‘The fact is that my whorehouse collapsed anyway…’ is sample dialogue that gives an accurate account of the eccentricities featured in 92 in the Shade, a pretty obscure mid-70’s talkfest that now emerges into the choppy waters of streaming. It’s peak Peter Fonda, and has a remarkable supporting cast and a unique atmosphere; perhaps a cult following isn’t out of the question.
For novelist Thomas McGuane, this was his first and only foray into directing; rumour has it that he was quite a character, and it says something for him that Wikipedia gives Captain Bezerko as his nickname. He worked on high profile projects like Rancho Deluxe, Tom Horn and The Missouri Breaks, the latter based on his own novel. Amongst his many and varied interests was fishing, and 92 in the Shade showcases that passion, offering a rowdy, raucous hang-out movie which was marred by indecision as to the ending.
The route forward, however, is strewn with gems. Fonda plays Tom Skelton, a prodigal son who returns to a Key West, Florida fishing community. He hopes to set up his own business, but runs up against two tough hombres in Dance and Carter (Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton) who don’t welcome intrusion on their patch. Spitting out the n-word with some venom, Burgess Meredith is the grandpa who bank-rolls Skelton’s venture, with Mousehunt’s William Hickey in a wonderfully off-beat turn as his dad.
McGuane also managed to find time to have an affair with co-star Margot Kidder, cheating on his wife Elizabeth Ashley, a decision which seems to have gummed up the wheels somewhat. Fonda also didn’t finish up on great terms with McGuane, but his performance is just fine, salty and determined enough to convince; he certainly seems to know his way on and off a boat.
92 in the Shade was unwisely marketed as a thriller, but it most assuredly is not; it would be hard to imagine a more languid effort, endlessly caught up in minor characters and conversations which do nothing to move the plot in any thrilling direction. But the dialogue is choice, the atmosphere is highly specific, and the whole enterprise typified the most idiosyncratic style that the mid-70’s could muster. A new ending was added in 1981 for a re-release, but in truth, neither manages to wrap up all the diverse stories here. The violent end is too abrupt, while the conversational route doesn’t quite gel either; one feels that footage is missing, or was never shot. But even with such imperfections, 92 in the Shade is a real find; like Wise Blood, it’s rambling, surprising film riddled with non-PC dialogue and situations that reflect clearly on a bygone time and way of life.