, and never hurried its pace to placate a predictably impatient audience. The scenes, and David Carradine morphing into Woody Guthrie, took whatever time was needed to ripen into the enriching story of inherent human value, undeniable personal dignity, and the insidious soul-starving quality of greed that this masterpiece movie tells.

Ronny Cox, Melinda Dillon, Gail Strickland, Randy Quaid, and David Carradine all delivered academy award worthy performances. No saints, no heroes, no cavalry to the rescue; just actors tenderly disappearing into heart capturing characters who are disturbingly vulnerable, familiar, ordinary, and profound.
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It Is Glorious. It Made It.
tfrizzell5 January 2002
Of all the five best picture nominees of 1976, "Bound for Glory" is the most difficult for most to remember. I mean it was the quiet film in a year which consisted of "Rocky", "Network", "All the President's Men" and "Taxi Driver". Woody Guthrie (David Carradine of "Kung Fu" fame) is suffering through the Dust Bowl of Pampa, Texas in 1936. There are no jobs, no crops and really no hope. Guthrie decides that the best way for him to do his part is to become a folk singer for the poorest peoples of Northern Texas and depression-era Oklahoma. What follows is a genuinely wonderful story which is all based upon the life of America's greatest folk singer. "Bound for Glory" is well-written, well-directed by the wonderful Hal Ashby and well-acted by David Carradine in the role of a lifetime. Melinda Dillon, Randy Quaid and Ronny Cox are among the other players, but this is Carradine's show from the word go. A wonderful, but truthfully somewhat forgotten masterpiece from the 1970s. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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This film was made for you and me
raydavies30 October 2001
One can go into this film from several different angles, and be rewarded at every turn. You like history? Bound For Glory's depiction of Depression Era life is both accurate and eye-opening. You like music? The perspective gained on one of our nation's greatest songwriters is delightful in a way every man can appreciate. You like against-the-odds stories of rugged individualism? Hope you're hungry. The pace may be criticized as slow, but works in emphasizing the dreariness and despair needed to understand the motivations and emotions that lead to Woody Guthrie's greatness. The deliberate storytelling also reminds one of the manner in which Kurosawa might weave a fable. Which reminds me, David Carradine's performance is inspired. Great film any way you look at it.
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"Why Woody, soon you'll be singin' to the whole damn country!"
ametaphysicalshark7 June 2007
Is there any other musical figure in history who can be called as heroic as Woody Guthrie? The man was a musical genius, a visionary songwriter, and a great man, a man who never gave up on his dream, a man who gave up a lot of money so he could take his songs to the people, the people the songs were written by, and for, in the first place. Woody Guthrie was integrity personified, a great American hero. "Bound for Glory" is quite appropriately one of the greatest American films of all time, as well as one of the most criminally overlooked, despite two Academy Awards for cinematography and score, and four more nominations including 'Best Picture' (losing in that category to "Rocky").

Astonishingly accomplished cinematography from legend Haskell Wexler as well as some great editing and a stunning score in addition to Hal Ashby's (Harold and Maude) excellent direction make this a beautiful, haunting, and brilliant film. The performances carry the film, with David Carradine turning in what is surely his greatest ever performance, a stunning, passionate, beautiful portrayal of Guthrie which fully captures the man's spirit. Ronny Cox and Melinda Dillon are also superb in their roles. Ashby gets a sort of realism from his actors that is sorely missed today, and any other method of portrayal would make this film far less captivating and beautiful than it is. Screenwriter Robert Getchell adapts his script very well from Guthrie's autobiography, choosing the correct parts to tell. In many senses this feels less like a biopic and more like a story about working class America. Maybe that's why this is probably the greatest biopic of all time.

In terms of technical accomplishment, this is easily among the top 100 films of all time. It's a great American film about a great American hero. It tells the story of not only Guthrie, but also those who surrounded him and the people he sung to. It's a beautiful, emotional, and arresting film that is surely essential viewing. One of the most criminally overlooked films of all time.

A resounding 10/10
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Excellent. Carradine does a GREAT job. Music outstanding.
dennis.coury4 August 2000
Found the movie to be "real". Did a great job of showing how things were at the time. Carradine & Cox did an outstanding job. Really enjoyed the music. Feel that this movie has certainly been overlooked during the years. A real QUALITY film.
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Integrity personified....
swillsqueal21 April 2006
This film is about a guy who had integrity. He couldn't be bought off. He didn't sell out. Woody Guthrie felt his music. It came from a sense of caring about people. As a film, "Bound for Glory" does a ten-star job of conveying the spirit of a man who could joke when the chips were down and who could sing out with an affection his listeners could believe. Guthrie made music move people to see themselves as worthwhile, as creators of vitality, gusto and dignity. And he did this during the Great Depression.

People, especially people in the industrial world, feel less and less a sense of connectedness to each other. Community tends to lose quality as the rule of quantitative cheapness triumphs. The more the narrow, modern sort of individualism envelops them, the more humans slip into an alienation reinforced by commodified cocoons.

