GOING HOME (Herbert B. Leonard, 1971)

One of the things I like most about Going Home, a small, independent American “slice of life” filmed on location in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, a depressed suburb of Pittsburgh, is its dialogue. Superlatively written by Lawrence B. Marcus (Petulia, Richard Lester, 1968), the film captures not only the way people talk but the blank, silent spaces between their words, along with unfinished sentences—the way in which ordinary language is used to conceal thoughts and feelings as well as reveal them.

The mainspring of the plot is potent, heartrending. A six-year-old child witnesses his father kill his mother; thirteen years later, atter he is released from prison, Harry Graham and Jimmy, who is now 19, tentatively begin to restore some semblance of a relationship between them, encouraged by Harry’s younger girlfriend, Jenny. Harry and Jenny each lives in a trailer. The humanity of these characters and of this film will purge any viewer’s vocabulary of the expression “trailer trash.”

At one point, Harry admits to Jenny, whom he marries, that he drunkenly killed Jimmy’s mother, Ann (Sally Kirkland, vivid), “for nothing”—that his sister had manipulated him with false reports of Ann’s infidelity when he returned home from the service. Jimmy desperately wants to know what happened. His father simultaneously tells and hides the truth, which he has tailored to fit the boy’s vulnerability: “I got drunk, and I killed her.” Jimmy asks, “What happens next?” Harry, holding onto a shrug: “You turn twenty.”

How I love Robert Mitchum! He took the assignment of Harry Graham right after playing Charles Shaughnessy in David Lean’s 70mm superproduction of Ryan’s Daughter (1970); the humility of Harry is an irresistible component of Mitchum’s thoroughly lived-in, bone-deep performance, perhaps the finest of his long, interesting career. The laconic star forever after insisted he was drunk when he signed on for this role, that he didn’t know what he was doing. All one has to do is watch him as Harry to know he knew exactly what he was doing.

Brenda Vaccaro is excellent as Jenny, and Jimmy’s Oedipal rape of Jenny makes for an especially powerful scene—one of the few highlights of Herbert B. Leonard’s mostly monotonous direction. Jan-Michael Vincent, despite a Golden Globe nomination, is a washout as Jimmy at 19; all manufactured “sensitivity,” he is too timid to take the plunge, get a grip and play his brutalized character from the inside out.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.

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