Sunday, January 24, 2010

On A Peaceful Sunday In The Country

Cinerama released 1974's VENGEANCE IS MINE, a rough Canadian exploitation movie, in the U.S. under its better-known title of SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY. Under any name, it’s a real treat with a terrific layered performance by the great character lead Ernest Borgnine.

Borgnine plays Adam Smith, a simple farmer and church-going man living in the country with his college-age granddaughter Lucy (Hollis McLaren). The whole county is buzzing about the three crooks who knocked over the local bank and killed two tellers. Suspecting the deadly trio may try to hold up at his place, Adam returns home from the Sunday sermon and prepares a rude welcome for his visitors. A real old-fashioned sort, Adam laments the changing world, that things ain’t what they used to be, and while he’s no zealot, he believes in hard work, the fear of God, and solving your own problems, even at the barrel of a shotgun.

Michael J. Pollard (BONNIE AND CLYDE), Louis Zorich (NEWMAN’S LAW), and Cec Linder (Felix Leiter in GOLDFINGER) play the bank robbers, and are almost as good as Borgnine in this. In fact, they go from cold-blooded to darn near sympathetic right quick after Adam decides he doesn’t want to call the sheriff (Al Waxman) right away and teaches the invaders a lesson instead. McLaren, making her film debut, is a nice contrast to Borgnine’s character, a young, progressive college student with a healthy respect for her elders—a respect that degrades in response to her grandfather’s perceived brutality.

As good as VENGEANCE IS MINE is, I can’t help feeling its climax is something of a cop-out. Director John Trent (MIDDLE AGE CRAZY) and his co-writer Robert Maxwell demonstrate a cake-and-eat-it-too attitude towards Adam’s violent actions that left me a little disappointed, as if they wanted to provide suitable punishment for both hero and villain. Which is fine, but I think the film would be more powerful with one fewer corpse at the end, audience’s desire for bloody closure be damned. Because of a certain existential overtone that infects the final scene, I’m not sure Trent doesn’t agree with me.

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