Tender Mercies (1983)

PG | 92 mins | Drama | 4 March 1983

Director:

Bruce Beresford

Writer:

Horton Foote

Producer:

Philip S. Hobel

Cinematographer:

Russell Boyd

Production Designer:

Jeannine Claudia Oppewall

Production Companies:

EMI, Antron Media Production
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HISTORY

Production notes in AMPAS library files state that writer Horton Foote brought Tender Mercies to actor Robert Duval upon its completion, and read the script to him aloud. The two first worked together on Foote’s Academy Award-winning adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (1963, see entry), Duvall’s theatrical feature film debut, and continued to collaborate in the ensuing years. When Duvall agreed to star in Tender Mercies, documentary producers Philip and Mary-Ann Hobel optioned the script to make their first theatrically-released feature film. Although Foote was known for his work in drama, television productions, and adaptations, Tender Mercies marked his first original screenplay written directly for the screen.
       An 11 Jan 1983 Village Voice article reported that the character “Mac Sledge” was loosely based on country music singer George Jones, and a 10 Mar 1983 CSM interview with Foote added that the story was inspired by the writer’s nephew, a county music hopeful who was mentored by an older, more established musician. The title, Tender Mercies, was a reference to the Biblical Book of Psalms, and was also an allusion to the character “Rosa Lee.” Foote told CSM that he chose the title in an effort to “express the expectations that kind of person has…it’s all she asks for, certain moments of gentleness or respite. She has a sense of appreciation for what she has; it’s nothing to do with grandness or largeness, but just thanks for a nice day or some such thing. Mac must learn to evaluate and appreciate this quality in ... More Less

