It should have been another quiet Sunday in this rural location, where Adam Smith (Ernest Borgnine) was taking his granddaughter Lucy (Hollis McLaren) to church in his truck, she having moved in with him at his farmhouse now that her relationship with her boyfriend had broken down. On the way, they pass two friends of Lucy's whose car has met a spot of bother, but the male half of the couple is attending to it and they both wave as the grandfather and granddaughter travel on. However, three people who stop are a trio of criminals seeking new wheels now their car has been identified on the radio, and they gun down the couple before taking their vehicle for themselves...
Straw Dogs was such an obvious influence on Sunday in the Country, also known as Vengeance is Mine (original title!), that they put a reference to it on the poster, promising the same kind of visceral thrills and pandering to your worst instincts that the Sam Peckinpah effort had supplied. But this was a Canadian exploitation movie, one of those tax shelter ones funded by their government programme, and it was not going to indulge the audience that easily. Although dismissed at the time, and indeed since, as a rip-off of Bloody Sam, there was a little more to it than that, no, it was not a massive improvement on what he conjured up, but it did make for a more thoughtful item.
What was most interesting as far as character actor fans were concerned was that this offered the opportunity to see Ernest Borgnine butting heads with another cult star, Michael J. Pollard. Pollard played one of the bank robbers (how they ended up so far from the city they are headed for is never explained), and he was at his most squirmy and deplorable here, which was saying something for a performer who could truly turn on the anti-charm when required for a villainous role. This was basically an update of his Billy the Kid from Dirty Little Billy, only given a suit to wear and affecting a "Ho, ho, ho!" chortle that was about as far from Father Christmas as you could conceivably get.
Even Pollard's reprehensible hood's co-crims hate him, often threatening violence at him well in the knowledge that he would do the same to them given half the chance. We are aware this trio will encounter Adam before long, and suspect the farmer will become the victim of their behaviour, but you would not quite be correct in that. Certainly Adam is corrupted by his experience, but as with Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs it is merely something that was present in his personality all along that emerges, and horrifies his hippy-dippy granddaughter. No sooner have the evildoers shown up at the farm asking to use the telephone on pretence of getting inside the house (they have already cut the wires), than Adam blows one of them away with his shotgun and turns his attention to the other two.
The other two including Pollard's Leroy, and he and his cohort are immediately humiliated when Adam separates them from their trousers and chains them to an outside wall (Leroy's purple patterned underpants linger long in the memory if you have seen this, whether you want them to or not - but why would you want them to?!). Here we see this Godfearing, apparently gentle older gentleman has been harbouring distinctly unlovely traits, as while Borgnine remained commendably even-tempered and reasonable about actions that amount to torture, we can see through Lucy's perspective that his outer sheen of respectability had been hiding monstrous depths. The implication is that no matter how pious and moral you appear, if you present that to the world then you should really back it up, since if you resort to victimisation and violence with eager regularity, you are a hypocrite, pure and simple. Yet Sunday in the Country was not as simple as all that, courting the vigilante movies craze of the seventies but putting it down in the same breath. More interesting than you might expect - not massively, but there was substance. Music by Paul Hoffert and William McCauley.