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For, Friday, July 31, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: A lovely little forgotten film made nearly 40 years ago as a vehicle for Sissy Spacek is getting the Blu-ray treatment this week from Kino Lorber, which also marks its first widescreen video release. The film does go a bit awry at the end, switching tonal gears in an odd way, but it’s still well worth watching. My review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 27, 1981. (Note that one of Spacek’s sons is played by Henry Thomas, who would next star in Steven Spielberg’s ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.’)

Sissy Spacek is an incredible actress and with her first full-fledged grown-up role, in “Raggedy Man,” she finally has an opportunity to display adult emotions and, in her own subtle way, dominates the proceedings of this most unusual film.

Spacek stars as Nita Longley. The film opens in Edna, Texas, circa 1940, as she sees her husband dancing with another woman in a bar. Suddenly, it’s 1944, now in Gregory, Texas, and Nita is raising her two sons alone and living in the building that houses the telephone switchboard office in which she works — literally the loneliest kind of 24-hour job anyone could imagine.

The film details the town of Gregory and its inhabitants, which include two ill-tempered brothers and a strange “raggedy man” who seems to keep Nita’s home under surveillance.

Then a young sailor comes into Nita’s life, by happenstance, and the need for a father-figure for her two small sons — and her own desires for a man — are, for a short time, fulfilled.


        Sissy Spacek, Eric Roberts, 'Raggedy Man' (1981)

“Raggedy Man” is a finely-tuned, carefully-crafted movie that captures the temper of a small Texas town during wartime and is very realistic. It’s funny, tender, sad — and occasionally very scary.

The film is loaded with terrific vignettes, some very brief scenes that linger in the mind long after the picture is over. At one point, when the sailor is out on the town with her two boys, Nita does a little dance with a broom, singing with the radio (the Andrews Sisters singing “Rum and Coca-Cola”). At another, she storms out of the house with her sons following behind and assertively purchases three bus tickets to leave town. And in yet another, she must confront one of her boy’s accusations that she made their father leave them.

All three are examples of the texture that director Jack Fisk embellishes this entire movie with, and all three give Spacek opportunities to give full force to her considerable talent in displaying three very different facets of Nita’s personality.

This is Fisk’s first directing effort (he is Spacek’s husband) and it is an exciting debut. For most of the picture, “Raggedy Man” is a superb, rich look at the life of a woman alone in the ’40s, prey to small town life.


As the young sailor, Eric Roberts (“King of the Gypsies”) is very good, the perfect choice to play the young, naïve sailor who is bound for active duty in the war. Tracey Walter (who may be recognized as Frog, from TV’s “Best of the West” series) and William Sanders are excellent as the menacing brothers.

And as Nita’s two young sons, Henry Thomas and Carey Hollis Jr. are simply outstanding, with none of the overly cute drawbacks so many child actors bring to the screen.

Despite the scenario described above, however, “Raggedy Man” is not a film for children. The last 15 minutes or so turn into something of a horror-thriller and the violent denouement will likely scare small ones far too much.

That is a strange turn for a movie that is so lyrical most of the time but there is an underlying tension that threads the entire film before it takes its “Wait Until Dark” twist.

“Raggedy Man” fails to lose any of its charm, however, and, despite its peculiar ending (with a mystery that shouldn’t be too hard to figure out), this PG-rated film (for violence, nudity and profanity) is a wonderful adult film that can be highly recommended.