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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Junior Bonner (Blu-ray)
Junior Bonner (Blu-ray)
Kino // PG // October 31, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 14, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie

Action movie legend Steve McQueen is Junior Bonner. Junior is an aging rodeo star who has seen better days. He heads back to Prescott, where he was raised, to take part in the annual 4th of July Frontier Days Celebration. Here he'll have a rematch with a bull he was previously thrown from. When he gets back to Prescott, he once again has to deal with his messed up family. His father, Ace (Robert Preston), is obsessed with heading to Alaska to find gold. His brother, Curly (played by the coolest cowboy ever, Joe Don Baker), is bound and determined to make his fortune in real estate. Junior just kind of falls somewhere else and is content to do his own thing, but is there still a place in the world for men like him? He seems almost old fashioned compared to everyone around him.

Coming from a director who was nicknamed 'Bloody Sam' because of his penchant for onscreen violence, Juinor Bonner is surprisingly restrained and quiet. It has about as much in common with The Wild Bunch, at least on the surface, as it does with something like Porky's. Those going into the movie expecting slow motion gunfights and Mexican whorehouses, both staples in many of his better known films, are bound to be disappointed. There's none of that to be found in this film. It's a quieter, more melancholy Peckinpah we see in this film, though it's a side of him that is no less fascinating than the angrier, chauvinistic renegade we all know and love. Here the director shows excellent control over the material, the pacing is deliberate, maybe even slow in spots, but it's purposeful. Peckinpah is interested in building characters here, rather than staging intense action scenes.

Steve McQueen shines in the lead and while most of us nowadays associate Joe Don Baker with b-movies like Final Justice and Walking Tall (the original, not the Rock infested remake!), he's great in his supporting role as curly. Ida Lupino and Robert Preston are also great as Junior's parents, playing their roles quietly and sympathetically and blending into the cast of characters quite deftly. The characters in this film feel very real, very earnest, thanks to the combination of strong direction and expert acting.

The closest thing in the picture to the sort of stereotypical Peckinpah action associated with much of his output are the rodeo scenes. It's during these scenes that the familiar slow motion photography kicks in to capture the harder edged parts and it's here that the movie really shines visually. The rest of the film isn't hard on the eyes either, with plenty of sweeping long distance shots and some interesting facial close ups as well. This change in shots can and does complement each other and it helps to keep things looking good. Jerry Fielding's score is also excellent, enhancing the mood and atmosphere of the more somber moments in the film and adding to the excitement of others.

So while Junior Bonner isn't Peckinpah's best film, or his most memorable picture, it's no less an interesting one. You don't have to scratch too far beneath the surface to notice that it deals with many of the same themes his more recognized works have also tackled. Here we have a story about alienation, a man fighting against the norm hoping to find his place in the world, and most obviously one of, the director's favorite themes… the death of the old west. It's a film worth reevaluating as it stands as a fascinating comparison piece in contrast to some of Sam Peckinpah's other pictures.

Video:

Junior Bonner makes its Blu-ray debut in North America on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. This transfer would appear to be a pretty accurate representation of the film's theatrical look, there doesn't seem to be any digital manipulation on the transfer at all. As such, we get a nice, film-like appearance. There is a fair bit of grain, sometimes it is fairly dense, but very little in the way of actual print damage resulting in a picture that is quite clean. Skin tones look good and colors appear to be reproduced looking quite natural. Detail is solid, texture and depth are good too. If this stops a step or two short of reference quality it is never the less a pretty massive upgrade over the poor non-anamorphic DVD that came out some time ago in every way that you'd expect it to be. All in all, fans should be quite pleased with the look of the picture on this release.

Audio

Kino give the film the DTS-HD 2.0 treatment. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No issues here, the movie sounds quite good. The score has good presence, the dialogue is generally quite easy to understand (though in some of the busier scenes like the bar sequence there can be a lot going on in the background, intentionally so) and the levels are nicely balanced. Hiss and distortion are never a problem. The sound here is good and again, it advances over the old DVD quite nicely.

Extras:

Carried over from the old MGM DVD is a fully fleshed out and very informative commentary track from Paul Seydor (author of Peckinpah: The Western Films), Garner Simmons (author of Peckinpah: A Portrait In Montage, and David Weddle (author of one of the finest director biographies I've ever had the pleasure of reading, If They Move, Kill'em: The Life And Times Of Sam Peckinpah) and which is moderated by Nick Redman. All three of the principal participants have obviously got a great deal of knowledge to share on their subject making it quite rewarding to listen to. Their enthusiasm for Peckinpah's work and the amount of knowledge given here is admirable.

Also included on the disc are a collection of featurettes, the first and most impressive of which is Passion & Poetry: Rodeo Time, a fifty-six minute long documentary made up of interviews with screenwriter Jeb Rosebrook and a host of former Peckinpah project cast members like Katy Haber, Ali MacGraw, Garner Simmons, L.Q. Jones. Like the other documentary pieces that have come out accompanying other Peckinpah releases on home video under the Passion & Poetry banner, this segment offers a comprehensive and thorough look at the director's work. Understandably, this entry focuses on his work on Junior Bonner and as it plays out we get insight into his creative process, his temperament, what it was like working with him and of course, various thoughts on the film itself.

Also included here are twenty-five minutes of Passion & Poetry Peckinpah Anecdotes wherein we hear from the likes of Earnest Borgnine, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Isela Vega, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, Bo Hopkins and David Warner about the time they all spent working alongside or interacting with the picture's notoriously tempestuous director. Lots of interesting stories here, some more insane than others, but throughout all of this you definitely get the feeling that all involved had a lot of respect for Peckinpah and what he could do when working on material he was excited about. Great stuff. Also on hand is a Junior Bonner Trivia featurette that runs five minutes and features a look at some of the jokes and quick cameos that are contained in the film and a three minute piece called Junior Bonner Remembered that was shot at the 4th Of July Rodeo in 2016.

We also get three still galleries included on the disc: one covering photos taken on the set, a second showcasing various promotional photographs and the third featuring a selection of posters and lobby card artwork. Rounding out the extras on the disc are a US theatrical trailer, two radio spots, a TV spot, bonus trailers for Convoy and Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, menus and chapter selection. Kino has also supplied some nice reversible cover art for this release.

Final Thoughts:

One of Sam Peckinpah's most maligned films gets an excellent special edition Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. The commentary is sure to please Bloody Sam's many fans and the transfer offers a substantial upgrade over the old non-anamorphic DVD release. Add to that a host of new extras and this one is pretty hard to resist if you've got even an inkling of appreciation for either Peckinpah or McQueen. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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