The Traveling Executioner (1970) Poster

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Underrated gem of 1970
shepardjessica23 June 2004
This hard-to-find cool little film starring Stacy Keach is really special. A great performance by Keach (along with other early films of his, such as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Fat City, Judge Roy Bean, Brewster McCloud, and The Dion Brothers) and a fascinating study of this quirky traveling man who pushed his luck. Why is this not on video or DVD?

Before Keach became a Hollywood hack (with the exception of Long Riders) he made a series of films that showed the tremendous promise he had on stage. After the TV show Caribe he seemed to slide into obscurity except for Mike Hammer. This is a charming film that slipped under the radar in 1970 and is well worth your time. An 8 out of 10.
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Shows the humanity that can be brought to any profession
gregory-8119 December 2005
This movie made a huge impact when I saw it in the theater. I was a tough (or so I thought) eighteen year old young man here in Vancouver when I saw it in 1970. I think that it might have played for a week.

I loved the humanity and charm that Stacy Keach brought to the executioner's role. I remember the loving way that he would sooth the fears of the condemned as they faced the terrors to come. It was a job that had to be done, and if he was the one to do it, he demanded craftsmanship and style.

The ending caught a deep nerve and I cried as I left and walked home. (It remains the only film that I can say that about). It is amazing how a film that is almost unknown has remained so brilliant in my mind.

I suspect that I might give it a higher rating if I ever saw it again.
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`The traveling executioner' is a black comedy love-story with a western undertone.
A short word on this marvelous rare to find movie; Well what can I say, except we find here a Stacy Keatch in what my humble opinion may be, one of his greatest roles ever put by him onto screen. He's an executioner who gets paid 100 bucks for each execution. The year we're in is 1918 South states of America. `The traveling executioner' is a black comedy love-story with a western undertone. It's the music that creates that pleasure full funny western feeling. What for sure is marvelous in this movie. The moment he's starting philosophizing to the condemned to death by his electric chair are `quality moments' in this movie. Not even to mention the funny truck he drives thru the country to visit every possible jail to for fill his task. The conversations are sometimes hilarious. Example, the moment he rents out hookers to some inmates. They each have to pay him, and on the amount they pay, he decides how much time they get.

Executioner, `Well for this you get room 5 and 4 minutes'. Inmate, `What kinda cover can I shoot in 4 min?' Executioner, `Well you gat from now 4 minutes, so start shooting'.

So the humor is one of a kind, and the love tale is great. `The contract killer badly in love with his victim'. The story goes on to a strange, though org. road. I try not to spoil too much, but will the executioner exchange his chair for her life, or will he even meet his own electric chair for real by trying to save her. Well it is a fact he doesn't leave any way unexplored to rescue her from her death sentence. Are you in for a funny black romantic comedy movie. With a superb, strong acting Stacey Keatch go for this one, for sure a must see!

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Perhaps executions seemed quaint in America's "liberal hour"
JekyllBoote-12 January 2009
This is an exceptionally difficult movie to see. As others have noted, it has not received a DVD release, and the VHS video is difficult to track down and probably prohibitively expensive if found.

I saw it just the once, on TV, about ten years ago, but it made a strong impression on me. Stacy Keach gives a very brilliant performance as that most paradoxical of beings: a likable, humane executioner. He is ably supported by Bud Cort who adds his undertaker character to the gallery of eccentric young men that were his early stock in trade.

I also recall the general atmosphere of levity, a failure to take the central theme of the movie - death - very seriously. This is possibly explained by the fact that in 1970 (or, more probably 1969, when the film is likely to have gone into production) the death penalty itself probably seemed to have become a permanent relic of the past, unlikely to be employed again as the United States joined most of the developed world in rejecting it de facto if not yet de jure. (This abolition was only confirmed in 1972, and was short lived, as it happened.) The movie - although much blacker in its comedy - has a similar feel to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (or its TV doppelgaenger, "Alias Smith and Jones"). In these, the Wild West had been somehow not merely domesticated, but suburbanised, and there was an overlay of late 60s/early 70s Southern Californian sensibilities on the period setting. "The Traveling Executioner" does something similar to the Deep South of the late 1910s.

