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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.
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.
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.
an executioner who gets paid 100 bucks for each execution. The year we're
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
funny truck he drives thru the country to visit every possible jail to
fill his task. The conversations are sometimes hilarious. Example, the
moment he rents out hookers to some inmates. They each have to pay him,
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!
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!
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').
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.
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.
and the Lord taketh away. Stacy Keach (Jonas) is the good-natured
psychopath who travels around America in his van performing an usual
ceremony. He's the travelling executioner and transports his own
electric chair around with him to each gig. He straps in the victim,
provides a kindly speech and then flicks the switch. Then, it's a big
meal and on to the next appointment. One day, it's a woman who is due
to die and this seriously upsets Keach's routine. He likes her. Can he
This is a dark comedy. The music is comedy music, Keach's performance keeps you smiling and there are funny episodes. One example is the scene where Keach procures a van load of prostitutes to hire out to inmates so that he can raise some money for a ludicrous plan to bring the condemned Mariana Hill (Gundred) back to life after the event. Doctor Graham Jarvis (Brittle) is the doctor who Keach is relying on for this experiment that works with rats.
Out of the cast, other than Keach, the standout performance is by sadistic warden James Sloyan (Piquant). He is the blueprint for the character in "The Green Mile" (1999) you'll know the one I mean. There are two things to take from this film. Firstly, women are trouble. Secondly, if anyone starts talking about the Field of Ambrosia to you, get out of there fast!
This is not your average "black comedy". The subject, electric chair executions, is dark, there is no "feel good" ending, and the entire film teeters on bad taste. Nevertheless this is certainly fertile ground for some dark comedic moments. The acting is especially good for what had to be a daring MGM low budget film that was likely to have difficulty finding an audience. Practically unseen for many years, the remastered edition DVD from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection looks great. Stacy Keach is convincing as the sympathetic executioner. Marianna Hill barely makes an impression as the condemned love interest. Bud Cort, M. Emmet Walsh, and Charles Tyner appear in supporting roles. "The Travelling Executioner" is a somewhat unpredictable, somewhat uneven, "black comedy" that deserves cult status because of the daring subject matter. - MERK
I saw this film in Mexico around 1971 and I was so mesmerized by Stacy Keach's performance as a very eccentric traveling electrocutioner hired by Southern prisons to do the dirty deed. His hypnotic presentations to the condemned prisoners were heavenly and sublime as he always captured their attention by taking them to the "Fields of Ambrosia". I do remember thinking back then (1971) that these prisoners were being given a lot more than their warden ever bargained for. This was back in time when Soylent Green had come out and Edward G. Robinson was accepting the gift promised if he went along with assisted suicide. (This was set in the future when there was not enough food for the population and his remains would be used for processed food for people.) His quid pro quo was to watch pictures of all the extinct wildlife and other ecstatic beautiful scenes that no longer existed and nobody had had the privilege to ever see). Stacy Keach made the imminent execution so painless, that you would have thought the prisoners were wanting to die and experience the "Fields of Ambrosia". I am 70 years old and I do not go to many current movies any more as they are without art, taste, merit, etc, but I wonder why those who control the release of this movie won't let us old timers see it some more.
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