Wage-slaves we are and wage-slaves we were in the 1930s. Only back then, we still had some remnant of solidarity, some spark of humanity to touch each other with. We still do, but it's fading fast. Woody's life was about fanning those embers into flames as people worked for wages, while others, the unemployed and under paid caught up in the depression of the Great Depression, wondered whether their families and other families like them would ever make it. Woody came from them and he sang for them. Woody was a working class hero, a modern day troubadour. He infused his listeners with his humorous, never give-up gumption, which, if you weren't lucky enough to know him personally, came out in waves as you drank in his warm words and tunes. Woody made them feel that maybe they could be bound for glory!

If you find this movie on the rental shelf, pick it up and see it. It's great. I especially loved the scenes with Ozark Bule (played by Ronnie Cox). He must have been something. The first time you see him, he stands up on his vehicle near some unemployed field workers and sings the old IWW song composed by Joe Hill: ************************************************** Long-haired preachers come out every night Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right But when asked about something to eat They will answer in voices so sweet

'You will eat, by and by, In that glorious land above the sky Work and pray, live on hay - You'll get pie in the sky when you die' - that's a lie!

And the Starvation Army they play And they sing and the clap and they pray Till they get all your coin on the drum Then they'll tell you when you're on the bum . . .

Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out And they sing and they clap and they shout 'Give your money to Jesus,' they say, 'He will cure all diseases today . . .

Working folks of all countries, unite Side by side we for freedom will fight When the world and it's wealth we have gained To the grafters we'll sing this refrain:

You will eat, by and by, When you've learned how to cook and how to fry Chop some wood, it'll do you good Then you'll eat in the sweet by and by - that's no lie! ************************************************************

And David Carradine (Bill of "Kill Bill" fame) would never do acting as fine as this again. His Guthrie is near perfect, one level above Gary Cooper's portrayal of Sergeant York. Hal Ashby got the most from his acting company. They all look and act like real people with real lives, not stars. And Haskell Wexler's camera work is as artistically brushed as Woody's best known song:


THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND words and music by Woody Guthrie

Chorus: This land is your land, this land is my land From California, to the New York Island From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway I saw above me an endless skyway I saw below me a golden valley This land was made for you and me


I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts And all around me a voice was sounding This land was made for you and me


The sun comes shining as I was strolling The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling The fog was lifting a voice come chanting This land was made for you and me


As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there And that sign said - no tress passin' But on the other side .... it didn't say nothing! Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple Near the relief office - I see my people And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin' If this land's still made for you and me
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Great performance from...David Carradine!!??
curtis martin11 November 2001
"Bound For Glory" is a very involving and interesting movie in a hypnotic, slow-moving seventies kind of way. In fact, for the first 45 minutes I was watching it on cable TV, I had no idea why I was watching it. Nothing much was happening. The "story" was episodic and meandering. But I did watch the thing all the way through--all 2 and a half hours of it. In retrospect, I can now see some reasons why the film held me so. To begin with, the cinematography is beautiful and the music is wonderful. But mostly it was the acting, which is uniformly excellent in a naturalistic way that is rarely seen these days. I had the impression I was peeking in on real people and events, not on movie actors playing out a script. The biggest revelation, however, was David Carradine, who gives an amazing performance as Woody Guthrie. He's just living the part. I mean--what has the guy ever done before or since that even hinted at the fact that he could act so damn well? Nothing, that's what! Carradine's performance in "Bound for Glory" reminds me of two other, more recent performances in similar films: Ashley Judd in Victor Nunez's "Ruby in Paradise" and Peter Fonda in the role that gave him an Oscar nomination, "Ulee's Gold", also by Nunez.

In these films you can see the main character thinking, breathing--living. Not acting out some melodrama.

Another common thread runs between these three performances, too: none of these actors have been allowed to (or been able to?) do work anywhere near as good again. The post-"Ruby" Judd has gone on to major in spunky thriller heroines and Fonda has drifted back off the map to wherever he was before "Ulee."

But Carradine is the one who really breaks your heart. He has continued acting, like Judd. But the horrendous quality of his projects make you wish he'd disappeared back in to the vapor of obscurity, like Fonda. After watching "Bound For Glory", the sight of Carradine zombie-walking through an episode of "Kung Fu: the Legend Continues" or snarling like a brain-dead idiot in one of his European-made direct-to-video action cheapies is enough to make you cry. The massive talent he wasted.

Still, many actors never have even one moment of glory.
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Outstanding! An accurate glimpse at life in tougher times.
headhunter4628 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This movie will give the open-minded viewer a look at what life in America was like in the 1930's. I fear younger viewers who expect to have cars blowing up and a hero who can defeat a half dozen opponents at once will be disappointed. David Carradine turns in his best performance of all that I have seen. As others have mentioned the cinematography is fantastic. This movie is for those viewers who can appreciate that many have struggled and suffered to bring this country to the point where some can be bored by a movie of this caliber. To appreciate what we now have one must sit through the "boring" parts to see how badly people lived during this time in the USA. The movie does move slowly at times but that is how slowly the lives of people moved in that time period. They had little or no work, didn't always know where their next meal would come from.

