Eastwood’s always claimed a great affinity for music of pretty much every variety. His films attest to the fact – Bird being a particularly obvious instance. Less blatant, if you’re not really paying attention, is 1982’s Honkytonk Man, based on a novel penned by Clancy Carlile, who wrote his first novel in less than three weeks.
As the title suggests, Eastwood’s film, one which he stars alongside his son and directs, focuses on a musician who frequents honky tonks.
Set around the depression era, Red Stovall kicks around from town to town riding in his late model limo. He’s not had the greatest success in the music industry, but given the time that the film takes place, it doesn’t seem that too many are having luck in just about any line of work.
Stopping into his sister’s home, a farm run by her relatively quiet, yet authoritative husband, Red needs a place to rest up a bit before heading to his tryout at the Grand Ole Opry. Regardless of the crop that’s just been lost, prompting a move to California, Red finds hospitality as well as his nephew, Whit (played by Eastwood’s son).
What follows are a series of adventures – a quick visit to some whorehouse, robbing a chicken shack, playing a few gigs, showing up at recording studios, etc – that all count as a coming of age story for Whit. At the same time that the kid witness all of this, he’s been charged with taking care of an uncle who unquestionably has a nasty drinking habit. But it’s just another case of those creative types being drawn towards destruction.
Being a lush and playing a few good songs – which Eastwood actually does himself, the singing and playing, that is – isn’t always enough to get over. So, when the Grand Ole Opry turns Red down after he leaves the audition in a fit of coughing, but gets offered a chance to record a few sides, it seems like the random break he’d been waiting for the entire time.
The story’s basically the distillation of countless rambling guitarists from the twenties and thirties. It’s not that the thing’s all unoriginal, but Honkytonk Man wasn’t made by anyone else for a reason; it wasn’t set to be a hit. But maybe that’s why Eastwood decided to work it out.