[Originally published in Movietone News 45, November 1975]
Anyone seeking evidence that more writers should turn director ought to consider Tom McGuane in quarantine. 92 in the Shade has about as much structure and consistency, not to say appeal, as an ice cream sandwich that has lain in the sun since last weekend. There is scarcely any evidence that someone directed it, although a manneristic and absolutely pointless derivation from some better movie—e.g., a drifting Long Goodbye–like coverage of a jailhouse interview between Peter Fonda and Warren Oates—suggests occasionally that someone thought he was directing. Perhaps the shade of Robert Altman also hangs over the non-readings one strains to make sense of (though I stopped straining before very long); McGuane must have assumed that mumbled, slurred speech—preferably delivered through a mouth full of food and/or drink—has some near-mystical value in the contemporary cinema, else why would he sabotage so much of his own dialogue? But even on that level, the screenplay sounds like someone else’s idea of McGuane dialogue more often than it approaches the real thing (as, delightfully, in Rancho Deluxe).
And the performances! Who but a born non-director could manage to gather such interesting, indeed intriguing players as Oates, Margot Kidder, Harry Dean Stanton, Elizabeth Ashley, Sylvia Miles, and Louise Latham within one film and manage to make them all look like slewfooted rejects from a cow-college dramatic society? There’s a readily spottable in-groupiness about the project (more would-be Altmania?): Fonda and Oates have costarred several times; Stanton, Ashley, and Joe Spinell appeared winningly in Rancho Deluxe; Miles, Stanton, and Spinell were all in Farewell My Lovely; Miles and Burgess Meredith come equipped, for worse or better, with one sort of arty/campy cachet or another that will not be denied (except that in Miles’ case, at least, Dick Richards managed to deny it in Farewell My Lovely and coaxed a splendid Jessie Florian out of her). It’s pretty obvious that the filmmakers had a wonderful time in one another’s company and probably figured their combined quirky admirability couldn’t help but yield a refreshing blend—or, less charitably, figured that if it yielded a turkey of a movie, that was OK too, even fit and proper (Hooray for Hollywood…), and of minor importance compared to their fun and games as a mutual-admiration society. Oates does his funky laidback bit, his tight-scalped, I-have-seen-the-hard-stuff-come-down-and-I-just-might-make-it-happen-again number, his backcountry-hipster act, etc., and reminds us that, marvelous as he has been in the past, he almost always had a Sam Peckinpah or Monte Hellman or Joe Mankiewicz in the vicinity to give him the high sign. In a situation like this, one feels disinclined to blame the players much.
The script’s forward momentum depends solely on the notion that Fonda and Oates, rival fishing guides who have played escalatingly nasty tricks on each other in and around a Florida resort town of little economic consequence, will eventually but inevitably meander into mortal confrontation. They do, and then again they don’t. Don’t try to figure that one out, because the finale is so clumsily filmed that, far from satisfying on either the action or comedy levels, it doesn’t even scan from one shot to the next as a unified event. Along the way we keep being cut into scenes here, there, and everywhere—or more likely, the segments of the sequences that screamed least shrilly to be left on the cutting-room floor—and then are spirited away to the middle of some other event that swiftly proves to be no more worth watching than the preceding. Cinematically, one of the incontestable disasters of our time.
92 IN THE SHADE
Screenplay and direction: Thomas McGuane, after his novel. Cinematography: Michael C. Butler. Music: Michael J. Lewis. Production: George Pappas; Executive: Elliott Kastner.
The Players: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Margot Kidder, Harry Dean Stanton, Elizabeth Ashley, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Louise Latham, Joe Spinell.
Copyright © 1975 by Richard T. Jameson