MGM // 1976 // 147 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // March 7th, 2000
This land is made for you and me.
Bound for Glory is a rich slice of Americana that depicts the early days of legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie. The film takes place in the Great Depression years of 1936 thru 1040 and follows Guthrie from his sign painting days in Texas to his rise (and fall) to radio stardom in California.
Woody Guthrie was a complicated genius and the film does a marvelous job of conveying his mixed emotions. Even in his early days Guthrie had a wicked sense of non-conformity and a strong sense of moral outrage. He was a man who loved his wife and children but had no problem using his talents to woo a young lady into bed. He was an independent thinker who would rather lose a job and payment then compromise his vision of what he thought something should be like. Through all of the difficult and painful times he maintained a sense of dignity and a boundless sense of optimism.
Bound for Glory comes from that golden period of Hollywood moviemaking, the '70s. Many of the movies we think of as "modern" classics comes from this time and Bound for Glory holds it's head high among the best of them.
Directed by Hal Ashby (Shampoo, Harold and Maude, and his masterpiece Being There), Bound for Glory does not flinch in it's depiction of the way Americans were forced to live in this period -- the hardships and pain of families trying to make ends meet; the sense of failure in the American male of not being of not being able to provide for his family. These emotions are all there but what the film does especially well is also show the sense of hope -- the feeling of optimism and looking for a better tommorrow that defines what is America. Bound for Glory won two Oscars. One for Leonard Rosenman's wondeful adaptation of Guthrie's music and the other for Haskell Wexler's brilliant photography.
The film is also a who's who of American supporting actors from the period. With roles ranging from major to one scene wonders Bound for Glory features Ronny Cox, Melinda Dillon, M. Emmett Walsh, Mary Kay Place, Randy Quaid, Brion James and Gail Strickland. But it is the film's center role that provides the greatest surprise and joy. Actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro and musicians Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Johnny Cash were considered for the lead role. But the part went to David Carradine. Yes, that David Carradine. "Kung Fu" David Carradine. In a word, he is brilliant. He is natural and charming and his presence holds the film together and moves it along. It is a magnificent performance.
Bound for Glory is a great American film. If only it had been given the treatment it deserves from MGM Home Video. The transfer is one of the worst I have seen. Colors are washed out and grainy. The blacks in the nighttime scenes are not solid and full of bleed. The film itself is dirty and in need of restoration. I would have glady exchanged MGM's "collectible" booklet for a new anamorphic transfer.
The sound does not fare much better. It is Dolby mono, there is little hiss and dialogue comes in clear for the most part. But for a film that features a truckload of songs from one of this countries greatest songwriters, it's a shame more could not have been done. Very, very disappointing.
I would have loved to see some extras on this disc. Perhaps a separate audio track featuring the words and music of Woody Guthrie. A documentary on the making of the film would have been nice. Maybe even a commentary track. But this is not a Bond film so I suppose MGM just does not think this film warrants the extra care and attention.
Bound for Glory is a beautiful film. It sings with the hopes and dreams of the American spirit and shows a chapter of American life that needs to be remembered. It also tells the story of a great man and a great American. I'm very torn on this disc and indeed a great deal of MGM's output of late. They have a great library of films but they insist on putting very little effort into their releases. If you have never seen this movie, by all means rent this disc. I just don't think hard earned cash should be used to purchase this disc. We need to send a message to studios that just expect us to throw down our cash on subpar product. We won't stand for it. This message is also VERY much in tune with this movie. Woody Guthrie fought for the rights of the working man his entire life. Demand better and let your voice be heard. Maybe, just maybe, we will get it. After all it looks like this message is finally working with Disney. Maybe it will work with MGM.
Hal Ashby and David Carradine are gladly released on thier own recognizance for some wonderful work. This court also hopes that someone will someday, very soon release Being There. MGM Home Video on the other hand is to be held without bail until they remember how to put out quaility discs that don't just feature a certain British gentleman spy. Case Dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 147 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailer