Goin' South is an American western-comedy film, directed by and starring Jack Nicholson. The 1978 film also starred Mary Steenburgen in her film debut and included Christopher Lloyd,John Belushi (also in his movie debut), Richard Bradford, Veronica Cartwright, Danny DeVito and Ed Begley, Jr.
As the film begins, the Paramount logo sequence plays in reverse.
Henry Lloyd Moon (Nicholson), a third-rate outlaw in the late 1860s, is a bank robber, horse thief and cattle thief who is sentenced to be hanged in Longhorn, Texas, to the glee of the local populace and especially of the deputy sheriff (Lloyd). Moon comes under especially close scrutiny from some women in town, due to a local ordinance originating during the Civil War, that allowed a condemned man (short of being a murderer) to be saved from the gallows if an unmarried lady would marry him and take responsibility for his good behavior.
Moon is spared by the intervention of a lovely young woman who agrees to marry and take charge of him. Julia Tate (Steenburgen), a headstrong, genteel Southern virgin, weds Moon, initially only to work a gold mine that she insists is on her property; their shaky partnership evolves into much more.
The deputy particularly hates Moon for marrying "his" girl, although there is no evidence that she has any interest in him. Moon's old gang complicate matters at Julia's home when they show up and introduce Julia to intoxicating beverages. They then discover that Julia and Moon are mining gold, something that Moon was trying to conceal from the entire town and his erstwhile colleagues. Moon schemes to betray Julia and steal the gold. Moon and Julia experience a cave-in at the mine which changes the nature of their relationship.
- Jack Nicholson - Henry Lloyd Moon
- Mary Steenburgen - Julie Tate
- Christopher Lloyd - Deputy Towfield
- John Belushi - Deputy Hector
- Richard Bradford - Sheriff Kyle
- Veronica Cartwright - Hermine
- Jeff Morris - Big Abe
- Danny DeVito - Hog
- Tracey Walter - Coogan
- Luana Anders - Loretta Anderson
- Lucy Lee Flippin - Diane Haber
- Ed Begley, Jr. - Whitey Haber
- Lin Shaye - Parasol Lady
The film was co-written by John Herman Shaner and produced by Harry Gittes, both longtime friends of Jack Nicholson from his early days in Hollywood.
This was Mary Steenburgen's film debut. Steenburgen had been a waitress in New York hoping to break into acting, and after being turned down repeatedly for film roles, this launched her career in Hollywood. Christopher Lloyd, who worked with Nicholson on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, plays Deputy Towfield. Lloyd and Steenburgen reunited 12 years later as love interests in another western-comedy, Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future, Part III.
This was John Belushi's first film after having been a Saturday Night Live cast member for several years. This film was shot before, but released after, National Lampoon's Animal House, which premiered in the summer of 1978.
This was the second of three films directed by Nicholson. The first was 1971's Drive, He Said, and the third was the Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes, released in 1990. This marks the first film in which Nicholson appears as the primary actor while directing. He does not appear in Drive, He Said, but did star in and direct The Two Jakes.
Danny DeVito has a small supporting role as Hog. DeVito and Nicholson were childhood friends. In 1992, DeVito directed and co-starred with Nicholson in his biopic film Hoffa. They also acted together side-by-side in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Terms of Endearment, and Mars Attacks!. Each played a villain in director Tim Burton's Batman films. Nicholson played the Joker in the 1989 film, while DeVito played the Penguin in 1992's Batman Returns.
It was not a hit upon release in 1978 with critics or audiences. Some believe that Goin' South has received more favorable attention over the years, especially with Nicholson's fans. It currently holds a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.