Tuesday, March 17, 2009

cinema obscura: Jack Smight's "The Traveling Executioner" (1970)

Stacy Keach had his best screen role in Jack Smight's "The Traveling Executioner"
"The Traveling Execution," inarugably director Jack Smight's best film containing, again inarguably, Stacy Keach's best screen performance, is a quirky little black comedy that MGM threw away in 1970, failing to see the film's depth, aching humanity and originality.

The title tells all. Keach, strutting around and flaunting sexual intimidation, plays Jonas Candide who, in 1918, traveled around with his own portable electric chair, going from prison to prison with his young assistant/mortician, Jimmy (Bud Cort), charging $100 per execution. Two of Jonas' potential victims are siblings Willy and Gundred Herzallerliebst (Stefan Gierasch and Marianne Hill). While he successfully executes Willy, he falls for Gundred, hoping to fake her execution.

Nothing goes according to plan and the film's finale, under Smight's careful direction, is both pitch black and unusually touching.

Keach had a flourishing screen career at this point, having appeared in "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," "Fat City," "The Life and Tims of Judge Roy Bean," "The Dion Brothers" and, with Cort, in Altman's "Brewster McCloud" (also released in 1970).

Smight also had a good year in '70, having also directed the underrated screen version of John Updike's "Rabbit Run," featuring memorable performances by James Caan and the late Carrie Snodgress. He is also remembered for "Harper" (1966) and "No Way to Treat a Lady" (1968).

Jack Smight died in 2003.

1 comment:

Tim Sheridan said...

I love this film. I remember seeing it in 1970 and being really touched by it, as well as amused. I haven't seen it since. It's like it disappeared and never existed. Thanks for reminding me of it.