The Corndog Man


Ace (Willingham) blows his top when a man claiming to be his son keeps calling and calling and calling...
dir Andrew Shea
scr Andrew Shea, Jim Holmes, David Steen
with Noble Willingham, Jim Holmes
99/US 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
The most amazing thing about The Corndog Man is that you don't realise the film is essentially a one-man show until long after it's over. Only one man speaks on-screen, and all of his interaction with the other main character is on the telephone! The rest of the characters communicate with glances, actions and implied dialog that define the story and fill it out wonderfully. And what's even more astonishing is that this central figure, South Carolina boat salesman Ace Barker (Willingham), is a foul-mouthed bigot. So when an anonymous caller (Holmes) starts hounding him relentlessly, Ace blows his stack fairly soon. But the tenacious caller gets more inventive and insistent, installs his corndog stand just outside Ace's office so he can keep an eye on his prey, and then starts peeling away Ace's layers until all of his secrets are revealed.

The basic point is incredibly complex, examining tolerance, loyalty and cowardice with a visceral punch to the audience. But here's another surprise: It's not remotely heavy-going; the film's laced with raw, earthy humour and a resonant warmth that lets us identify with Ace despite his bull-headed vileness. And Willingham is astonishingly good in the role. Meanwhile, director-cowriter Shea holds the story together perfectly, crafting an entertaining and provocative piece of real cinema with inventive direction and a terrific musical soundtrack (except for one obvious song at the very end). And it looks fantastic on the big screen (pity that in America it'll only be seen outside festivals on cable and video). We only ever see glimpses of the mystery caller, the incessant phone ringing gets on our nerves just as it does Ace's, and yet like him we want to see this through to the conclusion. As the black comedy gets darker and more serious, and as the attack on Ace progresses from mental to physical to spiritual, the film touches on themes of grace and mercy, repression and redemption, stubbornness and revenge. Nothing about this film should work ... but it all does.

[strong language, themes, violence] 6.Nov.99
8th St Louis Film Festival

Winner: Emerging Filmmaker Award, St Louis 99.

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"Simply one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. The performance of Noble Willingham is a treat itself. If all of Hollywood could do this much with a 250k budget, they could finally run the dinosaurs out of town once and for all! 'How ya like that daddy?' Bravo Andrew Shea and the gang!" --Rob K, net.

"This movie has really captured me. I've seen it 4 times in just a few weeks. The wonderful music (I agree, that last tune doesn't fit in) pulls you along on this ride that is hysterical at first, then compelling after subsequent viewings. I never get tired of it. I'm off to Blockbuster!" --Mary W, net.

"As an indie filmmaker, I run into work that I sometimes wish I had written. The Corndog Man is not one of those films. I do not wish that I had written it because it is not the kind of genre that I write, but I am very glad someone did write it. The film can be analyzed as being in two halves - the comedy you think it is, followed by the tragic story behind it. I work at HBO, where we are always discussing films and getting deep about the writing and directing. All I have talked about is The Corndog Man. I love this film. I love the North Carolina setting, with its entire lack of modernism." --Astas14, net

"There are only a handful of movies that deserve to be recognised by all movie maniacs and Corndog Man fits the bill. I love this movie! A dark comedy to be seen, not just heard about. After watching this dramatic movie I was frightened to answer my telephone for weeks. Two thumbs up!" --Norman Nipplen, net 27.Jan.03

"I enjoyed it immensely; but nowhere in the review on this site or in the film credits is mention made of the fact that much of the script and dialogue was almost identical to the now famous underground 'Binny Tapes', a series of crank call tapes made in the early 80s. These tapes were made by 'Arney', an employee of a car dealership, Al White Motors in Manchester, Tennessee, to his cranky car salesman co-worker Binny Garrick. The profanity, insults and humorous situations concocted by 'Arney' to harrass his coworker are verbatim to those Penrod made to Ace in this film. The director and 'writer' of Corndog Man should acknowledge this. These crank call tapes are avaiable from John Trubee of Space and Time World Enterprises in Santa Rosa, California." --Nick Rabalais, net 9.Feb.03

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1999 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall