Overlong and striving too obviously for epic stature, A GOOD DAY TO DIE corrals the comparative novelty of Black homesteaders, in a fatalistic potpourri of oppression, miscegenation, and the taming of the bigoted West.
Hired gun Gypsy Smith (Sidney Poitier) marshalls a regiment at a peaceful Indian village, and is horrified by the massacre that ensues at the hands of US cavalrymen. Rescuing the chief's young son, Gypsy entrusts the boy to Indian agent John Maxwell (Michael Moriarty). Although given the foster
name Corby, the former Little Raven (Billy Wirth) grows up uncomfortably aware that he doesn't fit into the White Man's world, particularly when he begins a passionate affair with adoptive sister Rachel (Joanna Going). Meanwhile Gypsy assumes the role of sheriff for his jurisdiction, but resists
the domestic impulses he feels for schoolmarm Druscilla (Regina Taylor). Rachel returns from college and, despite her unquenched passion for Corby, attracts the eye of wealthy racist Shelby Hornbeck (Hart Bochner). When two black youths are hanged by the KKK, Gypsy's intervention leads to his
castration at the hands of the whites. The embittered lawman withdraws from society and eventually goes on a revenge spree against the hateful crackers. After wedding Shelby, Rachel discovers to her horror that he's the president of the local white supremacist lodge and personally responsible for
Gypsy's gelding. When Corby is apprehended while visiting her, Rachel shoots her spouse and goes on the lam with her Indian lover, abetted by Gypsy. Pregnant Rachel is persuaded to rejoin her father Maxwell after the three fugitives are surrounded by a posse. Gypsy goes down in a blaze of glory,
and a cannon blasts Corby out of his cave. In honor of their fallen men, Rachel and Druscilla continue to Do the Right Thing on the frontier.
Unable to coherently compress the main events in its source material, "Children of the Dust," this TV miniseries hits the high spots and emerges as a prairie soap opera with a bitter tang. For all the high-toned condemnation of racism, the film only reaches the level of barnstorming melodrama,
with over-the-top flourishes of castration, a woman driven mad by the same symbolic wilderness that unhinged Lillian Gish in THE WIND (Farrah Fawcett limns Maxwell's suicidal wife), and a hot sex scene in which the heroine shreds her bridal gown during lovemaking with a beau who is not her
fiancee. The film's insurmountable problem lies in giving equal weight to converging storylines about Gypsy's odyssey toward redemption and the star-crossed Rachel/Corby romance. The teleplay adjusts to character crises instead of fashioning the major confrontations around a carefully-mapped
scenario. Some characters come and go confusingingly, others are given more weight than they should have, and dispensable plot threads end up repeating exposition.
Since the piecework screenplay and uninspired direction don't strangle the actors' hadworking histrionics, the wilder moments play better than the intimate ones that fade due to the rush of happenings. Best enjoyed as a series of violent tableaux with a Message, this proves moderately effective in
spite of itself. (Graphic violence, nudity, profanity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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