HONKY TONK MAN is Clint Eastwood’s third-worst performing film, in terms of bringing in the money sheaves, doing around $4,500,000. Only Bird and White Hunter, Black Heart made less. Rather a shame, as this 1982 pic is a fine little slice-of-life period drama, one he directed with warmth, and produced with attention to detail.
The story concerns a fella named Red Stovall, a boozed-up, consumption-wracked, almost-was country singer who makes one last stab at glory in Nashville, circa 1937. Fame-er-bust entails a cross-country drive from dust-bowled Oklahoma, accompanied by his adolescent nephew, and the boy’s grandpa, the two of them making a break from a bleak future just as desperately as Red.
Clint’s son, Kyle, does a remarkably unmannered, honest turn as the boy; he acts like he was born to it. John McIntire, always excellent, little used since the mid 60s, adds flavor as the old man. Eastwood’s handling of supporting actors is astute, best bit going to Barry Corbin as a good ‘ol sleazeball. C&W fans will catch quick glimpses of Marty Robbins, Ray Price and Porter Waggoner.
Critics approved, but the film failed at the tills, as Eastwood’s action fan-base seemed disinterested in seeing their bad-ass in a story that smacked of corn and sentiment; some shying away thinking the effort might be another bore like Bronco Billy, others fearing a dolt-wallow like Any Which Way You Can. It’s a nice surprise, as it has humor and drama, people to care about, and an excellent job from Clint as the wayward, woebegone hero. McIntire’s moment of glorious reflection on the Oklahoma Land Rush of his youth is a gem, just one of a number of nice scenes in a good film. Check it out. It runs 122 minutes, and features Alexa Kenin, Verna Bloom, Matt Clark and Tim Thomerson.