Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 28, 2015

The new cinema of permissiveness was important in all sorts of ways. There were things that needed portraying, and considering, and American commercial cinema had in many ways done too little of either. For this reason 70s cinema is often extremely rewarding. You feel the truth of certain things, and an exhilaration in the expressing thereof. With all this going on there were inevitably going to be growing pains, especially as one generation—often made up of very permissive individuals in their real-life deportment—sought to speak to and about the next one. So Madigan is an interesting, even an important curio. It’s also in quite a bit of growing pain. That’s most evident in the gender discourse. It’s basically clueless, painful on relationships, on the status and roles of both men and women. It’s also really uncertain about authority and subordination. What are they doing with this Henry Fonda character? There seems to be a critique in there (as in the still utterly shocking way that Sergio Leone used him, the very next year), but someone also appears to be awestruck unto genuflection by the guy who once played Wyatt Earp. Check out that one scene with Widmark. They don’t know what they want to say! Or they’re trying to say and affirm three contradictory things, simultaneously. It’s a failure in some ways, but this kind of failures still yields lots of insight.

Ping, and pong. Beyond all that contextual stuff, Madigan is still a reasonable combination of police procedural/character exploration. I was happy to be reminded of Sidney Kingsley/William Wyler’s Detective Story. That generic structure is solid, but the execution is finally too messy, with too much straining and shouting. The score is almost hilariously caught between old and new. The final showdown is pretty good. Might be worth your while, all things considered.