The return of capital punishment in the U.S. in the late 1970s (and its mounting use in the 80s and 90s) is likely to distort the perceptions of those too young to remember the atmosphere of the time in which the movie was made, when its black humour appeared to be excused by the fact that the actual horrors of execution that it so lightheartedly depicted seemed unlikely to reappear.
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I hope this movie goes on DVD
desund200127 December 2006
I have been searching for The Traveling Executioner. It doesn't seem to be on VHS or DVD. I saw many years ago once on TV, and the "Fields of Ambrosia" still come to mind. I want to have my son be able to see this movie that meant so much and stayed in my mind all these years. I hope demand may make someone decide to get this film out so it can be seen. My words cannot make the film come alive for my son. I think this is one of Stacy Keach's best performances and the tenderness of the story is profound. The atmosphere captured in the film and the WWI anti German atmoshpere that was happening at that time is spot on. The Executions truck is strong in my memory. Bud Cort as the sidekick for Stacy and then the person to move Stacy's character on to the fields of ambrosia was incredibly touching. I hope to see this film again.
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Fields of Ambrosia
fandangonoir8 February 2015
One of the great forgotten cinematic gems of yesteryear! From 1970, a young, whipcord fit, badass Stacy Keach stars as Jonas Candide, a traveling executioner who cruises the American South with his beloved portable electric chair, pulling the switch on murderers and thieves in 1918. Keach is shockingly good as he gets caught up in a scheme to save the life of a beautiful German woman slated for execution.

Keach's trademark facial scar is on full display here, not obscured by a mustache as it would be almost forevermore in later films. It adds something to the role, like a tiny crack in an otherwise perfect human statue. The film also features character actor Bud Cort in an early role.

The opening and finale scenes where Keach delivers Jonas' Fields of Ambrosia monologues are some of the best in 1970s cinema, and Jonas Candide is one of the great characters of Seventies film, he's a drunkard, a womanizer, a liar, a glutton, (the massive meal Candide sits down to eat after an execution has to be seen to be believed, massive plates of biscuits, Canadian bacon and Darwin knows what else) yet beneath it all he has a heart, Jonas, like the film, is darkly funny and darkly lovable.

Fantastically directed by Jack Smight, with a fine score by Jerry Goldsmith, and the seemingly only feature film screenplay credit by forgotten rebel screenwriter Garrie Bateson.

If there ever was a Traveling Time Traveler, a jump back into the wayback machine could correct the travesty of not nominating this film for Oscars for Best Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture in 1970!
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Great little period piece!
Made up of a good story line and cast, I was so happy to find a copy of this film. Also, I am researching the career of Bud Cort, and I knew that there was more to him as an actor than what I saw in "Harold and Maude". He speaks in an adorable southern accent, playing an dedicated but somewhat disillusioned mortician, Jimmy Croft. As one of his best films giving him one of his best supporting roles, I would highly recommend this film. I hope that it ends up on DVD someday.

Interestingly, regarding Bud Cort, I noticed that Stacy Keach, and in a smaller role, Charles Tyner, played in other films with Bud: "Brewster McCloud" (Keach, as 'Abraham Wright') and "Harold and Maude" (Tyner, as 'Uncle Victor').
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unique movie
zog-316 November 1998
An unusual movie about a vanished type of tradesman who like the iceman, buggy whip maker, milkman, and fuller brush man has gone from the American scene. Formerly this type of tradesman traveled about the south with his truck, switchboard, genarator, and of course electric chair

exeucutin' folks who wuz on death row yeah! Stacy Keach plays such a' one in this 1970 "gallows~humor" tradgi~comedy
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wish the film was on video or DVD
plmarbes17 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers

I saw this movie on television quite a long time ago. I think it was one of the best movies Stacy Keach acted in. My brother and I had many laughs during the film. The setting was in the very early 1900's when prisons didn't have electric chairs yet. Keach played this man who had an old van type truck with an electric generator and chair for executing prisoners on death row. He has an apprentice who goes with him to learn the trade. Keach ends up on death row after murdering a woman. At the end his apprentice has to execute him. I always remember the line he blurts out when he is finally strapped in. "O.K., Willie, fry me while I'm hot!" I would like very much to find a copy on VHS or DVD if anyone has one. I thought of contacting a TV station to see if they could air it some night. I think it would be a great seller!
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Interesting story-line, and excellent supporting role for Bud Cort.
ClassicFilmEra11 August 2008
The story of "The Traveling Executioner" is quirky and original, but recommended only if you wish to see the performances of Bud Cort or Stacey Keach. Otherwise, the story tends to progress slowly, not enticing me to have repeated viewings. Interesting, though, is to contemplate why the character of Bud Cort would want to follow in Steach's character's profession.

Despite the film not being the best in Cort's oeuvre, it was wonderful to see him in a large supporting role, which came scarcely after having been type-casted. His performance is excellent, as always, being able to rise above the material. He gives his character an appealing, amiable on-screen personality (opposite of the demure Harold Chasen he portrayed in "Harold and Maude").
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