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Paramount Studios presents
"I wouldn't take you to a dogfight if you was the defending champ!"
DVD ReviewJack Nicholson directed and starred in 1978's Goin' South, just a few short years before he gave perhaps the finest over-the-top performance of his career in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. It seems appropriate that he preceded that great work with an exaggerated character with such intolerable mugging and eye bugging in this film. Perhaps he's the kind of actor that needs a strong director to keep him in check. Apparently he wasn't up to the job.
Nicholson plays Harry Moon, a petty thief in the old west, who is sentenced to hang but miraculously saved by a loophole that says a man's life will be spared if a woman from the town will marry him. The unfortunate lass is Julia (Mary Steenburgen, in her inauspicious film debut), who has her own reasons for marrying Moon—she needs him to help her mine for gold on her ranch. The rest of the film plays out just as you'd expect, with various schemes to steal the gold being thwarted, and a blooming love between the unlikely pair. And then they all die. No, wait, romantic comedies arenít allowed to surprise the audience like that.
Goin' South is certainly a unique blend of three genres, but it doesn't really succeed at any of them. As a western, it falls flat with unconvincing settings and unimaginative use of scenery. As a romance, it feels trite and telegraphed. And as a comedy, it isn't funny, which is a big negative in that column. Sure, there are moments of amusement (witness one of Harry's potential brides dropping dead of a heart attack just after agreeing to save his life), and certain characters are memorable (Julia is charming and Christopher Lloyd's deputy character is worth a chuckle or two), but there isn't much to gain from wading through nearly two hours of muck for a couple of tiny gems.
Perhaps the biggest problem is Nicholson himself (though the script, from four different writers, is no prize). He's got an ego, to be sure, and perhaps he's allowed that, recognized even in the 1970s as one of the notable actors of his generation. But in Goin' South, he's obviously making all the creative decisions, and his inoffensive but leisurely-to-a-fault direction is overshadowed by his manic performance. Hair frizzed, tongue waggling, Nicholson is so busy acting like a lunatic that he doesn't realize he looks like one.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: Image quality looks only OK for a catalogue title of this vintage. Colors are a bit washed out but generally stable. Blacks are intermittently strong, though shadow detail could be better. Print flaws aren't a major problem, though they do pop up here and there, and quite a bit of grain is visible. The image is a little soft overall, but that seems to have more to do with the way the film was shot. Edge enhancement is often apparent, and will likely distract those who notice such things. I noted some shimmer on complex patterns here and there (probably due to the film grain), but nothing major.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: The original mono mix is preserved on DVD, and it sounds rather poor even as mono mixes go. Dialogue is usually clear, but at times becomes difficult to understand or muffled, especially if a lot is going on in the scene. Music is well placed in the mix so as not to overpower other elements, though fidelity could be a better. Audio effects tend to sound a little flat for my liking.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: No extras are offered save English subtitles and an inadequate 12 chapter stops.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsUneven direction and a manic performance from Jack Nicholson make Goin' South something of a chore to sit through. It's a sporadically amusing but miscalculated western take on the romantic comedy genre (or perhaps the other way around), and though it certainly is unique, I wouldn't recommend a purchase of this overpriced and under-featured DVD, except to die-hard fans of the actor or the film.
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