VERY MINOR SPOILER The movie portrays Woody in his struggle to bring respect and equity to those who toiled and were abused. There are still those who do not believe that conditions like this once existed in this country. I doubt they would believe it if they watched the movie. I rate this movie 8 of 10 for the harsh portrayal of a time many are not aware of, the convincing acting of Carradine, and the cinematography.
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High apple pie in the sky: this film isn't a lie!
Lee Eisenberg1 May 2006
In one of his many masterpieces throughout the '70s, Hal Ashby tells the story of Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) during the folk singer's Depression-era travels, and how he got politicized. We see the plight of working families moving to California, and everything such. One of the best scenes is when a rich family picks up Woody. While they talk about their wealth and stuff, Woody says something that I'm probably not allowed to write here.

All in all, this is a magnificent look into one man's life, and into history in general. If only one thing's for certain, it's that Woody Guthrie will remain an important part of Americana. A great movie. Also starring Ronny Cox and Melinda Dillon.
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My brief review of the film
sol-11 November 2005
An unusual film, it starts by depicting the harsh life that many had to live during the Depression era, but then about halfway through it takes a sharp turn to become a biography of a musician. This change is rather jarring, as it comes unexpected. It manages to paint the glumness and the poverty of the Depression era so well that the sudden change in story direction just about violates what has gone before. In fairness, it does give us an idea of what the protagonist went through and what motivated his career, but is there not too much time spent on it? There is relatively little in the way of story until the music side enters in. It is quite meandering, and full of characters that have no importance later on, there is cause to wonder whether it could have been compressed down. For the adventure genre that the film best fits into, it is also relatively unexciting. The film is rather awkwardly put together, and it could do with a few events removed, but there are still a lot of good points to it. The cinematography won the film an Academy Award, as did the adapted music soundtrack, and both these elements are good. Haskell Wexler has chosen some interesting angles to shoot the film from, and the songs are fitted into the material quite well. Overall it is a good film, but a difficult one too. It takes patience to get through, but there are some good things in the end.
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He was born a rambling man
bkoganbing4 February 2017
I think that Woody Guthrie came along at the right time for his music to be played and become popular. The 30s, the years of the Depression of economic want and deprivation, Guthrie was a voice for the homeless and dispossessed, for those just wanting a small slice of the American dream. Guthrie would not go over in the Reagan years and surely not in the age of Trump.

One really should see Bound For Glory back to back with A Face In The Crowd. The real Woody Guthrie is not all that far apart from the fictional Lonesome Rhodes whom Andy Griffith played in that latter picture. Both represent differing strains of American populism just that Griffith's character Lonesome Rhodes represents the dark side. And we've recently seen the dark side triumph.

Guthrie didn't want people to just feel good, he wanted for them to be healthy and happy and prosperous. It's not enough as I think people who voted for Donald Trump in the last election will find out soon to deprive those 'others' whomever they be of what you think they're stealing from you. Subsisting isn't living. Enough to pay your rent or buy home, see your kids get educated with the hope they'll do even better than you, that's what it's about. And you get it by organizing. Putting the sweat of the working man on an equal footing with the buying power of the bosses. An ethic that's being challenged now.

David Carradine plays the rambling and rebellious Guthrie who got the cook's helper's tour of America via the freight trains and the migrant labor camps. It would have been the easiest thing for Guthrie to just pack it in and just become a hillbilly entertainer on country music stations. He was after far more than that with his songs. Carradine captures Guthrie's rebellious spirit perfectly and gets great support from Melinda Dillon as his loving wife who is also concerned the next meal for their growing family.

Bound For Glory got an Oscar for Best Adapted Musical score and when you have Woody Guthrie's voluminous writings to work with it must have been a labor of love. It was up for Best Picture and a flock technical awards as well.

Woody Guthrie's most famous song was This Land Is Your Land and listen to the words carefully. It's not just patriotic pablum the benefits and responsibilities of this land called America is for all of us to take care of and leave in good condition for the next generation.

After all this land was made for you, me, all of us.
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Like a rolling stone
tieman643 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"I've seen lots of funny men in this world. Some will rob you with a six-gun and some will rob you with a fountain pen" – Woody Guthrie

Set during the Great Depression, Hal Ashby's "Bound for Glory" follows folk singer Woody Guthrie as he evolves from a lowly sign painter in Texas to a popular radio singer in California. Guthrie's cross-country journey was itself commonplace during the Dust Bowl years. This decades long period saw dust storms and droughts ravaging the American panhandle, conditions which led to an exodus of farmers, most of whom lost their land and travelled West, eventually settling in California, where they were ruthlessly exploited by land barons who pitted worker against worker.

