Guilty Pleasure Random Movie Review: MacKintosh and TJ
It is a time of decaying innocence and casually-unspoken danger–somewhere between the first color tv and helmets for children’s bike rides. A middle-aged drifter, living out of a pickup truck with a leaky radiator and a shotgun in the rear window, happens upon a 14-year-old vagrant shoplifter with a Dick and Jane education and a mother in the past tense who “Sure could pick ‘em.” With (to the modern viewer) shocking nonchalance, the drifter takes on the boy as a fellow traveler. The baby-faced vagrant, hair to his shoulders, his only possessions an open can of peaches and a filthy Caterpillar trucker cap, is looking for a ride and whatever’s around the next corner in the vastness of west Texas–a land with no turns and horizon in all four directions. The drifter used to feel the same way about looking around corners, he says, but reckons that’s what age does–”takes the tang out of your vinegar.”
The drifter is played by a 64-year-old Roy Rogers (his previous leading role 20-plus years gone), the writer is Hollywood veteran Paul Savage (“Gunsmoke,” “Streets of San Francisco,” “77 Sunset Strip”), and the soundtrack is by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Serious, steady-handed director Marvin J. Chomsky (3 Emmys) leads the way as soberly and gently (this is a compliment) as a “Walton’s” episode, allowing tension to build.
When the two are busted broke, they pull up to the nearest ranch, and through the drifter’s cowboy skills and the youngster’s work ethic, manage to stay on for a time, gathering their individual stakes. It isn’t easy. The aging cowboy needs a girdle to keep his innards together while busting broncs, and the boy is taunted by the raunchy cowhands and relegated to cleaning impossible filths. But the work is honest and they can see their separate goals: the drifter figures he’ll move on and turn north at some point; the urchin wants to see the Pacific. [Of note for nerds: the ranch is no forsaken plot of bare earth; it is The Four 6’s (brand 6666), featured in its modern form in Yellowstone, with the history of the ranch recently optioned as a spin-off of the growing Paramount+ empire.]
Natural goodness is exemplified by the drifting gentleman MacKintosh (Rogers) and the tough-talking but thoughtful and hardworking TJ (Clay O’Brien, child actor and adult genuine working cowboy and rodeo competitor). Their simple decency, contrasted with the subtle (but not that subtle) presence of evil (subplots include a lecherous peeping-tom, a jealous meddler, and a rabies outbreak) and the simple whims of fate (the boy’s abandonment by a heart-broken mother; the drifter’s loss of wife and son in a car accident), carries us well into the second hour. Chomsky softly, inexorably prods the viewer to a brief period of stasis–a feeling pleasant enough, neither boredom nor thrill, and, of course, temporary. The violent events of the turning point and resolution follow quickly.
The deus ex machina is a literal machine that lowers the tidy resolution from above (I don’t think I ruin anything with this clue). But will the God be kind or cruel?
You’ll have to watch to know for certain. (The film’s one unforgivable flaw is that the soundtrack interferes and gives this away about 30 seconds too soon.)
On the one hand, by the time of the film’s setting and release (1975) the age of the “revisionist” western had taken some glow off the tales of the West, and concluding events could easily go south. Then again, the crusty old bronc-buster can win a knife fight handily (without a knife), and when he threatens to beat a man within an inch of his life, you know he means it and will do it (a threat, not the beating, as he won’t fight a drunk); he unabashedly instructs the youngster on bunkhouse pin-up pornography from the point of view of a real man; and he shamelessly opens broken ranch gates for the ladies. This is the actual Roy Rogers, resurrected, for crying out loud. How do you take the glow off of that?
Someone on my Facebook account or in a former book club or grad school class is hearing the words “toxic masculinity” screaming in their head, and they don’t know why… Yes. I hear it, too. And my long-past undergrad self, deep in a Women in Lit class, is sending forward in time a pink Post-It Note that says “woman=victim” and an equally bright yellow jotting that says “Androcentric!!!” But, well–that just goes to show my guilt is genuine. Let me just say: I’ve never believed that Shakespeare’s Shylock isn’t a gross caricature, but I still think The Merchant of Venice is profound. In the same vein, I say: its historical faults noted, MacKintosh and TJ is a solid Saturday afternoon pleasure.
This iconic 70s flick with a legendary star at the height (and the end) of a career scores high: 3/5 for guilt, a Cheesy-Grin Emoji for pleasure, and a Summer-Satisfaction thumbs-up.
It is available for free on Fawesome and Tubi streaming services.
~ Greta Ode ~
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