In the 1973 drama Payday, a country-music star dances as close to oblivion as possible while attempting not to be destroyed in the process. Fueled by weed, whiskey, fistfuls of pills, and naked greed, Rip Torn spends the film wreaking havoc and testing his luck, confident that there will always be somebody around to clean up after him, whether it's his big dumb animal of a driver/flunky, or an ashen-faced manager whose job entails a lot more than negotiating contracts and dealing with promoters.
Daryl Duke's minor cult classic documents, with unblinking candor, a brief tumultuous period in a singer's messy existence. Payday ambles alongside Torn's crooner as he promotes his latest single, goes hunting, cavalierly trades in his brassy girlfriend for a ditzy young groupie who's far less innocent than she pretends to be, and tries to bribe his way back into the hearts of his neglected children. What begins as a smartly cynical slice-of-life comedy/drama about the seamy underside of country music takes a dark turn, as an accident leads to a grim reckoning for a man never more than a few steps away from self-destruction. Payday's hard-living protagonist is a roughneck aggregation of bad habits and character flaws, but since Torn plays him with irascible good-ol'-boy charm, it's easy to feel a little sympathy for this handsome devil.
Payday's title quickly takes on a sneaky double meaning. It's the title of one of Torn's homespun singles, but it also speaks to his mercenary nature. There's a wonderful scene early on where he visits a tiny radio station: Though Torn and the DJ publicly preserve the useful fiction that they're simply old friends sharing a laugh, undercurrents of bribery, extortion, and ugly manipulation course just beneath the surface. At best, they're dealing in mutual exploitation. At worst, it's a double-sided Faustian bargain. In Payday, everyone has their price, but Torn eventually learns the hard way that destiny stubbornly refuses to be bought off.
Key features: A relatively sparse, less-than-scintillating audio commentary from producer/music mogul Saul Zaentz—who stresses the importance of verisimilitude in capturing the film's music-world milieu—and an endearingly enthusiastic/barely comprehensible Daryl Duke