Like most of Ashby's lead characters, Woody's thus a non-conformist with a strong sense of moral outrage. Ashby paints him as a wandering artist, hopping from town to town, riding trains, hitching rides, meeting folk and developing his conscience. It's not long before his songs become weapons; a means to rally men against social injustice.

And so as the film progresses, Woody begins to inspire people to unionise and organise (against farm barons and landlords) and morphs into a kind of romantic anarchist-socialist figure who lives to fight and loves to sing.

Like John Ford's "Grapes of Wrath", "Bound for Glory's" view of the Great Depression mixes inappropriately cosy postcard images with gut wrenching hardship. Families struggle to make ends meet, food is scarce and jobs are few. But where Ashby and Ford differ most is in the latter's sense of optimism; things will be better, if only we keep singing. If only we keep chanting, our guitars in hand. Ashy, you sense, is a bit more pessimistic. Understandable, considering the era in which he was active.

The title of Ashby's 1979 film, "Being There", was perhaps inspired by German philosopher Martin Heidegger's magnum opus "Being and Time". In his book, Heidegger coined the term "Dasein" or "Being there", which referred to existence in the most minimal sense. By using the expression "Being There", Heidegger called attention to the fact that a human being cannot be taken into account except as a being existing in the middle of a larger "fabric". To be human is to be fixed, embedded and immersed in the physical, literal, tangible day to day. But Heidegger believed that certain people could escape this fabric, or perhaps be more attuned to it via a heightened self reflexivity, thought most were too preoccupied to do so.

In "Being There", Ashby had actor Peter Sellers essentially play a brain damaged child called Chance. Depending upon one's reading of the film, Chance's innocence either represented a kind of perceptual freedom which allowed him to unknowingly see beyond the delusive forms that mask everyday reality, or the exact opposite, Chance a figure of "chance", of lawless, nonsensical irrationality. Regardless, "Bound for Glory's" Guthrie is obviously intended to be juxtaposed with Chance. Gutherie's a simple man with few possessions and few ties. But while others are on their hands and knees, working and toiling in the dirt, Woody stands upright and sees the world both as it is, and in terms of possibilities instead of limitations. Whever someone tries to force their frameworks upon him, Woody rejects them (marriage, family, job, class, money etc) and goes in search of better paths. These path may not be visible, or indeed even exist, but what matters most is that Woody inspires others to join him on his search.

8.5/10 - Though Ashby fails to delve deeply into Guthrie's life, preferring to reduce him to an archetypal "wandering artist" character, this is nevertheless a fine, era defining film, and features some stunning cinematography by the legendary Haskell Wexler. Worth two viewings.
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Carradine was Outstanding
whpratt126 April 2007
Enjoyed this film from beginning to the very end because it was so down to earth and told a great story about Woody Guthrie played by David Carradine. Woody Guthrie left his Texas home and headed for California and along the way he experienced riding the railroad in a box car and even on top of them from town to town and was beaten up by the railroad workers. Woody meets up with some very poor people who were trying to make a living by picking crops in the fields for penny's a day and children deprived of food and shelter. Ronny Cox,(Ozark Bule) meets up the Woody and they play music for a radio station and at the same time try to get a union established for the working people on the farms. David Carradine did a great job of acting and this is a very outstanding picture to view more than once. Enjoy
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Well done but not for everyone.
MartinHafer9 July 2013
"Bound for Glory" is a dramatization of the early career of Woody Guthrie--particularly his wanderings around the country and the establishment of his career as a folk singer. However, the film does NOT cover his later years and his affliction with Huntington's.

Have you ever seen a movie that is well made and you are supposed to enjoy it but you didn't? That's my experience with "Bound for Glory". While I could see it was a fine film and David Carradine did a fine job, I found my attention wandering throughout. Part of it is because the film is VERY deliberately paced (i.e., slow). Part of it is because I just don't happen to care much about the subject matter. This is sad, I know, as I am a retired history teacher and I should love seeing the dust bowl and the history of Woody Guthrie but I still didn't. Part of it is because Guthrie was a pretty selfish guy (leaving his family and just going on the road for months or years at a time with little regard for them). Regardless, I just didn't enjoy the experience. Well done but I had a devil of a time with "Bound for Glory"... But, I am NOT saying it's a bad film or that you shouldn't see it--it's just that I was not bowled over by it like nearly all the other reviewers.
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I just couldn't get into this
This slow-moving film isn't bad, but it feels rather formless, interested in giving you a sense of what Guthrie saw (even though it turns out it's entirely fictionalized) more than what he did. Perhaps you get a better sense of Guthrie in the second half of the film, but I had trouble keeping with it. I could have kept watching without minding it, but I wasn't remotely invested in it. It didn't help that Guthrie turned out to be pretty selfish early on, and yes, a lot of famous people are flawed, but if you were to watch the first half of this movie without knowing who Guthrie is, you would wonder what the movie was about besides some random guy living through the dust bowl days. And the movie isn't an interesting enough version of that sort of movie.
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This Is the Story Of The Great Depression
eliotstein9 June 2010
"Bound For Glory" is a great deal more than the story of Woody Guthrie. It is a virtual experience of living through the Great Depression.

