Junior Bonner is a 1972 film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Steve McQueen, Joe Don Baker, Robert Preston and Ida Lupino. The film focuses on a veteran rodeo rider as he returns to his hometown of Prescott, Arizona, to participate in an annual rodeo competition and reunite with his brother and estranged parents. Many critics consider it to be the warmest and most gentle of Peckinpah's films.
U.S. film poster
|Directed by||Sam Peckinpah|
|Produced by||Joe Wizan|
|Written by||Jeb Rosebrook|
Joe Don Baker
|Music by||Jerry Fielding|
|Edited by||Frank Santillo|
Robert L. Wolfe
Joe Wizan-Booth Gardner Productions
|Box office||$2.8 million|
Junior "JR" Bonner is a rodeo rider who is slightly "over the hill". Junior is first seen taping up his injuries after an unsuccessful ride on an ornery bull named Sunshine.
He returns home to Prescott, Arizona, for the Independence Day parade and rodeo. When he arrives, the Bonner family home is being bulldozed by his younger brother Curly, an entrepreneur and real-estate developer, in order to build a trailer park. Junior's womanizing, good-for-nothing father, Ace, and down-to-earth, long-suffering mother, Elvira, are estranged. (Note: both Preston and Lupino were born in 1918, making them just twelve years older than McQueen.) Ace dreams of emigrating to Australia to rear sheep and mine gold, but he fails to obtain financing from Junior, who is broke, and refuses to ask Curly for it.
After flooring his arrogant brother with a punch, Junior bribes rodeo owner Buck Roan to let him ride Sunshine again, promising him half the prize money. Buck thinks he must be crazy but Junior actually manages to pull it off this time, going the full eight seconds on the bull.
Junior walks into a travel agent's office and buys his father a one-way, first-class ticket to Australia. The film's final shot shows JR leaving his hometown, his successful ride on Sunshine continuing to put off the inevitable end of his career.
- Steve McQueen as Junior 'J.R.' Bonner
- Robert Preston as Ace Bonner
- Ida Lupino as Elvira Bonner
- Ben Johnson as Buck Roan
- Joe Don Baker as Curly Bonner
- Barbara Leigh as Charmagne
- Mary Murphy as Ruth Bonner
- Bill McKinney as Red Terwiliger
- Dub Taylor as Del
- Sandra Deel as Nurse Arlis
- Don "Red" Barry as Homer Rutledge
- Charles H. Gray as Burt
The story explores one of Sam Peckinpah's favorite themes - the end of a traditional form of honor and the arrival of modern capitalism on the western frontier. In a memorable scene, Ace and Junior escape from the rodeo parade on Junior's horse, ending up at a deserted railway station where they drink and despair at the state of the world and their indigency. The film has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the mid-2000s because of retrospectives of Sam Peckinpah's work and the screenplay's predictions regarding capitalist development.
In May 1971, weeks after completing Straw Dogs in England, Sam Peckinpah returned to the United States to begin immediate work on Junior Bonner. The lyrical screenplay by Jeb Rosebrook, depicting the changing times of society and binding family ties, appealed to Peckinpah's tastes. He accepted the project, concerned with being typed as a director of violent action (at the time, The Wild Bunch was his most renowned film and Straw Dogs was in preparation to be released to theaters). Junior Bonner would be his final attempt to make a low-key, dramatic work in the vein of Noon Wine (1966) and The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970).
Filmed on location in Prescott, Arizona, Peckinpah utilized many colorful locales and residents as extras in the film.
Due to a glut of rodeo-themed films released at that time, including The Honkers (1972), J.W. Coop (1972) and When the Legends Die (1972), Junior Bonner fell through the cracks and performed poorly at the box office. It earned rentals of $1.9 million in North America and $900,000 in other countries, recording an overall loss of $2,820,000.
Though the film was unwisely promoted as a typical Steve McQueen action vehicle, critical reception was still fairly good, but not enthusiastic. Peckinpah would remark, "I made a film where nobody got shot and nobody went to see it." Stinging from the financial failure of Junior Bonner but eager to work with Peckinpah again, McQueen presented him Walter Hill's screenplay to The Getaway, which they would film months after completing Junior Bonner. The second collaboration proved to be a financially successful one, as the action film would become one of the biggest box office successes of their careers.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and called it "a flat-out disappointment, despite Peckinpah’s track record and his proven ability to elegize the West...the movie simply never comes together and works as a whole. The material is terribly thin." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote "'Junior Bonner,' which looks like a rodeo film and sounds like a rodeo film, is a superior family comedy in disguise." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote "The latterday film genre of misunderstood-rodeo-drifter gets one of its best expositions in 'Junior Bonner,' Sam Peckinpah's latest film, which makes another of his occasional shifts away from the bloodbath. Steve McQueen stars handily in the title role, with Robert Preston and Ida Lupino returning to pix in excellent well-turned characterizations as his estranged parents." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and noted "A decent picture from a fine director." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote "This lively, affectionate contemporary western, which stars Steve McQueen in one of his finest performances, is one of the most enjoyable pictures Peckinpah has ever made and surely is his most appealing. What's more, it marks the return to the screen of Robert Preston and Ida Lupino, who also are at their best." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post stated that McQueen was given "precious little written character to play or emotion to express" and that the film was "easy to take, yet so insubstantial that there's no compelling reason to see or remember it. The film sort of drifts across the screen and fades from your mind an instant later."
Junior Bonner was released to DVD on May 25, 2004 by MGM Home Entertainment as a Region 1 widescreen DVD and on May 17, 2005 as a part of the box set The Steve McQueen Collection, with Junior Bonner as the fourth movie of a 4-disc set. The film was released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber on November 6, 2017.
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- Thomas, Kevin (June 21, 1972). "Gentle Western From Peckinpah". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
- Arnold, Gary (July 15, 1972). "An Unfinished Sketch". The Washington Post. C7.