Directed By: Daryl Duke
Starring: Rip Torn, Ahna Capri, Elayne Heilveil, Michael C. Gwynne, Jeff Morris, Cliff Emmich, Cara Dunn, Frazier Moss
Payday follows a day and a half in the life of modestly successful country music singer Maury Dann (Torn). Maury has racked up a hit song or two, and exploits his modicum of stardom to the hilt, surrounding himself with a team of enablers to clean up after the messes he creates. He burns through people almost as fast as pills and booze, but there always seems to be someone on deck to continue to meet his needs. The film follows Maury on an odyssey through the state of Alabama during the eventful downtime between a gig at a bar and some recording and television appearance dates in Nashville.
In a rare lead performance Rip Torn goes for broke as the monstrous and yet strangely charismatic Maury Dann. Maury has almost no redeeming social values and his behavior ranges from amoral to flat-out immoral depending on his state of mind and sobriety. In many ways, the film amounts to a catalog of personal atrocities committed by Dann to almost every character he encounters, and yet through Torn's performance and glimpses into Maury's shambles of a family life (pill-popping mother, ex-wife and kids he barely even knows), one gets the sense that behind the hedonistic selfishness and bluster is a very lonely man heading towards an abyss.
The film is darkly comic if one can manage to avoid any empathy for the hangers-on which Maury exploits for sex, money, transportation, or whatever else he might need. It also feels very knowing about the music industry machine and the life of a 1970s touring country performer. One of the best scenes involves Maury and a disc jockey from a small local station maintaining a front of folksy charm while locked in a kind of dance of mutual exploitation during an on-air appearance by Maury.
In addition to Torn's bravura lead role, for which he does his own (serviceable) singing, the film is filled with interesting supporting performances from actors of varying levels of experience. Dependable character actor Cliff Emmich steals more than a few scenes as Maury's devoted driver with a hidden yen for the culinary arts. Newcomer Elaine Heilveil gives a somewhat unpolished performance, but this somehow works to the advantage of her naive, vacuous character who finds herself caught up in "Hurricane Maury". Ahna Capri is appropriately pathetic as Maury's semi-regular squeeze who appears to have more than a few bad miles on her personal odometer. Michael Gwynne perfectly captures the essence of an officious, seen-everything manager with a roll of cash to throw at every problem. Gwynne was a popular disc jockey for a number of years before pursuing screen acting, and probably had a lot of personal experience with such characters from which to draw. The film is also notable for being Saul Zaentz's first foray into the feature film business. He does not take an on-screen credit, but he was in charge of the Production Company "Fantasy Films" which was set up with profits from his record company.
The film looks absolutely pristine on this transfer which fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. It features rock-solid colors, excellent detail, and no video or compression-related artifacts.
Audio is presented in the form of a solid Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track. It gets the job done with decent fidelity for the music sequences with very low hiss and only an occasional slight harshness in some of the dialog.
The extras consist of the film's theatrical trailer and a commentary form Director Daryl Duke and Producer Saul Zaentz. Duke and Zaentz sit separately with their comments edited into a single track. Both say most of what they have to say about Payday within the first 20 minutes. After that, Zaentz splits his comments between some borderline narration statements about what is happening on screen and information about things he has learned during his career as a film producer. The latter range from fairly obvious statements (a reference to William Goldman's "Nobody knows anything" quote) to practical advice ("cast" your crew as carefully as you cast your actors). Zaentz also drops in a few interesting anecdotes about the production of Payday , his first film as an (uncredited) executive producer, and some of his other films. I only hope that I can remember things so clearly and speak so lucidly when I am in my mid-80s. Duke's comments are somewhat repetitive and largely pertain to how he wanted to capture a side of America that was left "on the cutting room floor" by other films and media of the time. It is fortunate for film fans that his comments were captured at all as he passed away fifteen months before this DVD was released.
The film comes in a standard Amaray-style case with cover art derived from the film's original promotional art featuring an image from the film of Torn's character whooping it up half hanging out of the window of a Cadillac.
If you are a fan of Rip Torn anxious to see him in a rare leading performance where he does his own singing or somehow think that Robert Altman's Nashville was not nearly a dark and cynical enough portrait of the 1970s country music business, then Payday is just the film for you. The film receives an outstanding audio and video presentation on DVD and an informative but spotty commentary from Director Daryl Duke and Production Company Executive Saul Zaentz.
Edited by Ken_McAlinden - 7/4/2009 at 01:14 pm GMT