This is the ultimate historical-based re-creation of life in America in the 1930s. From the unemployment to the box car hopping, dust storms, soup kitchens, migrant workers and their union organizing, the film takes you into the eye of the Great Depression hurricane that devastated life in America.

It provides a first-person perspective as the story builds upon the life of folk music legend Woody Guthrie.

Teachers from 5th grade through college can use this as a valuable instructional tool, and not even have to worry about any bad language or erotic scenes.

Where "Grapes of Wrath" was once used as Hollywood's contribution to showing the Great Depression, "Bound For Glory" surpasses it with a compelling storyline that keeps you riveted, production design and sets that are as stimulating as they are accurate, and superb acting and cinematography.

If you somehow missed this film because most of the attention that year was going to "Rocky," "Network," "All the President's Men" and "Taxi Driver," find out for yourself why this was the "other" film nominated for Best Picture.
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You Can't Scare Me, I'm Sticking to the Union
Jay Raskin5 July 2008
This was one of the first biographies of a music star. Woody Guthrie was also the most famous communist in American history. This made just doing the movie an act of extreme courage on the part of everybody involved.

The movie is as much about the depression in the 1930's as it is about Guthrie. Evoking the atmosphere of the 1930's Midwestern United States is what the movie does best. "Bonnie and Clyde" is really the only other movie that succeeds as well as this one.

When I saw it thirty-two years ago, I thought it was beautiful, but politically tepid, downplaying much of the politics of Guthrie and the period. It seemed to also show Guthrie as inarticulate, rash, self-destructive, egocentric and foolish.

Looking at it now, the cinematography is not great, some of it is quite grainy. It is fine, but not brilliant.

More importantly, I appreciate now that it does not romanticize Guthrie. No doubt in the coming century, he will become an icon like Che Guevara. One gets a vision of a real flawed and down-to-earth person and not a white-washed myth in Carradine's brooding portrayal. It hurts the drama, but that is something I think Guthrie would have appreciated.

Some have noted that David Carradine never did anything better. This is true. Still, he has worked steadily as an actor, now with over 200 movie and television roles. He is in no less than ten movies this year. If you include over 120 episodes of his two Kung Fu television series, he has been in as many productions as his legendary father, John Carradine (339). It is ironic that his father was best known for his role in "Grapes of Wrath" and he will be best known for his role in "Bound for Glory,"

Altogether this is a beautiful, laid-back, easy-going version of the Woody Guthrie story. One expects that soon, in the future, a much more passionate version will appear.
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Hard Travelin'
krorie6 July 2006
Woody is hitchhiking to the do-re-mi state of California when he is picked up by a middle-aged couple in a camper trailer automobile. The driver, M. Emmet Walsh, babbles incessantly about all the sites he and his wife have visited across the nation. Woody, in the backseat, is finally given an opportunity to speak. He blurts out, "The more you eat, the more you s**t." Immediately, Woody is hitchhiking once more. This one scene epitomizes Woody's attitude and character. He is the common man writ large, no pretense, no fabrication, just plain talk.

This movie is based on Woody's book, "Bound for Glory," the title coming from the old spiritual, "This Train is Bound for Glory, This Train." A popular song of the day was "Born to Lose" by the western swing band, Ted Daffan's Texans, much later a big hit for Ray Charles. Woody hated the words to the song, with its pessimistic, fatalistic outlook on life and love. Partly in response to this song, Wood wrote his "Bound for Glory." The book like the movie is a look inside Woody's mind. It's about his philosophy and how it relates to his music and songwriting. It is thereby not much of a biography, dealing with a few episodes in Woody's odyssey across American and his rather brief career as a professional musician.

All Woody's best songs are showcased in "Bound for Glory." "I Ain't Got No Home," "Talking Dust Bowl Blues," "So Long It's Been Good To Know Ya," "They Laid Jesus Christ in His Grave," "Howdjadoo," "Deportees," "Hard Travelin'," "Pastures of Plenty," and his most recorded ditty, "This Land Is Your Land." About the only ones missing are "Pretty Boy Floyd,""Vigilante Man," and "Take Me For a Ride In Your Car-Car (Riding In My Car)."

