Clint Eastwood’s dust bowl drama Honkytonk Man is a sensitive road picture about a mostly luckless aspiring country music singer. It was also one of the earlier films directed by Eastwood to reveal the unmistakable disparity between the silent assassin persona audiences had come to embrace in him and the much gentler humanist behind the camera. Anchored by an unforced if slightly episodic screenplay by Clancy Carlile (based on his own novel), Eastwood cast his own son Kyle as his on-screen nephew, Whit. The two of them (accompanied by a mostly peripheral Grandpa figure) escape the parched Okie land on a road trip to Nashville, where Red Stovall (Eastwood) expects an audition at the Grand Ole Opry. Stopping at various whorehouses, poker dens, and juke joints along the way, Whit comes to respect the man he first witnesses passed out drunk at the wheel of his car. Though the film is obviously coated with a veneer of nostalgic sentimentality, Eastwood never lets Honkytonk Man veer into maudlin territory. In fact, the film’s construction is so smooth, the tragic finale manages to be foreshadowed enough to not seem gratuitous. Eastwood followed the box-office non-event of Honkytonk Man the very next year with yet another installment in the Dirty Harry series: Sudden Impact. In light of the bitter truths of Honkytonk, the financial success of Sudden Impact seems less like a case of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, but rather Freddy or Jason rising from the grave one more time.
Honkytonk Man looks and sounds pretty good for its age, though the touted "all-new digital transfer" sometimes tends to betray a level of wear and tear in the source print. Blacks, however, are thick and dominate the cinematographic palate in many scenes. The 5.1 Dolby surround sound is great during the musical interludes, though some of the sound effects sound a bit forced. Overall, a nice job.
All that Warner Home Video has provided is a brief Clint Eastwood filmography and a theatrical trailer. Disappointing.
While not enough of a grand statement to be taken as a career turning point, Honkytonk Man nonetheless signaled a change in the winds for Clint Eastwood.