I caught Payday at the PFA a few weekends ago.
Payday starring Rip Torn; directed by Daryl Duke; (1972)
Even though he didn't have on-screen credit, film and record producer & Berkeleyite Saul Zaentz (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The English Patient) was involved in the production of the film. In fact, PFA curator Steve Seid mentioned that the print they were screening was donated to PFA by Zaentz.
The film, which I had never heard of, was quite a discovery for me. Torn plays Maruy Dann, an "up and coming" Country & Western singer. "Up and coming" is not the right description because at age 35, he's more of a veteran than a rising star. It's easy to see why he's not a star - he's drinks too much and pops pills like a fiend (he even supplies his mother with some uppers). He's a womanizer and quick with his fist. He's also an asshole but that shouldn't stop him from success. He's stopping himself from being successful (with the help of sycophants and enablers) and all the booze and women are just symptoms of his own character flaws. Nonetheless, within the context of the film, he has skills as a C&W singer, my lack of C&W music enthusiasm notwithstanding, and is close to hitting it big - an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry and The Johnny Cash Show (Hello. My name is Johnny Cash.)
Torn tears it up as Dann. Some of the more outlandish escapades include having sex with a groupie in the backseat of his Cadillac while his "girlfriend" is sleeping next to them. In addition to the aforementioned maternal/pharmaceutical interaction, Dann gets into a brawl with his bandmate over a dog and he ends up killing another guy whose girlfriend he shagged in a car in the parking lot of his last gig. Dann is living like a rock star (minus the money) in a rural Alabama. The film doesn't give a lot of backstory as to why Dann is the way he is. I guess it doesn't matter too much for the people around him. In fact, it is in keeping with 1970's filmmaking to avoid the backstory.
This film is at its heart a road story about a dysfunctional jerk who is enabled by those around him but told in an Altman-esque way. He travels around the American South drinking, fighting, screwing, killing and generally pissing everyone off. It's fascinating to watch because you wonder how low he can sink. To Torn's acting credit, I never felt outright hostility towards the character.
Ahna Capri, whose next film would be Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, stood out as Torn's busty, lusty, feisty soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend. The best scene in the film involves Capri. I won't give it away but their breakup is memorable.
The ending was slightly surprising to me as well. In hindsight, it wasn't so unexpected but it is an abrupt conclusion but then Maury Dann was an abrupt character.
4 days ago