Goin’ South (1978)

“I ain’t no slab of meat to be auctioned off — but what the hell!”

Goin South Poster

Synopsis:
A horse thief (Jack Nicholson) is saved from hanging by a woman (Mary Steenburgen) who agrees to marry him in exchange for his help as a laborer. Soon the two are falling in love — but when Nicholson’s old gang members learn that he’s found gold, trouble ensues.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary’s a fan of this “amiable comedy-western” — directed by and starring Jack Nicholson — which he notes is a “nice change of pace for western fans”. The story starts off with a humorous bang, as Nicholson’s “slovenly outlaw” — nearly across the border into Mexico — is dragged back into town for a hanging, and is saved literally in the nick of time by Steenburgen, who wants his help with mining for gold before the Big Bad Railroad wields eminent domain and takes over her land. The bulk of the story centers on the developing romance between “the animated, bearded Nicholson” (who basically plays a variation on his “crazed iconoclast” archetype) and “stiff, reticent Steenburgen” (who’s both charming and coy in her screen debut) — but we aren’t given enough information about Steenburgen’s background (why is she so eager to move to Philadelphia with her newfound wealth?), and there are some disturbing hints of rape-like encounters between the two individuals, thus marring their development into what Peary labels “a likable couple”. In addition, a cast of soon-to-be big names (including John Belushi, Danny De Vito, and Christopher Lloyd) are given far too little screentime or character development: Lloyd’s would-be rivalry for Steenburgen simply fizzles away, while Belushi and De Vito are relegated to roles as small-time accomplices. With that said, Goin’ South does possess some clever comedic dialogue (“I’ll never forget you, Hermine — you was the first woman I didn’t have to pay for”), and the film as a whole is bolstered by Nestor Almendros’ typically stellar cinematography.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The humorous opening sequence
    Goin South Opening
  • Mary Steenburgen as Julia Tate
  • Nestor Almendros’ cinematography

Must See?
No, but it will certainly be of interest to Nicholson fans, and is worth a look simply for Steenburgen’s charming debut.

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One Response to “Goin’ South (1978)”

  1. Not a must.

    Given some undeniable class via DP Almendros (and an appropriately quirky score co-written by Van Dyke Parks), this is nevertheless a rather uninspired comic western – unless one is very easily amused. But it really just kind of…plods along. Very little works here. Nicholson gets to lech ad nauseum, which brings new meaning to the film’s title.

    Those interested in a comic twist on westerns will be much better served by films that are more whole-hog about it, like ‘Blazing Saddles’ or ‘Cannibal! The Musical’. Why settle for half-measures?

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