Cast & Crew
Joe Don Baker
Aging rodeo star Junior Bonner decides to return to his hometown of Prescott, Arizona to enter the town's annual Frontier Days rodeo. Hurt from being thrown by a bull in his last rodeo, the affable but broke Junior, whom most people call "JR," borrows money from friends to pay his entrance fee to some of the events, including a wild-cow-milking contest, which he hopes to win with the help of his father, Ace. When Junior goes to see Ace, he finds his ramshackle cabin deserted and in the process of being razed by earthmovers. He then goes to see his mother, Elvira, who has long been estranged from Ace, and lives in town, forced to take in boarders and grow her own vegetables to get by. "Ellie" tells JR that because Ace was hurt in a car accident while driving drunk, she is looking after his dog while he is in the hospital. Ellie also reveals that JR's brother Curly, a successful real estate developer who bought Ace's ranch for a below-market price, wants her to sell her house and collection of antiques to move out to a mobile home park he is developing called Reate Rancheroes. Although she seems resigned to this, JR is unhappy. While JR goes to the rodeo to borrow money and pay entrance fees for several events for himself, as well as the event with Ace, who was a former top rodeo star, Ace tries to convince Curly to lend him money to go to Australia, where he is certain that he can become a successful silver prospector. Curly refuses, insisting that a weekly allowance is all that he will give to his father. Later, Ace sneaks out of his hospital bed, to the annoyance of Nurse Arlis, with whom Ace has been having a flirtation. JR comes to the hospital after Ace has left, but father and son eventually meet during the Frontier Days opening parade, where Ace, a popular local hero, is enthusiastically applauded by the crowd, including Ellie. When Ace and JR sit down and talk at the town's old train station, JR soon realizes that Ace's dreams of becoming a successful prospector will never come true and, like all of his other dreams, will fail because of gambling or women. That night, Curly, his wife Ruth and their two children have dinner with Ellie and JR. Curly's brittle wife dislikes JR, as well as the more old-fashioned way of life that he, Ellie and Ace have lived. After dinner, when JR and Curly start to talk about why Curly bought Ace's ranch for such a small price, Curly says that Ace would have gambled away more if he had paid more, prompting JR to start a fight, which ends when Curly is thrown through the dining room window. The next day, JR briefly leads in the cattle-roping event, but another contestant wins. In the chaotic wild-cow-milking contest, JR and Ace have the fastest time in collecting milk in an empty Coca-Cola bottle, but on the way to the judge's stand, Ace trips over his rambunctious dog, which has wandered into the arena, and spills the milk. When the disappointed Ace tells JR that they could have won, his son puts his arm around him and reassuringly says, "We did." Later, the Palace Bar is filled with revellers drinking, dancing and having a good time. As Ace, JR and Buck talk at the bar, Curly, Ruth and their children arrive, accompanied by Ellie. Although nervous, Ellie and Ace greet each other warmly and JR reminds Ace that he always has the first dance with her. As the couple tentatively dances, Curly and JR talk companionably, then Curly punches JR and knocks him down in retaliation for the fight the day before. JR merely smiles, gets up and amiably asks Curly if he wants a beer. Curly then tells his brother that he loves him and does not care how many lots he sells but wants to keep his family close. Though grateful, JR tells him that he has to go down his own road. Moments later, Charmagne, a pretty woman who had been flirting with JR earlier, enters the bar with her rich boyfriend. JR goes to their table and asks her to dance, angering her boyfriend, who grudgingly allows him to have one dance. On the dance floor, JR denies Red the chance to cut in, but when he sees the boyfriend coming toward them, suddenly changes partners with Red, making Red the target of the boyfriend's wrath. The two men begin a brawl that quickly turns into a melee involving both men and women. While JR and Charmagne take refuge in a telephone booth, Curly and some others slip into the ladies room, and Ace and Ellie walk outside. On the outside staircase of the Palace Hotel, Ellie slaps Ace's face when he asks her to go with him to Australia. Realizing that they can never live together again but will always love each other, Ace and Ellie agree that they at least have the day, and go upstairs to a room. Later, at the final events of the rodeo, JR nervously takes his position on Sunshine, waiting for the bull-riding contest. Though haunted by thoughts of being thrown by the bull the previous week, JR maintains his composure and when it is his turn, he has the winning time for bull-riding, thus winning the $950 prize money and enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. Later, JR takes Charmagne to the airport and says goodbye, with both knowing that, despite their burgeoning feelings, they will never see each other again. JR then drives to Ellie's house to say goodbye, after which he goes to a travel agent and pays cash for a first class, one-way ticket to Australia for Ace and his dog. When the agent asks who she should say bought the ticket, he says, "Tell him JR sent you," then drives out of town.