When one imagines an actor portraying Woody, Preacher Casey (John Carradine) from "The Grapes of Wrath" comes to mind. In 1976, John Carradine would have been too old to fit the part. Why not his lookalike son, David? A good choice. David Carradine not only acts the role, much like George C. Scott in "Patton," he becomes Woody. Added to the believability is David's ability to play the guitar and harmonica and to sing in Woody's style. Modern ears have difficulty listening to the rough, often grating, primitive singing and playing of Woody. Woody wanted it that way. He desired to sound like the common man, not like some radio crooner. The movie highlights this when a cocktail lounge singer is auditioning with "I'm In The Mood For Love." Guthrie follows with a "hillybilly" rendition of "Pastures of Plenty," much more sophisticated than it appears to be. Caradine captures the sound perfectly, without over playing it.

Maverick director, Hal Ashby, and his cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, by studying Dorothea Lange's famous photos of the Great Depression and by utilizing inspiration gained from watching John Ford's "The Grapes of Wrath," are able to capture on film the essence of hopelessness, frustration, and misery of those caught in the maelstrom of starvation and unemployment. One telling scene has a horde of migrant workers slowly walking toward the camera, their heads bent in quiet desperation, having been rejected from fruit-picking work because only thirty hands were needed. In the midst of this swirl of despondency, Woody walks tall against the flow, his head in the air, as much a maverick as Ashby. Only two other Hollywood films equal "Bound for Glory" in their depiction of the Great Depression on the big screen, "The Grapes of Wrath," and Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde."

Even Woody's ambivalent attitude toward women is not glossed over. Woody was at heart a drifter, unable to stay in one place too long, always breaking free from the ties that bind. Keeping with this accurate presentation of the bard, The film shows Woody's concept of labor unions as being for fair treatment of workers with a decent wage, not the compromising fanaticism of Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox), demanding all or nothing until the chips are down; then backing up on his principles. A similar outlook causes Woody problems with being a professional musician. When agents, managers, and producers--all in it for the money--try to groom Woody for the big time, he throws his guitar over his shoulder and heads for New York Town where he would find, "People going' down to the ground, Buildings going' up to the sky," as Dylan would later sing, in homage to his mentor.
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How I Spent My Summer Vacation
triple-x13 October 1998
This is a frustratingly uninvolving Woody Guthrie biopic. I felt that I learned more about Woody the person from the Billy Bragg/Wilco album "Mermaid Avenue" than this fragmented and dull film. The movie is nice to look at (probably the sole reason for its existence) and gives us one of the more realistic portrayals of depression-era life, but tells us nothing new or particularly revealing about Woody Guthrie: all it offers is "he was just a regular guy" revelations about his adultery. Hal Ashby's film is an empty and enervated postcard.
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The Dust Bowl Troubadour
Lechuguilla21 December 2009
For realistic images of the 1930s dust bowl in Oklahoma and Texas, this is the film to see ... the shabby, frame houses, the dilapidated autos, the dreary clothes, the grinding poverty, and all that dust. Although the film was shot in color, the lighting is muted, even in daylight. I suspect that was on purpose, to show how the dust blotted out much of the sunlight, and thematically much of the optimism.

"Bound For Glory" is the story of folksinger Woody Guthrie (David Carradine), whose life as a sign painter and hobo during tough times led him to write many songs, the most famous being "This Land Is Your Land". The story begins in Texas, with Woody already married and with children. Eventually, all that dust and dreariness causes him to forsake his wife and kids, as he hitchhikes and rides the rails westward to the promised land.

But the promised land doesn't want any more Okies. And Guthrie ends up eating in free soup kitchens and living in ugly migrant worker camps. He writes music about life as a poor man. He identifies with the problems of migrant workers, stuck with poverty wages, if they're lucky enough even to get a job. He and them resent the cruelty of their arrogant bosses and rich, powerful corporations, which leads him to write songs of protest.

Despite the film's lengthy run-time, only a small part of Guthrie's life is shown here. We never learn anything about him once he becomes famous. Nor do we learn anything about his upbringing in rural Oklahoma. The film is more of a year-in-the-life-of, rather than a comprehensive bio.

"Bound For Glory" looks good, visually, with terrific period piece production design and costumes. And the cinematography is impressive. But the plot pace is very, very slow and deliberate. Everything is understated. And not until the film's end do we get to hear his most famous song. David Carradine is reasonably persuasive as Guthrie. Other performances are fairly standard.

For all the great visuals, the script is somewhat of a letdown. I would have preferred a more conventional biography, with a faster clip. As is, genuinely certified fans of Woody Guthrie are the only viewers likely to have the patience and forbearance to sit through this toilsome and sluggish, though realistic, story.
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the stuff of legends, as they try not to be, as Woody Guthrie personifies the quest and struggle of the working man
MisterWhiplash27 November 2007
Bound for Glory breaks the trends of the usual bio-pics on musicians because Woody Guthrie, unlike most, sincerely wasn't out for fame in the usual sense. He liked recognition from time to time, and to be able to get his voice out to as many people as he could. But- and this is from the looks of the film and from what else has come up about Guthrie- he never sold out. He wasn't a political figure, but his songs had that driving force of politics, of something inspirational, that couldn't be reached through typical rhetoric. When Guthrie goes through the fields of workers picking artichokes or workers at a factory and he goes on and on singing his protest songs until the bosses beat him up and wreck his guitar, it's about as close as a political act as one has ever seen a singer/musician in a based-on-a-true-story picture. But at the same time Hal Ashby isn't out to make an entirely explicit 'message' heavy movie, even if there is, of course, messages to be taken to heart.

