One Last Rodeo with JUNIOR BONNER (1972)

Peckinpah’s filmography continues to fill out on Blu-ray with this lesser-known Steve McQueen drama

One theme that emerges in the work of Sam Peckinpah is the decline of the Wild West. Ride The High Country focuses on a pair of aging gunmen who have one last adventure left in them. The Ballad Of Cable Hogue ends with the introduction of an automobile, signaling industrial modernization and the end of the stagecoach era. In its own way, Junior Bonner carries on that theme, focusing on a modern rodeo cowboy, past his prime in an era when any remnants of the Old West have all but disappeared; even his own hometown is becoming unrecognizable amid urban encroachment and cheap real estate developments.

Perhaps Sam Peckinpah’s most low-key effort, 1972’s Junior Bonner is a melancholy family drama that finds JR “Junior” Bonner (Steve McQueen) back home for a big rodeo, frustrated by the tackiness and greed of his real estate developer brother (Joe Don Baker) and his recklessness of his estranged father Ace (Robert Preston). Oddly, despite Ace’s failure as a father, his son has followed in his footsteps as a rodeo star, and the two share a tenuous bond that is explored through the story. The family is completed by Ida Lupino as the matriarch who has lived a hardscrabble life raising her boys.

In the context of the narrative, JR’s moniker “Junior” is presumably derived from his initials, but thematically it’s a reminder that this is a man who, for better or worse, is his father’s son. Past his prime and aware that his life path is similar to his father’s — a path that has led nowhere — Junior sees this rodeo in his hometown, perhaps his last, as his chance to prove himself and go out as a winner and move on with his life. It’s never stated, but I think presumed in the subtext that this includes the pursuits he’s been holding off on. Life on the road is, in his own word, lonesome. He might pursue a more practical profession, find love, and possibly raise a family — things his father ultimately failed at.

This is certainly a break from the explosive version of Peckinpah that earned him the nickname “Bloody Sam”, limiting the action to the rodeo itself and a barroom brawl that’s played mostly for laughs. This is, more simply, a story about a good-natured loser who’s tired of losing, and told for the most part with realism. There’s a sweetness and a sadness to this tale, as the overall state of affairs seems to be one of inevitable entropy. Even when the credits roll, the conclusion we’re left with is hopeful and affectionate, but ultimately inconclusive.

Whether this translates into a great viewing experience is highly subjective. So different is Junior Bonner from Peckinpah’s usual offerings that it has become one of his least watched and discussed films. This bittersweet, contemplative story will disappoint anyone expecting Peckinpah at his most action-packed, but those who empathize with the humanity and brokenness of the characters seem to really love the film and hold it in high regard.

The Package

The disc’s features will look very familiar to fans who own the various other Peckinpah Blu-ray discs that have released in the last several years, with Mike Siegel and El Dorado Productions continuing to handle the bulk of the extras, and a commentary from the recurring roundtable of Peckinpah experts.

Special Features and Extras

Passion and Poetry — Rodeo Time (55:50)
 The main feature is an hourlong exploration of Junior Bonner by Mike Siegel and El Dorado Productions.

Passion and Poetry — Peckinpah Ancedotes (25:42)
 Remembrances of the director, featuring interviews with an impressive list of stars including Ernest Borgnine, James Coburn, Ali McGraw, R. G. Armstrong, David Warner, and others.

Audio Commentary
Usual suspects Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle, and Nick Redman team up for another informative Peckinpah commentary.

Junior Bonner Trivia (4:46)

Junior Bonner Remembered (3:00)
 Returning to Prescott Arizona on the film’s 45 Anniversary, feat. Screenwriter Jeb Rosebrook.

Image Galleries:
 Junior Bonner in Pictures (3:45)
 Junior Bonner on the Set (5:04)
 Posters and Lobby Cards (4:51)

Theatrical Trailer (2:30)

TV Spot (0:31)

Radio Spots (1:59)

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats.

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