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Tender Mercies
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Tender Mercies

Robert Duvall gives one of his finest performances in the 1983 country music drama Tender Mercies. As the washed up country singer Mac Sledge, Duvall earned his first Academy Award; he had been nominated three times previously, for roles in The Godfather (1972), Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Great Santini (1979). Premiere Magazine recently ranked Duvall's work in Tender Mercies #14 on its list of the "100 Greatest Performances of All Time." But Duvall's contributions to the movie weren't strictly as an actor. He also received a co-producer credit on Tender Mercies and along with performing a number of songs in the film, he wrote two of them, "Fool's Waltz" and "I've Decided to Leave Here Forever."

Tender Mercies was penned by Horton Foote, the screenwriter who also wrote the adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Duvall, of course, appeared in this film as well -- making his big screen debut as Boo Radley. Duvall and Foote first met when Duvall was cast in a play by Foote called The Midnight Caller. Foote would recommend Duvall for his breakthrough role in To Kill a Mockingbird. And Duvall proved a good luck charm for Foote who won the Best Screenplay Oscar® for both To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies.

Along with Duvall's win for Best Actor and Foote's for Best Script, Tender Mercies also received an Oscar® nomination for Bruce Beresford as Best Director. Beresford, an Aussie, got his start with the British Film Institute producing short documentaries. The first feature he directed was the surprise hit The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972). In 1980, Beresford turned out the acclaimed Breaker Morant. He not only directed the film, but he also co-wrote the script, which earned him the Best Screenplay Oscar®. After Tender Mercies in 1983, Beresford went on to direct an interesting mix of films from the adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winner Driving Miss Daisy (1989) to the Tommy Lee Jones-Ashley Judd thriller Double Jeopardy (1999).

A top-notch supporting cast rounds out the talent in Tender Mercies. Tess Harper appears as Rosa Lee, the kind-hearted widow who marries Mac. She received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the role. Harper would go on to appear in another Beresford picture, Crimes of the Heart (1986) which earned her an Oscar® nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Broadway star Betty Buckley took a pay cut to play Mac's country star ex-wife. There's also a young Ellen Barkin as Mac's daughter and Quaker Oats man Wilford Brimley as Mac's former manager.

Tender Mercies earned an additional two Oscar® nominations for Best Picture (it lost out to Terms of Endearment ) and Best Original Song for "Over You." The song was the first country single to be so honored. Performed by Betty Buckley in the film, the soundtrack version of the song was sung by Lane Brody. It was also nominated for an Academy of Country Music Award.

Producer: Philip Hobel
Director: Bruce Beresford
Screenplay: Horton Foote
Cinematography: Russell Boyd
Art Direction: Jeannine Claudia Oppewall
Music: George Dreyfus; Songs by Lefty Frizzell, Robert Duvall, Johnny Cymbal, Bobby Hart, Austin Roberts, Sara Be, Craig Brickhardt and others
Film Editing: William M. Anderson
Cast: Robert Duvall (Mac Sledge), Tess Harper (Rosa Lee), Betty Buckley (Dixie), Wilford Brimley (Harry), Ellen Barkin (Sue Anne), Allan Hubbard (Sonny), Lenny von Dohlen (Robert).
C-92m.

by Stephanie Thames

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