Wine of a Rare Vintage
Forty-nine years ago tonight, viewers of the adventurous primetime anthology series ABC Stage 67 – devoted to presenting one-of-a-kind, original dramatic, musical and documentary programming – tuned in to see a simply shot, powerfully acted adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s taut short novel Noon Wine. Set in 1890s Texas, it’s the haunting tale of a shiftless dairy farmer (Jason Robards), married to a former schoolteacher (Olivia de Havilland), who takes on an enigmatic foreigner (Per Oscarsson) as a hired hand to revitalize his dilapidated spread. Things are a bit uncomfortable for a while as the brooding laborer keeps to himself, but with time and patience, the farm thrives again. Nine years later, a talkative stranger (Theodore Bikel) arrives and reveals he is a bounty hunter seeking a fugitive killer, sparking a tragic turn of events that wrenches all the characters from their relatively peaceful lives. In addition to the novelty of seeing distinguished stage and movie greats in formidable roles on television, the project was moodily, starkly crafted by its writer-director Sam Peckinpah. The formidable filmmaker was just coming off two difficult 1965 movie projects, Major Dundee (recut by its producer and studio) and The Cincinnati Kid (from which Peckinpah was fired), and the opportunity afforded him here by Producer Daniel Melnick, an admirer of Peckinpah’s movie and TV series Westerns, represented a career-rescuing lifeline that pulled Peckinpah up by his bootstraps to make a flawless dramatic gem of rare distinction. Noon Wine earned Peckinpah writing and directing award nominations from the respective Writers and Directors Guilds and reenergized his reputation and career. Long unseen for decades and preserved on video by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, Noon Wine can now be savored by audiences again, available as a Bonus Feature (in standard definition) on Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of Peckinpah’s 1975 espionage thriller The Killer Elite. A captivating story of rare vintage and cumulative force, this is a Wine to be savored.