Back Roads (1981)

R | 94 mins | Comedy, Romance | 1981

Director:

Martin Ritt

Writer:

Gary DeVore

Producer:

Ronald Shedlo

Cinematographer:

John Alonzo

Editor:

Sidney Levin

Production Designer:

Walter Scott Herndon
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HISTORY

       Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that screenwriter Gary DeVore wrote the script based on his own 1975 short story. Producer Ronald Shedlo optioned DeVore’s outline and the two spent a year developing the script before Shedlo sent it to director Martin Ritt. An article in the 19 Mar 1980 LAT reported that Shedlo had personally developed the project and assembled the team of Ritt and actress Sally Field before bringing the project to Donald March, vice president of CBS Theatrical Films, a new division of CBS Entertainment. Back Roads, budgeted between $7-8 million, would be one of the first projects for the four month old company.
       According to the LAT and an article in the 19 Mar 1980 Var, production would begin on 12 May 1980 in New Orleans and would also shoot in Fort Worth, Texas. Production notes, however, reported the film was shot on location in Mobile, AL and Brownsville, TX. Actor Tommy Lee Jones had a ranch in nearby LaFeria, TX and, during filming in Brownsville, invited the cast and crew to his ranch for weekend barbecues. Items in the 17 Jul 1980 DV and the 5 Aug 1980 LAHExam reported that record-breaking heat in Brownsville, TX forced the production to shoot at night in an effort to avoid extreme temperatures. An item in the 11 Jul 1980 DV noted the film would complete production on 12 Jul 1980, one week ahead of schedule. An article in the 22 Jul 1980 DV added that producers were ... More Less

       Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that screenwriter Gary DeVore wrote the script based on his own 1975 short story. Producer Ronald Shedlo optioned DeVore’s outline and the two spent a year developing the script before Shedlo sent it to director Martin Ritt. An article in the 19 Mar 1980 LAT reported that Shedlo had personally developed the project and assembled the team of Ritt and actress Sally Field before bringing the project to Donald March, vice president of CBS Theatrical Films, a new division of CBS Entertainment. Back Roads, budgeted between $7-8 million, would be one of the first projects for the four month old company.
       According to the LAT and an article in the 19 Mar 1980 Var, production would begin on 12 May 1980 in New Orleans and would also shoot in Fort Worth, Texas. Production notes, however, reported the film was shot on location in Mobile, AL and Brownsville, TX. Actor Tommy Lee Jones had a ranch in nearby LaFeria, TX and, during filming in Brownsville, invited the cast and crew to his ranch for weekend barbecues. Items in the 17 Jul 1980 DV and the 5 Aug 1980 LAHExam reported that record-breaking heat in Brownsville, TX forced the production to shoot at night in an effort to avoid extreme temperatures. An item in the 11 Jul 1980 DV noted the film would complete production on 12 Jul 1980, one week ahead of schedule. An article in the 22 Jul 1980 DV added that producers were also happy that the film was completed prior to an expected strike by actors. However, the 17 Dec 1980 DV reported that Sally Field had to fly from the Miami, FL based production of Absence of Malice back to Brownsville, TX where she and Tommy Lee Jones filmed a new, “more upbeat” ending for Back Roads.
       An item in the 23 Jan 1981 HR reported that Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Henry Mancini would write the title song that Waylon Jennings would perform. According to an article in the 13 Mar 1981 LAHExam, Field was unhappy with the song and with using a male singer, since she felt that shifted the film toward her co-star. The song was changed, and Sue Raney performed it. A subsequent article in the 16 Mar 1981 LAHEXam reported that Warner Bros. denied Field had instigated the song change. They claimed that everyone involved felt the first song was “too twangy” and wanted something more romantic.
       The 19 Mar 1980 LAT reported that CBS Theatrical Films did not have a distributor for its movies, and might deal with distribution on a “picture-by-picture” basis. The 17 Oct 1980 HR reported that Warner Bros. would handle the domestic distribution of Back Roads.
       According to an article in the 16 Mar 1981 LAHExam, it had been incorrectly reported that the film’s first New York screening was a disaster. The film received mixed reviews, but it was not true, as previously reported, that movie-goers “tried to shout it off screen.”
       According to the 17 Mar 1981 DV, Back Roads grossed $3,036,339 in its first three days of release in 805 theaters.
       An item in the 22 Jul 1980 DV noted that the film was the feature film debut of Phil Cole, an Alabama Film Commissioner, who played the uncredited role in drag, although his participation in the film could not be verified. The article also noted that Back Roads was the final film for actor Don “Red” Barry.

