Sheriff Calder chases the runaway American Dream, his badge a symbol of drowning authority amid the tumultuous sea change of the sixties, where money buys the soul and drugs the mind. This story is Harper Lee’s classic transposed in time to an unnamed Texas town, bereft of the golden hue of childhood nostalgia; this violently nihilistic drama reveals the dark secrets kept hidden behind the closed doors in Macomb, Alabama.
Sheriff Calder haunts the streets, nothing more than a figurehead, struggling to navigate these troubled waters with his internal compass; to him, justice has true meaning, the Rule of Law is worth more than all of Val Rogers' millions, and integrity the vein of gold that rushes though his moral bedrock. Arthur Penn’s fascinating vivisection of America’s power structure is based upon Horton Foote’s play, who scripted the aforementioned TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: this drama reflects the tainted prosperity of the white elitist class, who abuse themselves with vice and greed, and play (sometimes grudgingly) their pitiful parts in a corrupt social structure. The racism is tortuously exposed like an open wound, raw with infection, the townsfolk degenerate into awful god-fearing caricatures representative of a disintegrating society.
The escape of Bubber Reeves is one of the great MacGuffins (as Hitchcock would say): this is not an action film involving any kind of chase; Bubber’s escape is only a plot device that sparks the conflagration. The story is concerned with Sheriff Caldur’s conflict against the powers structure, his stance of one against the many, his honesty and incorruptibility. Marlon Brando’s noble performance captures the heart of the character. Calder is a part of the town, its DNA defines his very nature, yet he brings a tangible “otherness” to the role that sets him apart from the raving lunatics who howl at the moon. While the townsfolk’s perceptions are an alcohol induced haze (your true personality emerges while intoxicated), the Sheriff’s vision is obscured by bloodshed and trauma, victimized but not a victim, stripped of power but not quite powerless. Above all, he keeps his Word.
But a death sentence is announced by three loud rapports. Defeated, Calder and his wife leave the only life they've ever known and drive off into the great unknown.
Final Grade: (A)