As Caine on TV’s Kung Fu, David Carradine had years of experience wandering the dusty, lawless trails of the American West as a lonely seeker of truth and justice. Perhaps that made him a natural choice to play Woody Guthrie, making a similar journey six decades later, armed not with a gun or martial arts skills, but with a guitar bearing the legend, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
In Hal Ashby’s epic biopic, based on Guthrie’s own 1943 memoir, Carradine gives the performance of his career, playing the This Land Is Your Land singer as neither a hero nor a saint, just a casually honest truthteller. More importantly, Ashby convincingly recreates the Dust Bowl America that gave rise to Guthrie, a hardscrabble, grimy, parched, unforgiving landscape (captured by Haskell Wexler’s Oscar-winning cinematography) that a firebrand like Guthrie might have ignited into a revolution if everybody hadn’t been so damn tired.
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