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IT IS a little frightening that The Rowdyman's American premiere audience should receive a telegram from Pierre Elliot Trudeau claiming that he liked the film. Nobody who runs a country should have such terrible taste in movies. This is a film about Canada, and the Canadian government wants to encourage such films--showing Canada as a place with its own traditions and quirks, and different from the United States.
But The Rowdyman is nearly worthless. None of the characters is interesting: none of the acting is particularly distinguished. Generally an actor cannot be blamed for the lines that he must deliver, but Gordon Pinsent, in the lead role of Will Cole the Rowdyman, forfeited that excuse. He wrote the script.
It is his first writing effort to see production. The film's promoters claim that Pinsent began writing as a sort of therapy and was encouraged to continue by the favorable reaction of friends. Perhaps he can learn from this particular mistake, and in the future pay some attention to things like character and plot development.
The film revolves around the affairs of a small town Newfoundland roustabout named Will Cole. Among the principal events that he either witnesses or participates in are the marriage and death of his best friend, a prolonged and painful series of encounters with a girl, (an upper-class former high school friend) and a couple of visits to an old man in a nursing home. They do not accumulate to produce either a change in Cole or even a clear definition of an unchanging character type.
Cole is a self-described hedonist but he comes across as merely petulant, self-indulgent and boring. He treats his sister rudely, not maliciously, but he makes bothersome demands on her and she must keep house for him. He flirts obnoxiously with girls on the streets and in hamburger joints, again not maliciously, but stupidly. He is perfectly self-satisfied, and in response to a foreman's lunch-time suggestion that he might improve himself he kicks over the benches and stools his work buddies are sitting on. Nothing in the film suggests any depth or complexity in the man's character, and he certainly isn't successful in his pursuit of happiness.
FRANK CONVERSE does an uninspired job as Andrew Scott, Cole's side kick, whose death in a pulp mill accident sends Cole, who was responsible for the mishap, into a justified fit of depression. Converse is a hard working, solid type, intent on getting himself a better job and settling down into marriage. His attitudes are obviously meant to contrast with Cole's freewheeling irresponsibility, and they do, in a straight forward, obvious way. Linda Goranson works at a similar level as Ruth Lowe, the girl whose refusal to consummate her role as the female aristocrat opposite to Cole's Lawrencian peasant not only depresses Cole but sends him into a rage." The two of them plod through the cliched relationship in a series of mildly abrasive encounters--on the street, in a thicket during a church social, and over the phone.
None of the various sequences in the film relates to the others. Cole at one point visits an old man named Stan. Pinsent admitted that the principal reason for writing the visit into the film was to show Cole in a compassionate light, and to redeem him for his earlier nastiness. Stan, played by Will Geer, is also meant to demonstrate the continuity of the roughneck tradition in Newfoundland--in his youth he was supposed to have been a real hell-raiser. But he only comes across as pathetic.
In conversation Pinsent said that he made the film to serve him as an actor's vehicle and to evoke the atmosphere that Will Cole moves in. But the entire effort is too inconsistent to develop any sort of atmosphere, and if it serves Pinsent as a vehicle, his destination is, at the least, problematical.
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