92 IN THE SHADE (1975)
Director: Thomas McGuane
Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber

Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, and Henry Dean Stanton battle over "who gets to fish and who gets to cut bait" in the arty character study 92 IN THE SHADE.

Having arrived at the idea of becoming a fishing guide by "process of elimination", wandering middle-aged beach bum Tom Skelton (Fonda, EASY RIDER) sets about learning the ropes from seemingly laid back Carter (Stanton, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) and unhinged loner Nicol Dance (Oates, COCKFIGHTER). Although he regards them, respectively, as "the sun and the moon," they resent the extra competition the quick learner will bring to their little corner of the Everglades. When Dance wounds bait salesman Roy (John Quade, THE STING) with a fish hook and ends up in the slammer, he has no choice but to let Tom take over his bookings lest "friend" Carter corner the market. While Dance lies around in a jail cell musing on how he has killed Roy (or has he?), Carter needs all the work he can get to pay for his wife Jeannie's (EVENING SHADE's Elizabeth Ashley) showpieces. When Tom takes his first clients out on a fishing expedition and they mysteriously disappear, he returns to land to discover that he has been the victim of hazing by Dance. Tom reacts to this by blowing up Dance's boat. Tom's grandfather Goldsboro (Burgess Meredith, THE SENTINEL), a prominent lawyer, advises that Dance wait for his insurance to replace his boat and threatens to run him out of town if the tries to bring suit against Tom. Waiting for his insurance to pay off, Dance mulls over killing Tom but admits that he has "gone soft" and merely forbids Tom to guide. Although Tom's bedridden father (William Hickey, THE TELEPHONE BOOK) wants Tom to find another job, describing Tom as a "violent dilettante" who does not really understand the graveness of the situation with Dance (or Carter who plays nice but is pushing both men towards destruction), Tom goes ahead with his plans to be a guide when his grandfather puts up the money for a brand new skiff boat. When Dance learns of Tom's new boat, Carter can only surmise that "there's a good chance somebody might get killed."

Not even remotely resembling the 1970s backcountry exploitation film the plot could have produced, 92 IN THE SHADE – the sole feature directorial effort of novelist/screenwriter Thomas McGuane (THE MISSOURI BREAKS) and based upon his own novel – is more of a Southern Gothic character study. Although we identify with Tom despite his reckless way of going through life, he is just as eccentric as Carter and Dance (who wants revenge even though he appears to view Tom's destruction as his boat as a reasonable reaction to what seemed like a relatively benign act of hazing). In that respect, Margo Kidder (BLACK CHRISTMAS) as Tom's love interest Miranda is more believable as a somewhat slatternly "school marm" than as a "schoolteacher," and it is less depressing to think of Ashley's aging cheerleader peculiar rather than a depressive drunk. Goldsboro, Tom's father and his mother (Louise Latham, MARNIE) – failed proprietors of a whore house all speak in rather Tennessee Williams-esque poetic terms – in contrast to Tom's "monosyllabic son of a bitch" – while Goldsboro's lewd secretary (Sylvia Miles, THE SENTINEL) seems like a Henry Miller character. Like Miles, Latham, and Ashley, Kidder flits in and out of the film to provide additional character shadings of uncertainty to their male counterparts, not so much as structural devices but as archetypal opposites. Besides the always entertaining Joe Spinell (MANIAC) as a city slicker with a certificate for a free fishing trip, famed casting director Louis DiGiaimo (THE EXORCIST, THE GODFATHER) outfits the film with an impressive supporting cast: Warren J. Kemmerling (FAMILY PLOT) as the local boat builder, John Heffernan (GOD TOLD ME TO) as Roy's replacement bait seller/trip coordinator, as well as THE WASP WOMAN's William Roerick and BOUND FOR GLORY's Evelyn Russell as pompous and wealthy customers.

Released by United Artists theatrically and by Key Video on VHS, 92 IN THE SHADE has come to the digital realm from Scorpion Releasing on DVD only, although it does not appear that to been an issue of materials as the brand new 2015 HD master presented here in progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen looks pretty much as expected given the film's diffused and sunburnt exteriors, grainy natural light day interiors, grainier night interiors, and some fading at the edge of the frame in a couple shots probably the result of flare rather than deterioration. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is in fine condition. Since this is an ITC title acquired from ITV (and not a limited Blu-ray), the disc is encoded as Region 1. The only extras are trailers for BARBAROSA, KILLER FORCE, FIREPOWER, THE LAST SEDUCTION and CARAVAN TO VACCARES. (Eric Cotenas)