Perhaps the best ray of light in the story is Paulette, Frank’s enduring wife, who's got brains big enough to pound both of these morons into the ground, but lacks the fortitude to do anything about it. As Roger Ebert has stated, she’s the lone voice of wisdom to whom no one ever listens.
Though made on the cheap, shot over weekends, and pieced together with nothing more than passion and talent, the film plays like an honest contender. Pennell accentuates his creation with tight precision, lighting his sets to the full advantage of his black and white stock, and editing the entire gamut within an inch of its life.
It’s easy for one unfamiliar to his work to miss this film’s subtle brilliance, especially this far removed from its original 1978 release. The Whole Shootin’ Match entered the small, fledgling world of independent film festivals and helped inspire its renaissance, even planting the seed in Robert Redford that would later germinate into the creation of the Sundance Film Festival. Its release on DVD this past February makes it the first time Pennell’s filmmaking debut has ever had a chance to reach a larger audience.
The DVD set boasts a collector’s booklet, introducing newcomers to Pennell’s work, including reflections from Lou Perryman, co-writer Lin Sutherland, and others. You’ll find early reviews of the film, including Roger Ebert’s original 1980 review, and his look back from 2007. Also attached to the set is the film’s mellifluous soundtrack on CD, written and performed on 12- and 6-string guitar and mandolin by Eagle’s brother Chuck. Special features include a rare interview with Eagle, and the feature-length documentary “The King of Texas” which details Eagle’s life and career, from the making of the film, to his death in 2002.
The story of Eagle Pennell nearly warrants a film itself. Writers and critics will tell you he reached his zenith with his second film, Last Night at the Alamo (1983), and could never quite get his game on afterward. His remarkable contribution to American independent film, however, is rendered in this release as a landmark of remembrance for his enthusiasts, and an important primer to those who may be reading his name here for the first time. Get your mind right, and give it a look.