It's about the man himself, and the times and circumstances that drove Woody Guthrie on his own, apart from his family, in mid 1930s depression era America. One could look at the film as an examination of a man caught in such dire times, of a country where the line between rich and poor was so significant there was barely any middle ground. But one can also look at it as the story of a wanderer, someone who- as his protégée Bob Dylan would later make as his proclamation in Like a Rolling Stone "with no direction home"- always felt a little restless. His journey is what really counts and shapes his music and outlook. It almost comes close to what it must be to have faith; if you want to sing, just sing, as Guthrie tells a bunch of kids (a little simplistic but with a kernel of truth), no matter what it's about. To suddenly find more meaning in the songs from the circumstances becomes part of the narrative, of a man who could be a hero in the historical sense while not being the kind of man who would be entirely one to aspire to be. He's happy to just walk down a road and sing his songs for anyone who will hear, as his family leaves him behind and any chance of conventional success floats by the wayside.

It's hard not to make messages in a film where its character in real life once had the ultimate f***-you to the establishment right on his guitar case ("This machine kills fascists"). But it's the high skill of film-making, and the performance at the lead, that enrich what is already potent, awesome material. Haskell Wexler, the late-great cinematographer behind Cuckoo's Nest and Medium Cool, puts his stamp significantly as a work of Americana of the traditionalist sense: a dust-storm is like something both alien and beautiful, while the train scenes are exciting, lush with vibrancy with dirt all around. Ashby, too, has a mark here from his editing days; there's not one transition from scene to scene that doesn't have a fade, making it a step removed from the usual lot of films at the time (even Ashby's) where just a straight cut-to or a jump-cut would suffice. He could've made this film, in the technical sense, twenty years before and it wouldn't of made much of a difference.

And finally, David Carradine. If Kill Bill is the guiltiest pleasure of his career, Bound for Glory is his serious triumph as an actor. He's got that quality, which may or may not have been like the real Guthrie, that sucks a viewer in even when the character does something or says something that shouldn't feel like it's the thing to do as the protagonist of the story. He's a character led solely by his convictions, and Carradine enriches that through the performances of the songs, and his own self-confidence radiating just walking down a road or going to do something out of the goodness of his soul. From every moment he's on screen, as if in some kind of folk-rhythm mode out of Kung-fu, he's mesmerizing, in a performance that should've been nominated along with De Niro, Finch and Giannini in the best actor race (albeit more low-key than the others). Bound for Glory is a blissful epic of conscience, and a kind of eccentric story a man who lacked any cynicism in his being. Plus, of course, the songs are great, as they're played on the spot without any over-dubbing.
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So long. It's been good to know you.
Scott LeBrun2 March 2018
"Bound for Glory" is a very long but utterly engrossing musical biography about an entertainer worth getting to know. That man is Woody Guthrie (David Carradine), a sign painter from Pampa, Texas during the Great Depression era. Determined to make some move away from his hardscrabble existence, and plagued by a case of wanderlust, he takes leave of his family and heads for California. This he did like so many other people of the period who believed that the West Coast held more promise. Inspired by a singer named Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox), he uses his musical talents to give voice to the scores of Americans who were struggling to get by.

It's true that we don't learn a LOT about Guthrie in the course of this two and a half hour long film, but it's still easy to get involved in the story. (Which, other than a scant few people, consists mostly of fictional characters.) It can boast some truly stylish and thoughtful filmmaking, thanks to Oscar winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, screenwriter Robert Getchell (adapting Guthries' autobiography), and renowned director Hal Ashby. It does often look like a painting of this sad chapter in American history, come to life. But it goes far on the spirit of its main character. Carradine, giving the performance of his career, makes Guthrie a good, simple, pleasant person who, in the end, is true to himself. Although he is able to make a good living performing for the radio, he realizes that he has to sacrifice too much integrity in order to please greed-motivated sponsors. He tires of having to deal with people with their own agenda, and gets on the bad side of authority figures who dislike his open support of unions.

Carradine is extremely well supported by a rich gallery of familiar faces, with meatier roles going to Cox, as the likeable Ozark, Melinda Dillon (who plays both the singer Memphis Sue and Guthries' wife Mary), Gail Strickland (as a rich society type who helps to run a soup kitchen), John Lehne, as the disapproving radio boss, Ji-Tu Cumbuka as an upbeat hobo, and Randy Quaid as the frustrated migrant worker Johnson. There's several other people you'll also recognize: David Clennon, Mary Kay Place, M. Emmet Walsh, Brion James, James Hong, Robert Ginty, and Bernie Kopell in an uncredited cameo as Baker the agent.

