“We only pass this way once, might as well pass by in a Cadillac.” (Maury Dann’s philosophy of life.)
Maury Dann (Rip Torn) is a country singer. After years of touring and gigging, things are beginning to happen for him. A record is making the charts and there’s the possibility of a guest slot on Johnny Cash’s show. But the biggest obstacle between Maury and the success he craves is Maury himself.
Payday is a good example of how a film can slip into obscurity (at least from this side of the Atlantic) if you let it, so full marks for Warners for putting it out on DVD. In the UK it had a cinema release in 1973 but has never been on video or DVD and I could find no record of a TV showing. Although the film has critical favour, and boasts a fine performance from Rip Torn in a relatively rare example of top billing, it underperformed at the box office. Daryl Duke – who mostly spent his career on TV – is not often a name to conjure with, though his only other film of the 70s, The Silent Partner, has its fans. Apart from Torn, generally a fine character actor rather than a leading man, the cast are largely unknown. Elayne Heilveil – playing a young woman Dann becomes involved with, to the disdain of his older girlfriend Mayleen (Ahna Capri) – appears not to have made another cinema film, though she has worked on television quite extensively.
Written by Don Carpenter, Payday is a film that might have to be sanitised nowadays. Not for its content, which is hardly exceptional now (though there are a surprising number of “fucks” in the dialogue for a 1973 film), but its attitude. Maury Dann is very much an anti-hero, and the film makes no apologies for him. Torn, given what he counts as his favourite film part, plays the film with gusto. Dann is egotistical, prone to drinking and screwing around, and reliant on his entourage to cover him when things go wrong. And for an hour and three quarters, covering a day and a half in his life, you’re happy to watch him. Carpenter’s screenplay has genuine bite and convincing detail about the small-time country scene of the early 70s, and leads up to the type of ending more often seen then than now.
Returning to what I say above, Payday has not become a classic. It does have a cult following, though I suspect that’s mostly in the USA where this film might have been easier to see before now. (Films about country music don’t travel well to the UK unless they have Oscars attached.) If you haven’t seen it – and I certainly hadn’t before the review copy arrived – then it’s worth checking out.
Payday is one of five films released as Warners’ Director’s Showcase: Take Three, along with Tell Me a Riddle, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Personal Best and The Ritz. Payday is presented on a single-layered NTSC disc encoded for Regions 1, 2, 3 and 4.
The DVD transfer is anamorphic in a ratio of 1.78:1, opened up slightly from the intended 1.85:1. It’s a nice-looking, sharp and colourful transfer. The film’s low budget does show in grain visible in some darkly-lit scenes, but that’s the sort of thing you tend to find in semi-indie US movies of the time.
The soundtrack is the original mono, but with a surprisingly wide range. Some of the soundtrack music plays quite loud relative to the dialogue, as do some gunshots in a couple of scenes. As for the music, although this is a 1.0 track, some bass was redirected to my subwoofer. There are only English subtitles this time round, but they're not of the hard-of-hearing variety and are only available on the feature.
The two previous DVDs in this collection had just the trailer for an extra. This disc goes a little better by having a commentary. The two participants are Daryl Duke and producer Saul Zaentz, clearly recorded separately and edited together. However, neither say as much as they could and there are long gaps. Also, I did wonder when Duke’s contributions were recorded and what his state of health was at the time, as he died in October 2006 from pulmonary fibrosis. That may explain why he doesn’t say a lot.
In addition, we are given the theatrical trailer (1:42), which tries to sell the film as a broader comedy than it actually is, throwing in a car chase and several of the best lines in the script. Also on the disc is a trailer for The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (1:42), which surely appeals to a different audience, and a younger one than should be exposed to Payday.