Originally airing on November 23, 1966 on ABC Stage 67 and now made available on DVD thanks to Liberation Hall and the UCLA Library Film & Television Archive, Noon Wine was directed and written by Sam Peckinpah.
At the time, the legendary cantankerous director was a Hollywood outcast — I wonder when the time happened when he made anyone like him or was popular with studios — following the troubled Major Dundee and being fired from The Cincinnati Kid.
Producer Daniel Melnick was a big fan of Peckinpah’s television series The Westerner and his movie Ride the High Country. Producer Martin Ransohoff had fired him from that movie for “vulgarizing the picture” and shooting it in black and white. He replaced him with Norman Jewison and Strother Martin was fired at the same time as Peckinpah.
Melnick thought that it was pretty unfair, so he went against a lot of big names and gave Peckinpah complete freedom. The writer of the book it was based on — part of three stories, including “Old Mortality” and “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” that were in her 1939 Pale Rider, Pale Rider book — Katherine Anne Porter loved what he did with the script.
This was a big hit and saved Peckinpah, leading to his comeback. He was nominated by the Writers Guild for Best Television Adaptation and the Directors Guild of America for Best Television Direction. He did one more TV job — “The Lady Is My Wife” for Bob Hope’s Chrysler Theater — and then wrote Villa Rides and taught a class at UCLA. In 1969, he got to make The Wild Bunch.
Star Jason Robards would keep a personal copy of the film in his private collection, but for half a century, you could only see it at the Library of Congress and the Museum of Broadcasting, I’m so excited that I own this DVD now.
Royal Earle Thompson (Robards) is a dairty farmer in southern Texas, sometime before the 20th century. He talks a great game, but he’s too lazy for farming life. He’s married to Ellie (Olivia de Havilland), who is sick more often than she’s well, and has two young sons named Arthur (Steve Sanders) and Herbert (Peter Robbins). Basically, it could all fall to bits any second until a quiet stranger named Olaf Helton (Per Oscarsson) comes for a job and a place to live.
Nine years later and the farm is thriving, thanks completely to Helton. Everything is perfect now. Perfect until a bounty hunter named Homer T. Hatch (Theodore Bikel) shows up and claims that Olaf is a mental patient. Thompson has a vision of his farming hand being killed, so he grabs an axe and kills Hatch. Helton runs away as Sheriff Barbee (Ben Johnson) and his deputy (L.Q. Jones) arrive.
Thompson is found not guilty but he may as well have been convicted. Even his own wife fears him and his sons want nothing to do with him. He writes a letter at the close, saying that it was all his fault, not Helton, saying he only wanted to defend his friend.
Peckinpah didn’t think that De Havilland was convincing in the closing moments of the film. He had a plan, however. He asked the cameraman to keep shooting the next scene. After he said cut, he told her that she was a nasty actress. Her reaction is what’s in the film.
In the book, Thompson kills himself with aa shotgun. How amazing is it that we don’t see that in Peckinpah’s film after the excesses that he’d unleash on audiences in a few years?
I loved the Liberation Hall release of this, as it has two versions, one with the original commercials that aired back in 1966. It gave me a time machine feeling and man, this movie is something else, a nuanced take on a story that draws you in and holds you for the entire length of this movie.
You can get this from MVD.