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Warner DVD
1972 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen / 103 min. / Street Date January 8, 2008 / 19.98
Starring Rip Torn, Ahna Capri, Elayne Heilveil, Michael C. Gwynne, Jeff Morris, Cliff Emmich, Eleanor Fell, Cara Dunn
Cinematography Richard C. Glouner
Film Editor Richard Halsey
Original Music Ed Bogas, Tommy McKinney, Shel Silverstein, Ian Tyson, Sylvia Tyson
Written by Don Carpenter
Produced by Martin Fink
Directed by Daryl Duke

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Prolific television director Daryl Duke enjoyed a critical hit with Payday, an unusually frank character study of an out-of-control country western star indulging his appetites for liquor, drugs and sex. It features a career-defining performance from Rip Torn -- the actor excels at playing profane, unpredictable wild men, and Payday's Maury Dann is the baddest bad boy of them all.


Singer Maury Dann (Rip Torn) and his band finish a Mississippi booking. While his manager Clarence McGinty (Michael C. Gwynne) haggles to be properly paid, Dann seduces a female fan and the other musicians retire to a motel to drink. Dann spends the rest of the night with his current girlfriend Mayleen Travis (Ahna Capri) but leaves her to go quail hunting with his guitar player Bob Tally (Jeff Morris). A fight over a hunting dog leads to Bob being fired. Dann then connects with the naïve hanger-on Rosamund McClintock (Elayne Heilveil). He invites Rosamund to accompany the band on a road trip to Nashville, much to Mayleen's displeasure. Maury's outrageous behavior annoys Clarence but amuses his loyal chauffeur, Chicago (Cliff Emmich). High on pep pills, Maury makes a side trip to argue with his ex-wife. He also drops in on a local disc jockey, who tries to cajole the singer into making a free public appearance. As they near Nashville, Dann jeopardizes his important bookings by brawling with an abusive drunkard. When Maury's adversary pulls a knife, the ensuing predicament may be too serious for Clarence to smooth over with bribes and payoffs.

Rip Torn's Maury Dann lives for his own immediate gratification. Although a contender for the big time, Dann is too busy running wild to concentrate on his career. Every booking brings in bundles of cash and more star-struck young women for him to lure into the back of his Cadillac. Living out of bottles and a bottomless bag of pills, he's forever pulling irresponsible stunts. Dann makes love to a girl he's known only a few hours right in the moving car, while his girlfriend Mayleen sleeps at their side. When Mayleen or Clarence objects to his outrageous behavior, Dann's favorite response is a wicked, selfish grin. He's convinced that his celebrity exempts him from the rules of living.

Don Carpenter's efficient screenplay exposes Maury Dann as a supreme egoist. The band needs to hurry to Nashville but Dann insists on stopping off to visit his unhappy ex-wife (Eleanor Fell). When the kids aren't home to greet him Maury plays the outraged father, even though he can't even remember how old they are. Maury also alienates his close associates. Furious when contradicted, he fires an old friend over a stupid argument. Mayleen is fed up, and Clarence stays around just for the paycheck. Only Chicago is motivated by personal loyalty, deriving vicarious enjoyment from his boss's sexual conquests.

We get a deeper understanding of Dann's place in the country music food chain when he visits with a local disc jockey Bob Dickey (Earle Trigg) for an impromptu on-air chat. Dann arrives bearing gifts and politely praises Bob's children, acknowledging the DJ's role in getting Maury started in the business. Bob immediately puts the bite on the singer, pushing for a freebie promotional appearance, but Maury begs off by signing some free albums instead. Dann may be spoiled and selfish, but he's not the only user and taker in the music business.

Daryl Duke's able direction allows the cast to make solid impressions. Rip Torn makes Maury Dann's infantile outbursts almost frightening, as when Dann hangs halfway out of his speeding car, firing his gun and howling like a banshee. Ahna Capri is nearly perfect as Mayleen, throwing frustrated fits over Dann's sneering abuse. Young Elayne Heilveil is especially good as the naíve Rosamund, a girl so dumb she thinks she can sleep her way into Maury's good favor. When things go bad, all Rosamund can do is stammer, "I want to go home now." Maury encourages a talentless amateur songwriter (Henry O. Arnold) as a convenient way to retain a free replacement driver. When cornered by a room-full of law officials, Maury discovers that one of them has a talented relative eager for a professional break. The most endearing character is Cliff Emmich's pathetic but loyal Chicago. Dann gets Chicago to take a serious rap for him, a cheap maneuver that unravels Dann's already shaky standing with the law.

The low budget road movie gets high marks for credibility. Although we see Maury Dann perform only once, the film's authentic feel makes scenes at the Grand Ole Opry or on Johnny Cash's TV show unnecessary. Rip Torn does his own singing; some of his songs are written by the multi-talented Shel Silverstein. Payday is a satisfying look at the underside of the music industry and the destructive effects of success.

Warners' DVD of Payday is an excellent enhanced transfer of this finely crafted gem, yet another winner from the 'golden' early 1970s. An effective trailer is included along with a commentary featuring the executive producer Saul Zaentz and director Daryl Duke (The Silent Partner), who passed away in 2006. Duke's voice is weak but he offers several interesting stories and observations. Zaentz starts off well, explaining that his success with Fantasy Records enabled his entry into film production. He then drops that topic, spending the rest of the sparse track on generalities that add little to our understanding of Payday.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Payday rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailer, commentary with Daryl Duke and Saul Zaentz
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 20, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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