Production notes in AMPAS library files state that writer Horton Foote brought Tender Mercies to actor Robert Duval upon its completion, and read the script to him aloud. The two first worked together on Foote’s Academy Award-winning adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (1963, see entry), Duvall’s theatrical feature film debut, and continued to collaborate in the ensuing years. When Duvall agreed to star in Tender Mercies, documentary producers Philip and Mary-Ann Hobel optioned the script to make their first theatrically-released feature film. Although Foote was known for his work in drama, television productions, and adaptations, Tender Mercies marked his first original screenplay written directly for the screen.
       An 11 Jan 1983 Village Voice article reported that the character “Mac Sledge” was loosely based on country music singer George Jones, and a 10 Mar 1983 CSM interview with Foote added that the story was inspired by the writer’s nephew, a county music hopeful who was mentored by an older, more established musician. The title, Tender Mercies, was a reference to the Biblical Book of Psalms, and was also an allusion to the character “Rosa Lee.” Foote told CSM that he chose the title in an effort to “express the expectations that kind of person has…it’s all she asks for, certain moments of gentleness or respite. She has a sense of appreciation for what she has; it’s nothing to do with grandness or largeness, but just thanks for a nice day or some such thing. Mac must learn to evaluate and appreciate this quality in her.”
       The Hobels first contacted Australian director Bruce Beresford in Aug 1980, after the successful release of his film Breaker Morant (1980), as noted in a 27 Feb 1983 NYT article. The producers reportedly appreciated Beresford’s “documentary approach” to the historical drama, and Beresford was eager to make his first U.S. film about rural life. However, he was unconvinced that Foote’s script was realistic, and the Hobels agreed to sponsor Beresford’s journey to TX, where he travelled through small towns with Horton Foote. While a 20 May 1981 DV news item stated that the film was “momentarily without a director,” a 19 Oct 1981 LAHExam article reported that Beresford had been hired, and filming was scheduled to begin in early Nov 1981.
       Principal photography took place between 2 Nov 1981 and 23 Dec 1981 in Waxahachie and Palmer, TX. According to the Village Voice, Duvall prepared for his role by moving to the area several weeks before production began and working at a local bar, performing songs from the soundtrack. Additional scenes were shot in Dallas, TX, which stood in for Austin, TX, and Nashville, TN. Although the 20 May 1981 DV anticipated a budget of $4.5 million, Philip Hobel told the 27 Feb 1983 NYT that the film cost $5 million.
       The film marked actress Tess Harper’s theatrical film debut.
       End credits state: “Filmed on location in Palmer and Waxahachie, Texas.”
       Tender Mercies was nominated for three Academy Awards in the following categories: Directing, Music (Original Score), and Best Picture. It won two Academy Awards for Actor in a Leading Role (Robert Duvall) and Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen).
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Christian Science Monitor
10 Mar 1983
p. 18.
Daily Variety
20 May 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 1983
p. 3, 4.
LAHExam
19 Oct 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Mar 1983
p. 1.
New York Times
27 Feb 1983
Section A, p. 17.
New York Times
4 Mar 1983
p. 8.
Variety
29 Dec 1982
p. 16.
Village Voice
11 Jan 1983.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Antron Media Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Asst to the prod
Asst to the prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Best boy
Still photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
Loc asst ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Swing man
Leadman
Prop master
Asst props
Const coord
Const asst
COSTUMES
Cost asst
Betty Buckley's cost by
Betty Buckley's wigs by
MUSIC
Country mus arr
Country must adv
SOUND
Sd mixer
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Re-rec supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and optical eff
DANCE
Dance instructor
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Asst makeup
Hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Swing man
Loc mgr
Post prod services
Post prod services
Post prod services
Playback op
Playback op
Texas casting
Extras casting
Unit pub
Craft service
Craft service
Catering
First aid
Security
Prod coord
Prod accountant
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod secy
STAND INS
Stunt double
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
Prints by
SOURCES
SONGS
“It Hurts To Face Reality,” written by Lefty Frizzell, sung by Robert Duvall
“Fool’s Waltz,” written and sung by Robert Duvall
“I’ve Decided To Leave Here Forever,” written and sung by Robert Duvall
+
SONGS
“It Hurts To Face Reality,” written by Lefty Frizzell, sung by Robert Duvall
“Fool’s Waltz,” written and sung by Robert Duvall
“I’ve Decided To Leave Here Forever,” written and sung by Robert Duvall
“Wings Of A Dove,” written by Bob Ferguson, sung by Robert Duvall
“If You’ll Hold The Ladder (I’ll Climb To The Top),” written by Buzz Rabin & Sara B., sung by Robert Duvall
“The Best Bedroom In Town,” written by Charlie Craig, sung by Betty Buckley
“Over You,” written by Austin Roberts & Bobby Hart, sung by Betty Buckley
“Champagne Ladies & Barroom Babies,” written by Charlie Craig, sung by James Aaron
“I’m Drinkin’ Canada Dry,” written by Johnny Cymbal & Austin Roberts, sung by James Aaron
“You Are What Love Means To Me,” written and sung by Craig Bickhardt.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
4 March 1983
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 4 March 1983
Production Date:
2 November -- 23 December 1981
Copyright Claimant:
EMI FIlms, Inc.
Copyright Date:
13 May 1983
Copyright Number:
PA176285
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
92
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26678
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

The Mariposa Motel is a rest stop and gas station on a remote Texas highway, owned by a widow named Rosa Lee and her young son, Sonny. One evening, an intoxicated stranger arrives at the Mariposa and awakens the next morning in a daze. Introducing himself as “Mac” Sledge, he offers to work in exchange for room and board, and Rosa Lee agrees on condition he stop drinking. Over time, Rosa Lee brings Mac to her choir performances at a Baptist Church, and they begin to share parts of their life stories, with Mac admitting he has an estranged, eighteen-year-old daughter named Sue Anne, and Rosa Lee revealing that her former husband, Carl Herbert Wadsworth, was killed in the Vietnam War. However, Mac remains enigmatic about his past, and expresses emotion only when playing guitar. As Mac becomes sober, he demonstrates his dedication to religion and family life, and Rosa Lee accepts his marriage proposal. One day, a music journalist makes an unexpected visit to the Mariposa Motel, hoping for story about Mac’s former career, and Rosa Lee realizes her husband is a country music legend. The reporter also reveals that Mac was once married to “Dixie,” a rich and famous singer who is scheduled to perform at a nearby theater called the Grapevine Opry. Although Dixie despises her estranged husband, and has forbidden their daughter, Sue Anne, from seeing him, she agrees to be interviewed for the article, and Mac is vulnerable to defamation. Still, he is unwilling to talk about his past and sends the journalist away. When the article is published, a group of locals arrive ... +


