- Movie Rating -

Uncle Joe Shannon (1978)

| December 8, 1978

Sometimes a movie can have so much heart and so much sincerity that you want to give it a pass no matter how schmaltzy it gets.  Then your better sense of taste kicks in and you realize that the movie is laying on the sentimentality so thick that you need a drill to get through it.

Uncle Joe Shannon is a movie like that.  In general, I felt for it.  I understood its passages, dealing with grief and loss and the rotten core of fate that human beings are sometimes heir to.  Yet, I also had the good sense to know when I was being jerked around.

The story was written by Burt Young, most famous for his role as Paulie, Adrian’s abusive brother in Rocky, and right way one suspects that the creative team behind that film had hoped to mine some greatness from this one.  It was produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff.  The music is by Bill Conti.  But Rocky was a movie about a loser whose life had been manipulated by the ill-wind of fate.  Uncle Joe Shannon is a movie about a loser whose life has been manipulated by the ill-wind of the plot.

Here’s an example: the movie opens by establishing Joe Shannon (played by Young) as a successful trumpet player with a great life.  He has a beautiful wife and an adoring young son.  On the kid’s birthday he receives a small trumpet.  Yet, later that night the wife and son die in a house fire because the kid ran back into the house to get the trumpet and the wife ran in after him.  When Joe arrives on the scene, the wife and son are under sheets and the dead son is still holding the trumpet.

See, what was the point of that?  It is bad enough that Joe loses his wife and child but why did we need the extra stuff?  Why did we need to see the trumpet next to the kid’s body?  A kick in the stomach is one thing, but this is just kicking us with cleats on.

Well, anyway, Joe is so grief-stricken that he drops out.  He becomes a skid row bum, wandering in a wasteland of lost souls, always with his trusty trumpet by his side.  There in that dark place, he comes across Robbie (Doug McKeon) whose alcoholic mother has abandoned him.  Joe feels for the kid because, you see, the kid is just as alone in the world as he is.

AND, if the bonding weren’t enough, we also find out that the kid has cancer in his leg and the doctor wants to amputate.  The kid is afraid, Joe doesn’t want him to die and so it goes.  Uncle Joe Shannon is ludicrous.  You want it to be over so that we can end the suffering and get on with our day.  The movie doesn’t arrive at a conclusion so much as limp to it.  I’m all for a movie about a sad sack, but come on.  When Joe pulled out a trumpet in a movie theater and started playing, I waited for the usher to throw he and the kid out in the street where, I thought, they might get hit by a car.  Par for the course, I assure you.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1978) View IMDB Filed in: Drama