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Goin' South

Goin' South
Paramount Home Video
1978 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 105 min. / Street Date February 12. 2002 / $24.99
Starring Jack Nicholson, Mary Steenburgen, Christopher Lloyd, John Belushi, Veronica Cartwright, Richard Bradford, Jeff Morris, Danny DeVito
Cinematography Néstor Almendros
Production Designer Toby Carr Rafelson
Film Editor John Fitzgerald Beck, Richard Chew
Original Music Perry Botkin Jr., Van Dyke Parks
Written by John Herman Shaner & Al Ramrus and Charles Shyer & Alan Mandel
Produced by Harry Gittes, Harold Schneider
Directed by Jack Nicholson

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

An amusing comedy that never hits its stride, Goin' South has an opening so hilarious, everything that follows seems like a letdown. Broad and loud Jack Nicholson directs himself well but the rest of his show doesn't get the same attention. The delightful Mary Steenburgen puts in a fine first performance, but the majority of the talented cast have little to do, especially John Belushi.


Unrepentant thief Henry Moon (Jack Nicholson) is on his way to the gallows. When his old gang arrives for the spectacle, it's just as spectators. But able bodies are so scarce in this frontier town that a condemned man can be saved if a woman of property will marry him, so Henry is overjoyed when Julia Tate (Mary Steenburgen) steps up with an offer. It's no honeymoon, as Julia has plans to put Henry to work in her speculative gold mine. He's soon looking for the right moment to sneak away, while putting up with the neighbors and the vindictive sheriff Towfield (Christopher Lloyd).

The first reel of Goin' South is the funniest ten minutes of 1978. His neck almost in the noose, Jack Nicholson finds out that any of the old crones who've been visiting the jail could have saved his skin, and suddenly becomes bachelor # Zero in a gallows Dating Game. Several hilarious reversals later, the story settles into a battle of wills between the always-eager outlaw and the reserved Julia Tate, that never really comes together. Nicholson mugs a lot, but that's in keeping with the scruffy character he plays. Mary Steenburgen is subdued but charming in her debut role. She has more chance to be adorable in the next year's Time After Time.

The story is on the slack side, mainly because the main plot twist, finding gold in Julia's mine, isn't much of a surprise. We also aren't told why the railroad and the land office agent are taking her property. There's some interesting detail, such as Moon's reaction to Julia's habit of hanging chairs on the wall when not in use, but the show doesn't build enough on its characters - what we know about Henry Moon, we've already learned in the first scene. Most of the actors are well-cast, except for the lazy idea of making 'Killer Bee from South of the Border' John Belushi into a Mexican deputy. It's his debut feature role too; he's neither interesting nor funny, but at least he's allowed some presence. Danny DeVito is almost unrecognizable as a bandit, and is barely in the film. The same goes for Jeff Morris and Veronica Cartwright, whose outlawry is never very strongly established. Even Chris Lloyd's substantial role as the sheriff lacks a payoff, unless you count getting drenched by a tub of horse urine as his big scene.

Just the same, Goin' South is consistently amusing all the way through, and better than that if you're a Jack Nicholson fan. Whether or not he's a great director (The Two Jakes is also very uneven) is arguable, but Nicholson's a loyal pal - he gives a part to the lovely Luana Anders, a co-aspirant from his early AIP days.

Paramount's DVD of Goin' South is a bit grainy-looking but is otherwise a brightly-colored, clean rendering of Nestor Almendros' handsomely photographed original. As a DVD, it's as plain-wrap as they come. There's a disclaimer on the back saying that the special features are not rated. There aren't any to rate.

Seeing 'Harry Gittes' credited as a producer on the show prompted Savant to run to the IMDB to check if it wasn't just a pseudonym for Nicholson, who of course played Jake Gittes in Chinatown. No, Gittes seems to have several more credits. Another pointless Savant theory, shot down.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Goin' South rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: None
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: July 20, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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