             End credits include the producers’ thanks to the Alabama State Film Commission and the Texas State Film Commission.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
11 Jul 1980.
---
Daily Variety
17 Jul 1980.
---
Daily Variety
22 Jul 1980.
---
Daily Variety
17 Dec 1980.
---
Daily Variety
17 Mar 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 1981.
---
LAHExam
5 Aug. 1980.
---
LAHExam
13 Mar 1981.
---
LAHExam
16 Mar 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Mar 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Mar 1981
p. 1.
New York Times
13 Mar 1981
p. 6.
Variety
19 Mar 1980.
---
Variety
11 Mar 1981
p. 17.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Martin Ritt/Ronald Shedlo Production
Produced in Association with Marion Rosenberg
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Key grip
Gaffer
Best boy elec
Best boy elec
Best boy grip
Still photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Const coord
COSTUMES
Men`s ward
Women's ward
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd eff, Burbank Editorial Service
Sd eff, Burbank Editorial Service
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Loc auditor
Unit pub
Transportation capt
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
SONGS
"Ask Me No Questions (I'll Tell You No Lies)" written by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, sung by Sue Raney.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Love with a Sinner
Release Date:
1981
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 13 March 1981
Production Date:
12 May 1980 -- 12 July 1980
Copyright Claimant:
CBS, Inc.
Copyright Date:
17 April 1981
Copyright Number:
PA98415
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by Deluxe®
Widescreen/ratio
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
94
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On the seedier side of Mobile, AL, prostitute Amy Post looks at pictures of a little boy before going to work where drifter Elmor Pratt cons her into believing he has money. However, after they have sex, Elmor reveals he cannot pay the twenty dollars. But, he would like to date her. Furious, Amy orders him out of her motel room and returns to work. Later, when Elmor tries to keep Amy from picking up another client, he gets her into trouble with an undercover police officer. Realizing that Amy is about to be arrested, Elmor knocks the officer out. Angry because she would have been quickly out on bail, Amy now has to hide. They return to her motel room, where she packs her bags and grabs the boy’s pictures. Elmor takes her to his lodging in an abandoned warehouse. Amy sneaks out the next morning, stands outside an elementary school and watches as the boy in the pictures goes inside. The boy’s adoptive mother confronts Amy. The woman realizes that Amy must be the boy’s birth mother, but avoids discussing the subject. She assures Amy that the boy is happy, but he is her son and, if Amy shows up again, her husband will call the police. In tears, Amy walks away and returns to Elmor’s place. Elmor, meanwhile, is fired from his car wash job for not showing up the previous night. He goes to a boxing gym and finds that he has also lost his locker there. Back at his place, Elmor and Amy decide to leave town and head west ... +


