Essentially a cannily observed mood piece this film concerns the situation of J.R Bonner (the hugely underrated Steve McQueen) a middle-aging champion bull rider down on his luck and returning home. Home is smalltown Prescott Arizona where Bonner a somewhat laconic loner is planning to participate in a local rodeo event and also check in on his estranged family especially his temporarily hospitalized dad Ace (Robert Preston in magnificent feisty form). The remaining members of J R's dysfunctional clan comprise brother Curly (Joe Don Baker} an absurdly suburban cowboy who cheesily promotes a franchise of Ranchero mobile homes and perhaps most significantly Bonner's mother Elvira who s got the bottom-line lowdown on just about everybody and who's played with almost painfully open eyed passion by Ida Lupino in her last really great role. If anything Lupino s Eivira (or Elly) constitutes a kind of one-woman chorus commenting from the bleachers on the perilously self deluding macho fantasies being enacted by her wayward husband and wandering eldest son. Elly's insights are pithy and punchy one exchange between her and Ace quite literally so and thanks to the talents of Preston and Lupino resounding as much with exasperated anger as a deep despairing love. A special moment from a special performer-director giving her all to a small but vital part.
Junior Bonner is Sam Peckmpah's deceptively modest corpse free, rodeo comedy drama which begins as a pleasantly diverting procedural Western. It then develops into a heart rending critique of a primarily masculinist cultural myth thats fading into industrialised redundancy and oblivion. Thankfully like the film's legendary ornery director the principal heroes of this autumnally contemporary fable refuse to go very gently into any good night...(PK)