The soundtrack is, of course, wonderful, with a superb assortment of Guthrie tunes; film composer Leonard Rosenman also won an Oscar for adapting Guthries' music into film score.

Ultimately, this is an uplifting story; it may have some down sides along the way, but it endears itself to us the way that it portrays this entertainer who truly wanted to represent the American people.

Eight out of 10.
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Fictionalized Biography of Folk Hero Woodrow Wilson Guthrie
romanorum120 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
It is 1936 in Pampa, Texas during the oppressive Dust Bowl. Work is hardly available, even for 24 year-old sign-painter Woody Guthrie (David Carradine), who doesn't seem to mind as he spends time with his friends and singing and playing the guitar. Woody's first wife, long-suffering Mary (Melinda Dillon), is most concerned about the lack of cash for the growing family (two little girls thus far). After a dust storm strikes, Woody simply packs up and heads for California, where jobs are supposedly plentiful. He leaves a note for Mary, "Going to California. Will send for you all." Constantly struck with wanderlust (as we shall see), Woody is really a drifter.

So Woody, along with many hobos of the Great Depression, hitchhikes and rides the rails on his journey. By the way, this is the largest migration in US history. Along the way Woody lives in migrant worker camps and "Hoovervilles." Along his travels he meets all kinds of characters, including Slim Snedeger (Ji-Tu Cumbuka) and unionizing folk singer Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox). At a migrant camp Ozark and Woody sing and extort the workers to unionize until thugs arrive and break up the gathering. As Woody observes the miserable plight of many Americans, his social conscience is so raised that he composes and sings many of his folk songs. Note the memorable scene atop a boxcar where Woody plunks away at his guitar while he composes the words to "This Land Is Your Land." Later on there is another set where Woody waltzes into a factory and exhorts the workers to unionize; he is promptly beaten up by security folks.

Ozark Bule helps Woody to get a radio job at KTNS for twenty dollars a week. Most of the mail from listeners is positive, and Woody and singing partner Memphis Sue (Melinda Dillon again) get an offer of thirty-five dollars weekly. Station manager Locke (John Lehne), concerned about his new sponsors, tells Woody not to sing any controversial songs. After all, the sponsors pay for what they want to hear, and they do not want provocative subject matter. But there really is no compromise for Woody. Note that this scene is really inaccurate, as Woody was really advocating support of the Soviet Union. (Then when Russia's Stalin signed the August 1939 non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, the leftists were stunned and . . . Oh, never mind!)

An agent, Baker (Bernie Kopell), plans on getting Woody an offer to play for CBS as long as his songs are not controversial. No thanks! And as there is no middle ground, it is time for the detached Woody to move on. Ultimately Woody will work his way to New York where there are many people and unions who will hear the message of his music. Woody is destined to gain even greater acclaim than previously.

The movie focus is on a slice of Woody's life (1936-1940), loosely based upon his 1943 autobiography. The famous folk singer-songwriter and musician is flawed and neglectful of his family, even after he relocates them to California. Although married, he was a notorious womanizer. In his real life the detached Woody had three wives and seven children (son Arlo was not born until 1947). But Woody inspired folks who had nothing except hope; he said one's skin color is not important. Despite his defects he remained idealistic and gave up various monetary offers. Still, he was not an easy man to live with.

The songs, performed by David Carradine, include "This Train Is Bound for Glory," "Talking Dust Bowl Blues," "I Ain't Got No Home," and of course the famous "This Land Is Your Land." The feature may be slow-paced, but there are also impressive golden-colored cinematography and scenic views. There are also authentic and stunning period details, like the shabby frame houses and jalopies. The acting is natural; Carradine is very good as the folk singer who never surrenders his deeply felt convictions. In fact in this movie Carradine is Woody. "Bound for Glory" received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but understandably lost out to "Rocky," a "top 100 of all time" movie.
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The True Meaning of 'Folk' Music
dungeonstudio22 January 2015
Till I saw this movie, I always viewed 'folk music' as tree hugging save the world hippy happy tunes. But from this movie I now understand the emphasis on 'folk'. And really it's not too different from 'punk'. Woody sang about the people he was singing to. Hardships and hopes. Decency before profit. And how great America is, even when America wasn't doing so great. Hal Ashby put's a 'grit' not only into, but onto the film. I could literally feel the dust and grime on me as I watched. And say what you will about David Carradine being a cantankerous S.O.B., but he was cast and played Woody perfectly. To steal a line from Dr. Strangelove - "Woody is a man of the people. But he's also a 'man', if you follow my meaning..." And Ronny Cox I thought was stellar in his performance. All in all, the movie gives me great appreciation for the depiction of Woody, the depression era, and the unsung brilliance of Hal Ashby and the cast. A must have for anyone that's into music, sociology, history, and/or just great film making!
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