USA, 83 minutes
Fred Ward - Royal Earle Thompson
Pat Hingle - Homer T. Hatch
Lise Hilboldt - Ellie Thompson
James Harrell - Tom Allbright
Wayne Tippet - Mr. Burleigh
Billie Keller - Mrs. McClellan
Stellan Skarsgård - Olaf Helton
January 21, 1985
1890s Texas, a stranger shows up
at the small dairy farm of Royal and Ellie Thompson. He’s an
English-speaking Swede from North Dakota; he’s competent, strong,
and good at farming. Nine years later, a second stranger, also from
North Dakota, Homer Hatch, arrives and lives are changed.
The year is 1896. A tall, strange man with a Swedish accent comes to
the run-down Thompson farm in sweltering South Texas looking for a
job. He turns out to be an invaluable worker but insists on being
left alone. As his own life becomes more comfortable, Mr. Thompson
carefully respects the man's wishes. But one day, nine years later,
another stranger comes looking for the man, and Mr. Thompson's world
is destroyed, almost while he isn't looking.
Like the Katherine Anne Porter story on which it is based, the film
version is crammed with haunting reverberations. Unconcerned with
the latest in passing social problems, it explores timeless
psychological truths. Everything seems reasonably normal, while at
the same time nothing can be taken for granted. Its geographical
boundaries are tightly constrained, but its insights cover the whole
of an experience that is peculiarly American.
was adapted and directed by a young film maker named Michael
Fields, who is making one of the more impressive television
debuts of recent years. He has worked with Merchant-Ivory
Productions and was assistant to the director James Ivory on
the film ''The Bostonians.'' He has spent the last few years
writing the teleplay and researching the period for Noon
The time and
intense care devoted to ''Noon Wine'' are reflected in each
of its 80-plus minutes. The casting is flawless. Fred Ward
portrays Royale Thompson with a kind of laconic intensity
that is somehow as appealing as it is shifty. This is a
simple man, wily if need be, who is finally overwhelmed by
complicated truths. As his wife Ellie, Lise Hilboldt manages
to project enormous strength while constantly teetering on
the brink of emotional chaos. The Swedish actor Stellan
Skarsgård, bearing some
resemblance to the early Max Von Sydow, contributes a
fascinating Olaf Helton, a man painfully torn by what could
be either pathological hostility or extreme shyness or both.
And Pat Hingle comes on briefly but memorablty as Homer T.
Hatch for one of the bigger-than-life, snorting, spitting,
guffawing villains that he does so well.
This is not a
razzle-dazzle film. Noon Wine is relatively small in
scale and subdued in tone. But its overall effect is more
unsettling than all of the flashy, calculated violence of,
say, Brian DePalma's Scarface. An intelligent and
passionate commitment can be discerned in every aspect of
the production, including the photography by Juan Ruiz
Anchia and the designs by Charles Bennet and Hilary
Rosenfeld. Mr. Fields and all concerned have brought forth
something very special indeed.
David J. Moore:
Noon Wine was previously adapted for television in 1966
by Sam Peckinpah, starring Jason Robards. This version was
adapted and directed by Michael Fields, and it’s a gut
puncher of a western. It looks at the simplicity of life on
a farm, and examines a loveless marriage, and touches on
masculinity and various other themes that manage to stir up
a strange emotional stew that settles deep as you watch it.
Ward and Skarsgård are
fantastic in their roles, and for an 83-minute feature, this
one grinds itself into your psyche. It’s a real gem if
you’re willing to take the journey.
There is an earlier version with Jason Robards, Olivia DeHavilland
and Theodore Bikel which captures the theme of the story but comes
out a bit stodgy in spite of the cast. This feature with Fred Ward,
Stellan Skarsgård, Pat Hingle and the very beautiful and talented
Lise Hilboldt captures much of the shadow nuances of Porter's
original work. Ward is especially effective as the turn of the
century farmer whose life is transformed by the mysterious Swede who
won't talk, works like a horse and plays the harmonica. Skarsgård is
superb as the taciturn Swede. Great support comes from veteran
character actor Pat Hingle as the villainous bounty hunter and
craggy James Gammon as the sheriff. But the bright light is the
delicate but solid performance of Lise Hilboldt, as the wife who is
caught in the middle of mixed feelings about the mysterious Swede,
her marriage to her mercurial husband and her own conflicts.
This is a haunting, well-told tale that will hold your attention as it
reveals some nasty secrets.
A strange story: A Swede who's either shy or psycho (or both)
wanders onto a poor Texas dirt farm and whips the place into shape.
Then a stranger arrives and tells the boss that the Swede is really
a lunatic who killed a man with a pitchfork. Noon Wine is a
stark and disturbing show but well-done with fine performances by
Fred Ward , Lise Hilboldt and Stellan Skarsgård.