The Mariposa Motel is a rest stop and gas station on a remote Texas highway, owned by a widow named Rosa Lee and her young son, Sonny. One evening, an intoxicated stranger arrives at the Mariposa and awakens the next morning in a daze. Introducing himself as “Mac” Sledge, he offers to work in exchange for room and board, and Rosa Lee agrees on condition he stop drinking. Over time, Rosa Lee brings Mac to her choir performances at a Baptist Church, and they begin to share parts of their life stories, with Mac admitting he has an estranged, eighteen-year-old daughter named Sue Anne, and Rosa Lee revealing that her former husband, Carl Herbert Wadsworth, was killed in the Vietnam War. However, Mac remains enigmatic about his past, and expresses emotion only when playing guitar. As Mac becomes sober, he demonstrates his dedication to religion and family life, and Rosa Lee accepts his marriage proposal. One day, a music journalist makes an unexpected visit to the Mariposa Motel, hoping for story about Mac’s former career, and Rosa Lee realizes her husband is a country music legend. The reporter also reveals that Mac was once married to “Dixie,” a rich and famous singer who is scheduled to perform at a nearby theater called the Grapevine Opry. Although Dixie despises her estranged husband, and has forbidden their daughter, Sue Anne, from seeing him, she agrees to be interviewed for the article, and Mac is vulnerable to defamation. Still, he is unwilling to talk about his past and sends the journalist away. When the article is published, a group of locals arrive at the Mariposa to pay tribute to Mac, explaining they are musicians who were inspired by his talent. The band urges Mac to come out of retirement, but he remains determined to give up music for good. However, Mac attends Dixie’s concert that evening, and gives her manager, Harry, the sheet music for a tune he recently composed. Mac attempts to establish a friendly rapport with Dixie, but she orders him to leave and warns him to stay away from Sue Anne. Sometime later, Harry visits the Mariposa to report that Mac’s new music is no longer commercially viable, and Dixie has declined to record the song. As Harry leaves, Rosa Lee asks to hear the tune and Mac struggles with the chords, prompting him to become enraged and drive away in a fit of temper. Mac’s anger is exacerbated at a truck stop, where he hears Dixie on the radio, and he nearly crashes his car as he speeds away. Returning home, Mac admits that he bought alcohol to soothe his wounded pride, but he never consumed it. Rosa Lee confesses that she, too, was somewhat devious during their brief separation. While Mac was gone, she secretly gave his sheet music to his local band of admirers, so they could help her learn the melody. She hoped to sing the tune to Mac when he came home. Although Rosa Lee did not grasp the vocals, the band was captivated by Mac’s song and begged her permission to perform it at their next performance. Mac, who reveals that he has written an extensive collection of new music, meets the band and learns that a recording company has agreed to release their next album, on condition that Mac write and perform several songs. Mac consents to support the band and returns home to find his daughter, Sue Anne. Referring to Dixie’s efforts to keep them apart, Sue Anne asks Mac if her mother’s accusations of domestic violence are true and he admits that he was a violent alcoholic. Mac’s temper became so unmanageable that he once tried to murder Dixie, and the infraction caused him to lose his family. Sue Anne reveals that despite Mac’s absence, Dixie kept his spirit alive by filtering royalties from his songs into a trust fund, giving her financial security. However, Dixie’s pursuit of success has left Sue Anne feeling abandoned and oppressed, and she wishes to pursue a relationship with a young man who does not meet Dixie’s approval. As Sue Anne leaves, she attempts to establish an emotional connection with her father, remembering a ballad he used to sing to her, but he feigns ignorance of the song. Sometime later, Mac learns from Dixie’s manager, Harry, that Sue Anne eloped with her boyfriend and was killed in a car accident. Switching to business matters, Harry regrets his previous rejection of Mac’s song and proposes an option of $500, but Mac returns the cash, declaring that he has other plans for his music. After comforting Dixie during Sue Anne’s memorial, Mac returns home and wonders aloud why he had a second chance in life to recover from alcoholism while his daughter died so young. Life goes on, and Mac buys his stepson, Sonny, a football. The boy, who has been plagued with curiosity about his dead father, finally musters the courage to ask Rosa Lee about the cause of his death on the battlefield. However, Rosa Lee was never informed about the details and is unable to give her son a direct answer. Realizing life is suffused with ambiguities, Sonny takes his new football to Mac and they play outside the Mariposa Motel. +

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

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.