The Crushed Film Festival presents: Tex
The Movie: Tex
The Crush Object: Jim Metzler
The Story: Tex McCormick (Matt Dillon, rocking the standard-issue lank-haired butt-cut of the era) is having the customary operatic S.E.-Hinton-verse adolescence: his mother died of pneumonia when he was teeny, leaving him in the care of a rodeo-clown father (…mmmmmmm hmm) who's constantly on the road, so really he's in the care of his older brother, Mason (Metzler), a grouchy basketball prodigy so stressed out by taking care of Tex while trying to get a full athletic scholarship to college that he's given himself an ulcer. Tex's best friend, Johnny Collins (Emilio Estevez, with an even more splendiferously feathery butt-cut), lives just down the road from the McCormicks, but his super-rich father Cole (TV-western HITG! and John Wayne double Ben Johnson) doesn't approve of the McCormicks one bit. They're poor, is mostly the reason, but also McCormick Senior isn't around (and went to jail…and is a terrible actor, although in Ben McKinney's partial defense, I'd probably be monotoning my lines too if I had a pair of two-sizes-too-small Wranglers cleaving my nutsack), and Tex and Johnny get into trouble together constantly, and also Tex has eyes for Johnny's sister, Jamie (Meg Tilly).
Things start to go pear-shaped for Tex not long into the story when Mason sells his and Tex's horses for grocery money. Then their old friend Lem (Phil Brock) shows up, wanting to show off his sweet new ride and brand-new baby, but the reality isn't so shiny; he had to marry his wife because she got pregnant, and he's supporting his new family (and buying expensive cars) by dealing drugs. McCormick Senior finally reappears after seeing his sons on the news — an escaped convict (Zeljko Ivanek, with a full head of hair) (no, seriously) kidnapped them at gunpoint (no: seriously) — and obviously everything is going to turn out okay. Except obviously it isn't, because this is an S.E. Hinton adaptation, which means McCormick Senior isn't Tex's biological father and that Matt Dillon's character has to get shot.
Edited to add this photo, since all y'all don't believe me about Ivanek. Sorry about the screen glare.
But this time, he lives; Mason gets a full ride to Indiana University; Tex and Johnny reach a détente about the whole sister-canoodling thing; weird scene between Mason and Tex in which it's implied that Tex is now living on a quarter-horse farm (?); credits.
As Hinton on film goes, Tex is the least melodramatic of the four. Hinton's writing captivated me as a kid, and though the prose itself holds up reasonably well, the boy characters do more crying and analyzing their own emotions, both to themselves and between each other, than the average straight girl in real life. As a filmmaker working with that material, you have two choices: go completely over the top with the Technicolor, the wan clarinets, and the meaningful close-ups of peach-fuzzy lower lips trembling; or butch it up with a more straight-ahead approach. Charles S. Haas and Tim Hunter, the writer/director team behind Dillon's debut feature, Over the Edge, went with the latter for Tex. The soapy plot twists every ten pages plus the limited range of their leading man may not have added up to any other option, but it's the right decision; the result is not epic, but nor is it as epically self-serious, and therefore extremely dated, as the others in the genre.
But is it me, or is it kind of weird that a character in early-'80s rural Oklahoma would have a car horn that plays the Godfather theme?
The Backstory: Tex is the ne plus ultra of my crush tendencies: Matt Dillon is the one I'm "supposed to" have a crush on as a 10-year-old, and failing that, I'm "supposed to" "settle for" Emilio Estevez. …Nope! I wanted me some Jim Metzler, who is serviceable-looking, fills out the teeny sports shorts of the era decently, and disgorges Hinton's often treacly dialogue at a pounds-per-minute clip — but was THIRTY YEARS OLD at the time of filming.
The Embarrassment Level: It's more like the bafflement level, really, but: solid 5.
Tags: Ben Johnson Ben McKinney Charles S. Haas dear '80s we get it love Sarah Emilio Estevez hairdon'ts Jim Metzler John Wayne Matt Dillon Meg Tilly movies parenting gone horribly awry Phil Brock please welcome the vice president of the drama club S.E. Hinton The Crushed Film Festival Tim Hunter Zeljko Ivanek