Goin' South (1978)

If ya wanna get saved, ya gotta get hitched

Henry Moon is captured for a capital offense by a posse when his horse quits while trying to escape to Mexico. He finds that there is a post-Civil War law in the small town that any single or widowed woman can save him from the gallows by marrying him.

Your wife will have to do that. Us ordinance husbands aren't allowed to.
Going' South is directed by Jack Nicholson who also stars. It's co- written by John Herman Schneider, Al Ramrus, Charles Shyer and Alan Mandel. Co-starring with Nicholson is Mary Steenburgen and Christopher Lloyd. Music is by Perry Botkin Junior and cinematography by Nestor Almendros.
1866, Longhorn, Texas and plot finds Nicholson as Henry Lloyd Moon, a small time outlaw who is captured and sentenced to hang. But a strange ordinance from Civil War days allows a condemned man to escape the gallows if an unmarried lady of the town is prepared to take him as a husband. Enter Julie Tate (Steenburgen), a virginal lady who is poles apart from the crude and scruffy Moon, who takes him in purely to help her work in the mine on her land that she insists contains gold. Could these two opposites actually develop a relationship? Can there be trust there? Will Moon survive the wrath of vengeful deputy Towfield (Lloyd) who believes Moon stole his gal?
Barely noticed upon release, where few critics of the day were prepared to give it some credit, Jack Nicholson's second film as a director found a firm fan base down in the cult basement. The advent of DVD has seen it get more exposure to film fans and critics and its stock has risen. Yes! It's still a bit too off-beat for some, the quirky comedy Western has always struggled to get mainstream praise anyway, but viewing these days it plays out as enjoyable fare whilst simultaneously giving us early glimpses of future stars of film.
In truth the film's comedic high points come in the first quarter and Nicholson strains to reach those heights again. Once the odd couple retreat to the genteel out of the way matrimonial home, the simple premise takes over and the couple engage in a battle of wills between horny beast and angelic being. On the edges of the frame popping in to view from time to time are hostile railroad officials putting the squeeze on Julia as they want her land, deputy Towfield and his cronies and Moon's old gang, the latter of which provides the catalyst for chaos. Sometimes crude, sometimes silly, the film does retain amusing worth throughout, with some zippy lines that remain quotable. Nicholson and Steenburgen are perfect foil for each other, so it's well performed and it also looks nice thanks to Almendros' photography.
The likes of John Belushi, Danny DeVito, Veronica Cartwright and Tracey Walter are in the support slots, none of whom get time enough to really impact upon the proceedings as their fans would like. It's interesting to see Lloyd and Steenburgen working together in the genre this early, because they would reteam in the Western themed third part of the Back to the Future trilogy 12 years later. While further continuation novelty sees Lloyd, DeVito and Nicholson back together after working on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 75. DeVito would swap chairs with Nicholson and direct the star in Hoffa in 1992.
More a amiable smile inducer than a side splitter, Going' South is worth seeking out if you have a kink for off-beat Oaters. 7/10

Paramount by Jack Nicholson, John Herman Shaner, Al Ramrus, Charles Shyer, Alan Mandel.
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Mary Steenburgen, Christopher Lloyd, John Belushi.

Genres: Comedy, Crime, Romance, Western

Keywords: gold rush violence

10/06/1978

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