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MGM Studios DVD presents
Junior Bonner (1972)

"You might as well face it. You're just not the rider you was a few years back."
- Buck Roan (Ben Johnson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 09, 2004

Stars: Steve McQueen, Robert Preston, Ida Lupino, Ben Johnson, Joe Don Baker
Other Stars: Barbara Leigh, Mary Murphy, Sandra Deel, Dub Taylor, William McKinley, Donald Barry, Charles Gray
Director: Sam Peckinpah

Manufacturer: Laser Pacific
MPAA Rating: PG for (violence, some language, rodeo footage)
Run Time: 01h:40m:17s
Release Date: May 25, 2004
UPC: 027616905765
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+C+C+ B-

DVD Review

Director Sam Peckinpah garnered quite a bit of notoriety for his deconstruction of the Old West in The Wild Bunch. He wasn't quite finished with the idiom, however, and returned to the New West with his 1972 drama, Junior Bonner, a moving tale of family, loss and broken dreams set against the anachronisms of western life.

Steve McQueen handles the title role of Junior Bonner (or J.R. Bonner; both names are used and it's not quite clear which is right), a former rodeo champion down on his luck who comes back to his hometown of Prescott, Arizona in 1971 for the July 4th Frontier Days Rodeo. His father Ace (Robert Preston), also a former champion himself, has sold off the family homestead to son Curly (Joe Don Baker), who is subdividing the land into a garish mobile home park. Ace talks big, going on about prospecting for silver and gold, but manages to blow his money before he gets anywhere. Junior does his best to live up to his father's reputation, but must deal with Buck Roan's prize Brahma bull, Old Sunshine, which threw him off the last time they met.

Where The Wild Bunch was violent to an extreme, Junior Bonner brings to life a West that is more than anything sad and degraded. The rodeo has become little more than a circus, and the Bonner family has essentially disintegrated for a variety of reasons. Ace is sucked into his dreams, his ex-wife (Ida Lupino) vacillates between bitter and bemused observer, Curly is blinded by everything but money, and Junior can't deal with any of them on any sustained basis.

McQueen is perfectly suited to the character of Junior Bonner, his image melding precisely with the taciturn and stoic nature of the faded rodeo star. Preston similarly brings Ace to a credible life as the dreamer who refuses to take no for an answer. The supporting cast works well too, though Joe Don Baker is occasionally a little over the top in his portrayal of Curly. Barbara Leigh serves as a perfunctory love interest for Bonner, though she doesn't get to do much but be easy on the eyes.

The script gets a bit heavy-handed with its use of symbols. The Western setting already makes it clear that it's meant to be a metaphor for America; the Fourth of July date makes the point a bit strong. While Old Sunshine is a powerful symbol of the forces that are working against the Bonners, the final confrontation feels a bit pat and doesn't quite have the impact that it ought to.

What makes the film worth watching even for those with zero interest in the rodeo is Peckinpah's technique. He uses some flashy editing to play with time, melding the past and the present into a collage that tells the story out of order but with perfect clarity. The bull riding episodes, taking eight seconds in story time, fill the screen for many times that length, as tenths of seconds crawl by with agonizing slowness. Split screens are also used to advantage, sculpting the 2.35:1 frame to good effect.

Quieter and more contemplative than most Peckinpah films, (though there is an overly-long barroom fight for the testosterone-charged), the artistic merits of the picture make it well worth seeking out. Sensitive viewers should be aware that there is substantial real rodeo footage though no animals appear to actually be injured onscreen.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This film was previously released on DVD by Anchor Bay, and MGM doesn't seem to have done a new transfer to improve on that OOP disc. That's too bad, because the nonanamorphic transfer is soft, lacking in detail and definition, with significant aliasing. In an attempt to make it look better, further damage is done by the addition of substantial edge enhancement that results in unsightly ringing. On the other hand, the source is a nearly pristine print, with vivid color much of the time (and a bit muted at others). Had it been given a new anamorphic transfer, without the edge enhancement, this could have been beautiful. As it stands, it's merely adequate.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono track has decent definition, though it is moderately hissy. Thundering hooves of horses and cattle have surprisingly high impact here, despite the lack of an LFE track. Dialogue is quite clear throughout, and the music sounds fairly natural albeit lacking in any sort of deep bass.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Peckinpah authors Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extra is a full-length screen specific commentary that features not one but three Peckinpah biographers. They're recorded together, which allows for some interesting conversation among them and keeps things from getting dull. Plenty of details and anecdotes about Peckinpah's career are doled out and a fair amount of technical detail about the picture are included as well. Chaptering is rather thin, however.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Peckinpah meditates on the decay of the West in this unsung classic. Unfortunately, a recycled transfer makes it not as good as it could be, but the commentary's worth a listen.


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