Hal Ashby’s BOUND FOR GLORY
The late great David Carradine stars as Woody Guthrie in this masterpiece of 70s cinema based on the book of the same name by the legendary folk singer. When we first meet Woody he’s living in Oklahoma taking random jobs painting signs and playing at local hoedowns. Meanwhile, the catastrophic dust storms and fallout from The Great Depression are driving a large amount of residents to seek a better life on the West Coast. Woody decides to join the migration too and one day just up and leaves his wife and kids without any word. With no transportation of his own he hitches rides and hops trains where he encounters the kinds of salt of the earth folks that he would go on to write some of most famous music about. He gets into different adventures while seeing what life as a traveling hobo is like firsthand. The railroad cops and his fellow derelicts provide the excitement and danger along the way.
Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, Woody finds a shanty town of downtrodden people seeking to make a better life. There he befriends Luther Johnson (Randy Quaid) a good hearted guy that lets him sleep in his truck and borrow his old guitar. Woody wanders around town singing songs and seeing the sights. One day he stops at a soup kitchen where he meets a wealthy woman named Pauline (Gail Strickland) who works there and offers him a meal. Being penniless but honorable he paints a sign for her establishment in return using his favorite colors (red and white). The two soon start a relationship although Woody is still married. This detail shows his inherantly freewheeling nature and inability to stay in one place for very long. He truly was the original Ramblin’ Man.
During his stay at the shanty town Woody encounters Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox) a lively musician like himself that holds singalongs to provide entertainment for the poor folks and keep their spirits up. Soon after Woody joins Ozark in spreading the word of starting Unions to the farm workers in the valley. This gains them both notice from the public but also disdain from the farm owners who don’t want organized labor. Since he has clearly struck a chord with the people, Woody is hired to do radio shows and finally gets some much needed income for his efforts. He quickly becomes a celebrity and continues to inspire the masses who are trying to survive during this extremely dire period in the country.
David Carradine gives a brilliant performance as Woody. From his exuberant personality and confident stroll to his grassroots style of folk singing. He brings the character to life in an extremely engaging and memorable way. The supporting cast are equally excellent including a young Randy Quaid who had previously been in Ashby’s road movie classic The Last Detail. His character Luther urges Woody to keep singing and fighting against the bigwigs that want him to sell out. The scenes with him and Carradine are especially good.
The film was photographed by master stylist Haskell Wexler who set up a golden sunbaked hazy atmosphere which established a visual romanticism to the era it portrayed. The Depression era backdrop is exceptionally realistic and gives you the feel of what early 20th Century Oklahoma and Los Angeles must’ve been like. The movie is exceptionally nice to look at because of its imagery. Film buffs will be interested to know this was the first production to use Garrett Brown’s newly invented “Steadicam” for several of its dynamic tracking shots.
Bound For Glory went on to win two Academy Awards Best Cinematography and Best Music (Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score).