A true Newfoundlander

Celebrating a life of whiskey, wenching

Published: Jul 12 2014, 01:01:am

Friday, June 9, 1972.
THE ROWDYMAN. Written by Gordon Pinsent. Music by Ben McPeek. Directed by Peter Carter. Running time: 95 minutes.
IT WAS ONLY A MATTER of a dozen months ago — it seems like years — that going to a "Canadian" movie was a matter of awkward duty. Until recently, local productions were "consideration" films.
    Considering this country's lack of movie-making funds . . .
    Considering its lack of big name talent . . .
    Considering the lack of experience, of business acumen or of distribution, it was a considerable wonder that we made any movies at all.
    Considering all the problems, those movies that were made were viewed, and often reviewed with, well, consideration. "All things considered," notices would read, "Sugar Sap Saga was a nice little film."
    Nobody was fooled. Consideration and faint praise is as damning as claws-out criticism. Be glad those days are over.
    Canadian movies no longer need "consideration." Latest proof of that comes in the form of The Rowdyman, a made-in-Newfoundland look at a small-town hellion too busy living to notice that life is passing him by.
    Will Cole (Gordon Pinsent) is a Corner Brook mill worker who is enjoying an infinitely prolonged adolescence. For years, he has been living out his high school fantasies. His days are filled with whiskey and wenching —"He ain't married because he ain't grown up enough to get a wife," says one of his co-workers — and high-spirited pranks that are rapidly driving Williams (Ted Henley), the town constable, to distraction.
    Will is cruising for a life crisis. All around, his friends are settling down and advising him to do the same, but free-living Will will have none of it.
    The major influences in his life are his fellow rowdy Andrew Scott (Frank Converse), an aging rowdy named Stan (Will Geer), whom Will secretly visits in a St. Johns hospital, and bank clerk Ruth Lowe (Linda Goranson), the one woman who could make a difference in his life. Each tries to warn him to grow up before it's too late.
    Director Peter Carter, working with an episodic, mood-evoking script, gives his film an almost documentary look. A former CBC-TV drama director, Carter appreciates the raw beauty of the Atlantic island province, and knows how to use it to infuse his picture with a rich, regional flavour.
    The screenplay, written by actor Pinsent, a born Newfoundlander, lacks a driving storyline. Rather, it is a character study of Will, his friends and their social milieu. It is the sort of movie that depends almost entirely on the strength of its actors.
    And, yes, these rowdymen are strong. Pinsent, whose national reputation was made playing the dignified, responsible Parliamentarian Quentin Durgens, M.P. on television (as well as the U.S. President in 1970's Colossus: The Forbin Project), slips back into his island accent to become one rowdy man.
    His spirited, often subtle performance is well supported by Converse, as his constant, occasionally frustrated best buddy; by Vancouver actress Goranson, as the girl who matters, and whose love is ultimately tempered with pity and concern; and by Geer, whose performance as a senior sailor nearing death has the gravitas of an East Coast Dan George.
    Not all the parts fit. The Maritimes are rich with traditional music but, for some reason, the producers chose to commission a couple of bland background songs whose indifferent quality does more to break the mood than enhance it.
    The film has at least one scene in which the actors' lines are lost in a garble of accent and natural noise. Despite such problems, though, The Rowdyman does what it sets out to do.    
    Will Cole, despite all his problems, is an engaging, thoroughly likeable rogue who has fun, and is fun to watch. Solid entertainment, The Rowdyman needs no consideration before the recommendation that you go out and see it.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1972. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: After all these years, Gorden Pinsent truly is an inspiration. He made his feature film debut in 1964, in a movie called Lydia, playing a terminally ill man who finds love during a farewell visit to Greece. Fifty years later, he's still working, with one film in production and another about to be released. His 2014 picture, Big News from Grand Rock, is a comedy set in the world of small town journalism in which he shares the screen with Aaron Ashmore, Kristen Booth and his own daughter Leah Pinsent. Scheduled for 2015 is Pirate's Passage, a cartoon feature that will include Pinsent's voice talent, along with those of Megan Follows, Paul Gross and Colm Feore. During his first half century as a performer, his positive roles have included television's most upright politician (Quentin Durgens, M.P., 1966-71), Canada's heroic ambassador to Iran (Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper, 1981), the president of the United States (Colossus: The Forbin Project, 1970), the elephant king (Babar, 1989-91), and at least five Catholic priests. Playing Rowdyman Will Cole earned him the first of his five Canadian Film Awards (out of eight nominations). In 1973, he turned The Rowdyman screenplay into a novel. He followed that with a second novel, called John and the Missus (1974), which he adapted as a stage play for Halifax's Neptune Theatre, where he played the title role (1976). Pinsent brought it to the screen in 1987, making his feature film directorial debut and reprising the role of John Munn (another Genie Award winner). Working constantly, he earned another best-actor award in 2007 for playing faithful husband Grant Anderson in director Sarah Polley's Away From Her (screenwriter Polley's adaptation of Nobel prize-winner Alice Munro's short story). Tireless, Pinsent recently collaborated with musicians Greg Keelor and Travis Good, providing the poetry that they set to music for their 2012 album Down and Out in Upalong. He's giving retirement no consideration at all.