Joe Don Baker
Charles [h.] Gray
William E. Pierce
P. K. Strong
Charles G. Arnold
Pat L. Barto
Lynn Del Kail
James M. George
R. Michael Gilbert
Paul Grosso Jr.
Betty J. Gumm
John Lester Hallett
Malcolm R. Harding
Edward S. Haworth
Kenneth W. Lee
Craig A. Pinkard
James C. Pratt
Donald W. Roberson
Gaylin P. Schultz
James W. Thornsberry
William P. Turner
Robert J. Visciglia
Charles M. Wilborn
Gerald F. Wunderlich
John Harry Young
Steve McQueen, who was looking for a change of pace role, signed on to play Junior and the film was rushed into production to shoot during the real-life Frontier Days Rodeo in Prescott. Peckinpah hurried back to the states from England, where he had been editing Straw Dogs, and quickly cast the supporting roles. Robert Preston plays Junior's father Ace, a former rodeo champion now coasting on his glory and fantasizing about prospecting for gold in Australia. Ida Lupino is Junior's mother, tired of Ace's irresponsibility but still fond of the old charmer. And Joe Don Baker plays Junior's wheeler-dealer of a brother, who buys out the family homestead and builds a housing development on it.
The film was shot on location in Prescott. As many as nine cameras were brought in to film the town parade and real-life rodeo footage. Peckinpah had his actors play their roles against these real events to give the film a sense of authenticity (production secretary Katy Haber described Peckinpah's planning for the parade scene, which featured many of the film's stars, as "like a military arrangement"). Rodeo legend Casey Tibbs, an advisor on the picture and the film's stunt coordinator, and co-star Ben Johnson, a rodeo champion and veteran stunt man in his own right, brought their own experiences to screenwriter Jeb Rosebrook and helped Peckinpah capture the reality of the rodeo life. Extras were cast locally and Peckinpah made use of real-life locations for key scenes, notably the Palace Bar, a second home to the characters and the site of a comic barroom brawl, a scene that recalls many a John Ford movie.
It was by most accounts an amiable set, at least by Peckinpah standards. There were, of course, Peckinpah's irascible nature and inevitable clashes with actors and crew members. Ida Lupino almost walked off the picture after a disagreement over her make-up escalated into an argument, until Peckinpah apologized with flowers and a witty note. "What can you say to that," recalled Lupino in an interview. "So I stayed on the picture and loved it." Otherwise, the greatest tension on the set came from McQueen's constant rewriting of his scenes, which frustrated his co-stars and led to a major disagreement over a key scene. According to Peckinpah biographer Garner Simmons, McQueen refused to let Preston knock his hat off in an argument in the train yard, thinking it made his character seem less manly. When McQueen stormed off the set, screenwriter Jeb Rosebrook intervened, explaining to McQueen that "just sitting there and taking your punishment, if you want to call it that, from your father made you more of a man." McQueen considered his perspective and played the scene as written. It's one of the film's most moving and bittersweet scenes.
Peckinpah's signature style telephoto and zoom photography, slow motion shooting during the rodeo scenes, razor sharp editing is used to excellent effect. McQueen was allowed to do a few of his own stunts but was doubled for the most potentially dangerous scenes. But for all the rodeo action, Junior Bonner is really a gentle character study and a lyrical portrait of family, respect and integrity in the face of adversity. It wasn't what audiences were expecting from the first collaboration between Peckinpah, master of violence, and the taciturn action hero McQueen and it was a commercial failure, in part due to an ill-considered releasing strategy. Peckinpah and McQueen both urged a slow release to let a word-of-mouth campaign build. Instead Junior Bonner was opened wide and audiences expecting a violent film were frustrated with the gentle drama onscreen. Initial reviews were mixed and many papers ignored the film entirely, but its reputation has grown over time as critics see the film for what it really is: one of Peckinpah's loveliest and most personal films.
