The fanatically uncompromising Len Rowan and his family insult and terrorize the citizens of a small town for years. One day the comment of a saleswoman about Len’s son not being able to pay his sweets triggers off his persecution complex. As revenge for the believed insult, the whole family starts stalking the shop owner and her husband… until this escalates and the old man gets badly injured. Len is arrested, but gets off, free on bail. His clever attorney delays the court session for more than a year – while Rowan keeps threatening the witnesses. But then, the people feel they’ve had enough of this and decide to take the law in their own hands…
The Demise Of a Robber Baron
This is a truly great movie. I picked it off a shelf as a videotape at a clearance sale here in Switzerland, primarily because I knew Cloris Leachman and Marcia Gay Harden to be top American actresses. I was positively surprised and kept the tape.
The story, apparently based on true events, is very archaic in character. It has the feel of the Middle Ages, in fact. A farmer with a large, chaotic family terrorises everybody around him, steals pigs from other farmers etc. The intimidated citizens know no other way out than to kill him in a surreptitious and cowardly way and then to drive away his clan, gutting his castle, er, farm, making a vow of silence as to the identity of the murderer. Only, this is supposed to happen in the second half of the twentieth century, in a country that is known for its respect for freedom. But law and order, on which that freedom is based, is not given the slightest chance here.
In Broad Daylight appears to be a biased account of what happened somewhere in the Midwest of the USA. The script does not take an easy way out by taking sides but tries to do justice to everyone concerned with surprising subtlety. This could easily be Brian Dennehy’s best ever performance. He plays the farmer turned robber baron with a lot of feeling. The man is a terrible bully, a menace and despicable, yes, but he also shows a sense of responsibility, however twisted and perverted, toward his family and love for his numerous offspring. Cloris Leachman proves herself to be a very versatile actress here. She plays a store owner who is the principal aim of the robber baron’s wrath and shows much common sense and, when that does not help, bravery, although she is as scared as the others. She tries to bring the man to justice, but the system keeps preventing that by way of a shrewd defense lawyer. So the story builds up to a climax with a bang.
Two scenes stand out and are really excellent. The first is the incident which triggers the «war» between the robber baron and the townsfolk. Some members of the farmer’s family misbehave in the Candy Store and are mildly reprimanded. At once the situation escalates for no good reason beyond any proportion and it immediately becomes clear, there’s no way back. The second scene is of course the murder of the farmer at the steering wheel of his car on a Main Street parking lot – in broad daylight. As the body of the shot man slumps forward, the car’s engine revs up and starts shaking and emitting smoke. This goes on for about 20 seconds while all around the people stand silently by. It’s ghostly and realistic at the same time.