Red Sky at Morning (1971)

“Red sky at morning, sailors take warning…”

Red Sky Poster

Synopsis:
During World War Two, a young teenager (Richard Thomas) whose father (Richard Crenna) has enlisted in the Navy cares for his unstable mother (Claire Bloom) and experiences first love in the desert town of Sagrado, Arizona.

Genres:

Review:
This sincere but disappointing adaptation of Richard Bradstone’s classic coming-of-age tale suffers the fate of so many filmed novels: countless subplots given criminally short shrift, and a host of minor characters who ultimately emerge as little more than caricatures. Throughout the course of the movie, Joshua not only cares for his troubled mother (Bloom), manages the household help (Nehemiah Persoff and Alma Beltran), and befriends an eccentric local artist (Harry Guardino), but is introduced to a host of issues — including troubled race-relations, sex, bullying, and more — at his new high school. For instance, the local twin tarts — colorfully named Venery Ann (Lynna Marta) and Velma Mae (Christina Hart) — aggressively pursue Joshua and his friend Steenie (Desi Arnaz Jr.), much to the ire of their unbelievably hicked out, shotgun-toting father (Strother Martin); meanwhile, Joshua is bullied by a couple of demeaningly stereotypical Chicano hoodlums (Mario Aniov and Pepe Serna), the latter of whom is unnaturally protective of his busty yet religiously pious and naive sister (Victoria Racimo), who goes on to meet an awful fate at the hands of psychopathic Aniov, who flees to the hills and is eventually confronted by the town sheriff (Gregory Sierra)… Well, you get the point.

Thomas — who went on to much greater fame the following year as John-Boy in “The Waltons” — tries hard to create a sympathetic protagonist, but his mannerisms (particularly his tendency to break into nervous laughter while talking) soon become irritating. Claire Bloom as Joshua’s mentally unstable mother evinces a fine southern accent, but her character — all pampered melancholy and low affect — never comes to life. Even more enigmatic is John Colicos as Bloom’s dilettante cousin Jim-Bob, a “professional house guest” who is clearly an irritant to everyone except Bloom, but whose background within the family is never explained; when Joshua finally tells him off during a pivotal scene, it’s an empty victory.

The best performances in the film are given by Joshua’s two closest friends, Steenie (Arnaz Jr.) and Marcia (Catherine Burns). Arnaz Jr. is wonderfully vibrant and amusing here; both his famed parents’ influences are clearly felt. Meanwhile, Burns (who co-starred with Thomas in 1969’s Last Summer) shows an impressive range — as in Last Summer, she’s precocious beyond her years, but here she’s refreshingly self-confident, a fine match for any self-possessed young man. Unfortunately, however, neither of these performances are enough to recommend the film as a whole.

P.S. Note that nearly any review you stumble upon of this film (or the novel it’s based upon) will give away a major plot development which doesn’t occur until the final fourth of the film; be forewarned.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Catherine Burns as Marcia
    Red Sky Burns
  • Desi Arnaz Jr. as Steenie
    Red Sky Arnaz

Must See?
No. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Red Sky at Morning (1971)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    A forgotten film best left forgotten. Absolutely nothing interesting happens. It just goes on and on doing next to nothing at its meandering, lumbering pace. What *does* happen is either pointless or repetitive. Just dull beyond words.

    Things unexpectedly turn sentimental in the last 10 minutes; not particularly earned.

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