On the seedier side of Mobile, AL, prostitute Amy Post looks at pictures of a little boy before going to work where drifter Elmor Pratt cons her into believing he has money. However, after they have sex, Elmor reveals he cannot pay the twenty dollars. But, he would like to date her. Furious, Amy orders him out of her motel room and returns to work. Later, when Elmor tries to keep Amy from picking up another client, he gets her into trouble with an undercover police officer. Realizing that Amy is about to be arrested, Elmor knocks the officer out. Angry because she would have been quickly out on bail, Amy now has to hide. They return to her motel room, where she packs her bags and grabs the boy’s pictures. Elmor takes her to his lodging in an abandoned warehouse. Amy sneaks out the next morning, stands outside an elementary school and watches as the boy in the pictures goes inside. The boy’s adoptive mother confronts Amy. The woman realizes that Amy must be the boy’s birth mother, but avoids discussing the subject. She assures Amy that the boy is happy, but he is her son and, if Amy shows up again, her husband will call the police. In tears, Amy walks away and returns to Elmor’s place. Elmor, meanwhile, is fired from his car wash job for not showing up the previous night. He goes to a boxing gym and finds that he has also lost his locker there. Back at his place, Elmor and Amy decide to leave town and head west to California. They decide to hitchhike and are picked up by a family. Unbeknownst to Amy, the son steals her wallet. Later, Amy discovers the theft when she readies to pay for dinner at a coffee shop. Elmor does not have much money either, so they fake an argument to get outside, and run off. As they hitchhike down the road, the coffee shop waitress drives up, pulls a gun and demands her money. Elmor gives her his last twenty dollar bill and wants change. The waitress tosses his change out the window as she drives off. They are soon given a ride by Mason, a Navy sailor, headed for San Diego. Mason likes Amy, but does not realize she is a prostitute, and believes Elmor is her cousin. When the three stop at a small town fair, Mason escorts Amy as they dine, dance and play carnival games. Four sailors, who are local residents, drunkenly follow Mason and Amy. The men steal Mason’s money and one of them tries to rape Amy, but she knocks him down with a swift, well-placed kick. Elmor drives up in Mason’s car and the three of them race off. Mason is mad that his money was stolen while Elmor wants to know why he had so much cash. Mason insists that he is a “pinball wizard” and can win money playing pinball. In the next town, Elmor uses his last few dollars to stake Mason, but the local pinball wizard is better, and Mason loses the money. Amy gets ready to work the streets, but Mason is shocked to learn she is a prostitute, insults her and drives off. Elmor and Amy camp by a river. She tells him that she regrets giving her son up for adoption. The next day they try to board a passing freight train, but their attempt is unsuccessful and they land in a muddy puddle. They then decide to take a bus, but need money for the fare. When she picks up a drunk client, Elmor knocks the guy out and steals his money. Amy is disgusted and, as they ride away on the bus, she insists that Elmor has to stop robbing drunks. She also insists on giving him a manicure. He is reluctant, but she wants to become a manicurist in California. He feels they cannot change who they are and they argue. She moves to another seat and does not talk to him as the bus drives west. At last, they arrive in a Texas town and go their separate ways. He sells his blood at a donor center, and then heads for a bar where he offers to fight the local champion in a boxing match. Elmor insists that he will put on a good show because he always gets back up after getting hit before eventually being knocked out. Amy ends up on the squalid side of town where prostitutes work. Angel, the local madam, warns Amy not to work the streets without her permission. A depressed Amy writes a note to her son and tucks it in her purse. When she sees Elmor in a diner, he apologizes, buys her dinner and they get a motel room for the night. She worries about his upcoming fight, but Elmor assures her that he has done this before. Elmor leaves to fight Marvin, the local champ. Marvin insults Elmor’s “trainer,” so the trainer informs Elmor that Marvin is always late out of his corner. The bell rings, Elmor runs across the mat and, when Marvin turns around, Elmor knocks him out. When Elmor returns to the motel with his $100 winnings, Angel and her henchman are terrorizing Amy. Angel insists that if Amy is going to work the streets, she must pay for Angel’s protection. Angel finds the note that Amy wrote to her son, telling him that she loved him and was probably going to die. Angel burns the note, insisting Amy would never have written it if she really loved the boy. They take Elmor’s money and leave. Elmor and Amy hitch a ride out of town the next morning. At a truck stop, they find a trucker who will drive them west the next day. Elmor washes dishes at the truck stop café in exchange for a room and food. When he joins Amy in the room, she is packing to go back to Mobile, and they argue about being losers. He argues that he won his last fight and they would have the money if it were not for her. She storms out and goes to a bar, looking for a ride east. He follows her and they argue some more, but when Amy gets into trouble with a thuggish guy, Elmor comes to her rescue. He knocks out the thug, and then dances with Amy. The next day, Amy and Elmor get a ride with the trucker heading west. When that ride ends, they keep hitchhiking their way to California. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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