Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Reviews:

The Bridges of Madison County

The cheese rolls on: here is MST-3000's Mike Nelson:

When it was announced that Clint Eastwood was tapped to direct the film version of the phenomenally popular book The Bridges of Madison County, many were concerned that Clint’s two-fisted style was less than appropriate for the delicate subject matter. After all, the story heartbreakingly chronicles four days in the life of an Iowa housewife who longs for more excitement than even Iowa can provide. Clint is more comfortable with material involving greasy guys robbing liquor stores or motorcycle-riding orangutans. Still, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how many open gun battles Clint would sneak into the damn thing! Francesca, the lonely housewife, fires clip after clip at her stoic husband, who escapes into the cornfield in his souped-up Charger. Francesca gives chase in a stolen police car, blasting his back window out with several shots from her illegally stashed shotgun. Later, when rugged photographer Robert Kincaid (Clint) makes a move to kiss the vulnerable Francesca, she produces the Glock she had taped to her back and gets off three quick rounds before Kincaid overturns the kitchen table and returns fire with his (what else?) .44 magnum. But I have fun with Clint’s image. There was, of course, almost no violence in The Bridges of Madison County

Clint’s version actually opens with a prologue wherein Francesca’s children discover a diary detailing an affair she had had many years before. I don’t know if this particular framing device was part of the book, because I didn’t read it. I didn’t read it because I’m a man. No man read the book. The author, Robert James Waller, didn’t read the book, and certainly neither did Clint. That should not be taken as a judgment on the quality of the book, certainly. It’s almost always unfair to judge any work without reading it, with the exception of the novelization of The Santa Clause. It’s just that every man knew instinctively that The Bridges of Madison County involved romance and woman stuff. Sure, men may even have been curious to know why the book was so popular with women, but there’s no reason to read when you’ve got Al Michaels.

We see into Francesca’s past as she sends her family off to the Illinois State Fair to enter their prize steer and, though it’s the 1960s, catch the Oak Ridge Boys at the grandstand. Francesca, in her loneliness, makes the first of more than six hundred pitchers of lemonade that she will produce during the course of the film. As she lounges, free from any fear of contracting scurvy, a beat-up truck rumbles down the dirt road to her farm. A man gets out; a rugged man, a man with a head like a large rawhide chew. Like most people who end up in Iowa, he’s lost, so she agrees to take him to the charming covered bridge, where they will begin their torrid Iowagian affair.

The leather-headed man introduces himself as Robert Kincaid, a photographer for National Geographic, who’s been assigned to shoot pictures of the bridges of Madison County. She introduces herself and explains that her husband is from Iowa and so she needs to get laid. I’ll allow that the movie was subtler than that, but that’s the general drift. . .

She falls for his line of crap and accompanies him on his photo shoot the next day, completely forgetting about her family, the whole lot of them suffering heat, pig offal, and the sounds of Willie Nelson. His day of work done (he took maybe four pictures; if I were her, I would’ve checked to see if he even had film in the camera), Grandpa Clint takes a hot shower at her house. . .

Freshly bathed, they head off to the hippest jazz club in all of 1965 Iowa. There are hepcats in bib overalls getting down while the players blow bebop and modal jazz. Keep in mind this is Iowa; 1965 Iowa. Must have been in Oskaloosa or Creston. I guess Clint, a huge jazz fan, just couldn’t resist. I’m just glad he’s not a big fan of Joe Jackson or Cutting Crew. . .

If you can get over the fact that it depicts infidelity in languorous detail, then there are some charming moments in Bridges. Meryl Streep is always good, and it’s fun to see if Clint’s elaborate hair structure will hold.

Clint’s getting older and letting his hair grow fairly long, necessitating that he sweep the imposing gray mass back and freeze it into shape with rigid fixatives. It makes him look a little like a frightened, elderly clown. A handsome frightened elderly clown. A clown who could still clean my clock without even copping a bead.

So, if you enjoy slow films featuring geriatric circus performers making love, The Bridges of Madison County is for you.

You may be able to view this movie in your very own home! See Monstervision page for time & date if showing this week.

Books by Michael Nelson include Movie Megacheese. Mike's episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are available on both video and on DVD, and he co-wrote the MST3000 book
Trivia (Courtesy the Internet Movie Database)

* In 1993, Sydney Pollack was the frontrunner for the director's chair for this film and it was expected that Robert Redford would star. At the time, other contenders for the female lead included Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Barbara Hershey and Anjelica Huston.
* The farmhouse used in the film had been abandoned for over thirty years and was completely restored by production designer Jeannine Claudia Oppewall and her art directors Charles Breen and William Arnold (II).
* The Cedar Bridge, where Francesca met Robert, was destroyed in a fire on 3 September 2002.
* Francesca's House was burned in an arson fire on 6 October 2003, almost a year after the Cedar Bridge was destroyed.

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© 2000 Michael J. Nelson. All rights reserved, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles & reviews. Mike Nelson is no relation to Lloyd Bridges and has never run low on air while hunting around under the sea.