Sunday In The Country
(Video titles: Vengeance Is Mine
Blood For Blood


Director: John Trent                       
Ernest Borgnine, Michael J. Pollard, Hollis McLaren

The first scene shown after the opening credits to Sunday In The Country is unforgettable . During a hot summer morning in the middle of nowhere, a young couple is finishing the changing of their flat tire. A green car slowly approaches from the other side of the hill ahead of them, and stops on the opposite side. Three well dressed men get out, and walk confidently towards the couple. Hardly any words are exchanged before one of the men swiftly shoots and kills the young man. Screaming hysterically, the young woman runs into a field, but is quickly tackled by one of the well dressed men, molested for a few, yet uncomfortable, seconds before she is shot near point-blank range. It's a scary sequence, with the killers acting so confident and viciously. It's too bad that most of the remaining 85 or so minutes don't measure up to this sequence, or even come close. The actors aren't to blame, and the director, despite some clumsiness later on in the movie, isn't really to blame as well. What makes this Straw Dogs inspired movie fail to get a recommendation is its script.

There's nothing really wrong with the general idea of the movie, but it's how it is executed - namely, after the halfway point. First, though, the story of the movie up to that halfway point. Those three well dressed men (one looking very much like Ed McMahon) were bank robbers fleeing from a bank they robbed several hours earlier, viciously killing two tellers in the process. Abandoning their getaway car and taking the young couple's car, they plan to escape from Pierce County. (Though Sunday In The Country is a Canadian movie, it's set in some unnamed American state.) Seeing a roadblock ahead, they decide to drive off onto a side road, hike on foot several miles past the roadblock, and steal another car from the first farm they come across.

What they don't know is that Adam (Borgnine), the owner of the farm they encounter, is expecting them. Earlier that day, when traveling to and from church with his college-aged granddaughter Lucy, he was told by the sheriff (Al Waxman) about the bank robbers and the recent murder of the couple. Adam doesn't tell Lucy about this, even when later at home, he finds evidence that the bank robbers will soon be on their property. This long sequence, when Adam tries to prepare for the approaching robbers, while trying not to give Lucy any clue of what may be coming, makes for some suspenseful moments. The tension further rises when Adam and Lucy sit down to dinner, and Adam tries to engage in Lucy's conversation without letting his guard or gaze from the window down. The sound of the clock ticking in the background during the silent moments is a nice touch. But the atmosphere the dinner table scene generates is somehow lessened by an injection of "suspenseful" music(*). The music by itself is awful to listen to, and the whole scene proves that sometimes no music is needed to generate suspense; quiet or near quiet scenarios can be very creepy.

Still, up to this point, the movie was compelling; I was interested in knowing what those three creeps would try to do, and what Adam was planning to do about their coming arrival. The next few minutes, when they do arrive, are well done as well, with a good deal of tension. After Adam captures the robbers, though, things soon start to go wrong. Though Adam intends to turn the robbers over to the police, he plans to have a little "fun" with the robbers first. "I'm sick and tired of reading about these - these hoodlums terrorizing people! I think it's time someone taught their kind a lesson!" he reasons. Unfortunately, that's about it when it comes to exploring this dark side to Adam. Previously in the movie, there was really nothing suggesting that Adam was the kind of man that was capable of doing this. He showed some frustration over the dying farm community, but it was a resigned frustration. Also, when he was previously talking to the sheriff, and learned about the death of the couple, he was shocked, not furious. (Incidentally, that scene was very well acted by Borgnine.) Adam's move to a more sadistic character so quickly just doesn't make any sense. A later action of his in this second half - giving Lucy (who has been pleading for Adam to stop the torture) a lesson in order to "teach" her about the ruthlessness of the robbers is even more unbelievable.

The torture the robbers go through is a key part of this particular story. For it to work, the torture would have to be very harsh, in order to show the harshness of the torturer, and to give the victims appropriately horrified reactions. None of this comes up here. First, Adam makes the robbers take off their pants (seeing Michael J. Pollard's skinny bare legs, and wearing a small pair of purple underwear, is a chilling sight.) Next, Adam chains them on a post stuck in a manure pile, yells at them, and shoots a bullet over their heads. Then he chains their necks against support beams in his basement. I didn't really find actions like that to be the kind of excessive torture the movie needs. It's no wonder that the robbers themselves mostly seem to be mildly annoyed throughout this ordeal. The one scene of this kind that does work is when Adam gives them the opportunity to run to his truck and drive off - if they can outrun his vicious dogs. I won't reveal what happens, but I will say the whole scene is very well done, suspenseful, well directed and well acted.

Speaking of the acting, every performer in Sunday In The Country does a good job. Pollard does sometimes sound like he has a bite of a sandwich in his mouth, but he's very convincing as the psychopath of the gang. The movie looks great; the locations look sunny and bright (this is a rare Canadian movie when the sun is shining, and there are no clouds in the sky,) and the version I rented on Paragon Video had used an excellent print for the video transfer. The movie simply misses because of the poor writing. The first half isn't bad (despite a few goofs and unanswered questions, like why the characters all have names from the Bible), but the second half has the unbelievable transformation of Borgnine's character, some half-hearted meanness, and the final minutes have the characters executing some really stupid and/or unexplained actions. So overall, the movie doesn't work, but it isn't that terrible to watch. In fact, I've watched this movie twice, and I didn't object to seeing it again, even if I didn't like it enough to recommend it. Still, each time I watched this movie, I kept thinking that there was a really good movie that could have been made, but the makers didn't quite pull it off.

* Weirdly, the music here, and in other parts of the movie, sounds very much like the music from Didn't You Hear.

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See also: Baker County, U.S.A., Rituals, Shoot