Daily Archives: October 4, 1990

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: WILD AT HEART

This review appeared in the Autumn 1990 issue of Sight and Sound.–- J.R.


Dedicated to the memory of the late noir writer Charles Willeford, Barry Gifford’s Wild at Heart is a lovely little novel about youthful passions, dashed hopes and intricate cross-purposes in a redneck milieu. Split into 45 chapters over a mere 159 pages, it charts the cross-country flight of Sailor and Lula, a recent parolee and his girlfriend, from her hysterical mother, proceeding from the Carolinas to New Orleans to Texas in a picaresque journey that, in the tradition of the eighteenth-century novel, has plenty of room for interpolated stories. More literary in a self-conscious way than Willeford at his best (e.g., Sideswipe), it imparts a similar feeling for the vernacular poetry of despair and the way certain people live, think and speak. (‘The woman wouldn’t be fifty for two or three years yet and she acted like life forgot her address.’)

It is hard to imagine a commercial film that could respect the book’s form; and to find a commercial filmmaker who could respect its characters, milieu and feelings, one would have to look for someone like the Nicholas Ray of They Live By Night.… Read more »