Producer: Joe Wizan
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenplay: Jeb Rosebrook
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Art Direction: Edward S. Haworth
Music: Jerry Fielding
Film Editing: Frank Santillo, Robert Wolfe
Cast: Steve McQueen (Junior 'JR' Bonner), Robert Preston (Ace Bonner), Ida Lupino (Elvira Bonner), Ben Johnson (Buck Roan), Joe Don Baker (Curly Bonner), Barbara Leigh (Charmagne), Mary Murphy (Ruth Bonner), William McKinney (Red Terwiliger), Dub Taylor (Del), Sandra Deel (Nurse Arlis), Donald Barry (Homer Rutledge), Charles Gray (Burt), Matthew Peckinpah (Tim Bonner), Sundown Spencer (Nick Bonner), Rita Garrison (Flashie).
C-101m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Sean Axmaker
Ida Lupino hired Sam Peckinpah to work on her series "Mr. Adams and Eve" (1957) after she found him living in a shack behind her property. He paid her back by casting her in this film some years later.
The yellow dog that you see in the movie is the grandson to Spike the dog, from the movie Old Yeller (1957).
Although online copyright records list American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. as the copyright claimant, an onscreen copyright statement reads: "Copyright MCMLXXII by ABC Pictures Corp., Wizan Productions and Solar Productions, Inc." The end credits conclude with the following written statement: "Our thanks to the people of Prescott, Arizona, and in particular William Pierce, for their cooperation in the making of this film." Pierce was a local offical in Prescott. As noted in reviews and news items, the entire film was shot on location in and around Prescott, AZ. Much of the film action centers on events surrounding The Prescott Frontier Days rodeo, which takes place annually over the Fourth of July and is billed as the "World's Oldest Rodeo."
Significant footage of the 84th rodeo, which was held in 1971, as well as Prescott's Frontier Days Parade, was incorporated into the film, with scenes of Steve McQueen, Robert Preston and others in the cast participating in or viewing the actual events. The Palace Bar, which was built in 1900, was used for both interiors and exteriors, as were other landmarks within a section of Prescott known as "Old Town." Real-life rodeo star Casey Tibbs briefly appeared as himself, as well as acting as the film's rodeo consultant.
At several points within the film, particularly in the opening shots, under which the credits are presented, there are brief black-and-white sequences and flashbacks of the rodeo at which "Junior 'JR' Bonner" is thrown by the bull "Sunshine." Some of the shots briefly flash across the screen, while others last for several seconds. Some of the Frontier Days rodeo sequences are presented as stop-action shots and montages of the various rodeo performers as they participate in the events, with the sound of the rodeo buzzer punctuating each contestant's fall. At various points throughout the film, as JR thinks about his fall from Sunshine, there are flashbacks to the earlier scene.
Junior Bonner marked the first of two back-to-back collaborations between star Steve McQueen and director Sam Peckinpah. Following completion of Junior Bonner, the actor and director made The Getaway, released in December 1972. Many modern sources have stated that Peckinpah, whose previous film was Straw Dogs (see below), a picture considered one of the most violent of the era, had wanted to make a different, gentler film when ABC Pictures executive Martin Baum approached him to direct Junior Bonner. Many reviewers commented on the break from the violence of Straw Dogs, The Wild Bunch (see below) and other recent Peckinpah films. The sentiment was typified by New Republic critic Stanley Kaufman, who wrote: "It looks as if Peckinpah has been listening to his critics...He doesn't have much range, but at least he's home on it."
Junior Bonner was the last production of ABC Pictures Corp., a division of the ABC Television network. The film marked Preston's first film appearance since playing the lead in All the Way Home (1963, ). After many years acting exclusively on the stage, following his appearance in Junior Bonner, Preston continued to appear both in films and on television until shortly before his death in 1987. Ida Lupino had been absent from feature films since Strange Intruder (1956, see below), although she had acted and directed for television throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and directed her last feature film, The Trouble with Angels, in 1966 (see below). Lupino acted in additional films and television programs until the late 1970s.
Matthew Peckinpah, who portrayed one of the Bonner grandchildren, was director Sam Peckinpah's son. Modern sources include Wayne McLaren, Johnnie Mullens and director Peckinpah and his wife Sharon in the cast as bar patrons.
Released in United States Summer June 1972
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States Summer June 1972