Bound for Glory
Based on Woody Guthrie’s autobiography and directed by Hal Ashby, the folk singer is married with two children but leaves to travel and look for work. While singing songs he learns about the plight of the poor and sings songs for them and becomes popular.
In July 1936 Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) is in Pampa, Texas. He plays guitar while three other men say they would like to travel. Woody says they are depressing. A truck arrives and asks for gasoline. The driver Collister asks for news and offers a dollar for something worth hearing. Woody says it is dusty around there, but that is not worth much. Woody says he is not a fortune teller, but he says this is an inside man who works for the oil refinery. Collister tells him to keep going. Woody says the creases in his forehead mean he is probably serious and works hard. Collister says he’s earned fifty cents. Woody says he may have an invention and is trying to figure when to sell it to the oil company. The man offers him a dollar if he will tell him when to do it. Woody says he is not a mind reader. Collister puts some coins in Woody’s guitar.
Woody is painting the sign “Come on in and talk it over” while he is telling his two little girls Gwen and Sue the story of Goldilocks. His wife Mary (Melinda Dillon) looks through the screen door and says the sign looks good, but she does not think anyone around there is going to pay him to talk to them. He mentions the man at the gas station, and she says that was happenstance. She says he could make money with his sign painting if he tried. He says it does no good to harp on it. She says he could do them well. He plays guitar and sings.
Two ladies bring Woody into a house and says he has the gift. They come into a house, and he asks a woman sitting in a chair if she has faith that she can be cured. He says if she believes her daughter is up in heaven, then she believes in God. God gave her a mind which tells the body what to do. She looks at him, and he puts his hand under her chin. He says she does not want to die because of her husband and children. He asks for some water. He tells her to send a message to her throat to drink the water. She drinks water, and he makes her swallow it. He laughs and says that was easy. He says she did it and can do more. He tells the ladies to pour water down her throat and talk to her about everything. A woman offers him a quarter, but he says they don’t owe him anything and goes out.
Outside he says he did it, and he jogs down the street. He sees Donna Jo who asks if he and his wife want a bedroom set. She does not want to leave it, and he says they will do something with it. She says they are going to California. Her husband got laid off, and everything ran out. She gets in the loaded car which drives off.
At the dinner table Woody’s pa Charlie says he might find some jobs in the department store in Amarillo; but Woody says he is not going to sell shoes, and it is too far away. Mary says he should tell his daughters that in the morning when they want milk. He says it is 62 miles, and she says he could sing a song or tell her fortune instead. She says it does not seem fair; even his brother is looking for something.
Woody asks a person driving a truck if he needs a sign. He walks to the center of town. Later he is completing a sign on the front of a store. The owner comes out and tells him he wanted white on black, not that red he is painting. Woody says it shows up better, and the man asks him how much he thinks he is getting paid. The man asks what he is supposed to do with that red sign, and Woody tells him to fold it and “put it wear the sun don’t shine.” Woody walks off, and the man says he does not need his lip either.
Woody plays guitar and sings “Curly Headed Baby.” A blonde woman asks if he wrote that song about her. She says she is willing to do what he asked her. She gets up, and he says this town is not dead yet.
A big man finds Woody on his porch and says he is an insane man. Woody tells him to sit down and says he is insane too. The man says he was in the insane asylum twice, but he was not insane when he went there. He says he hears newsreels in his head. He says the dust storms are getting darker; people are fighting and killing; and kids are getting sick. He sees how to build roads better. He asks Woody if those are his brushes, and Woody says he is a painter. The man wishes he could paint his pictures, and Woody gives him some brushes and paint. He tells him to find a place where no one will bother him and put those things down on paper.
Woody plays a fiddle at a country dance and dances too. Children run and say there is a dust storm.
Outside a huge cloud of dust is about to cover the town. Woody is walking among the cars and starts running and gets in a moving car. He runs in the dust storm and finds his house and secures the windows before going inside.
Mary is putting blankets over the windows. Woody plays guitar and says a little dirt won’t hurt. Mary covers her girl’s face with a damp cloth but allows her to breathe.
People are trying to clean up, and a car drives slowly. Woody jumps off the back and comes into Jimmy’s barbershop. He asks if he has any more dances lined up, but Jimmy says no. Woody tells him to take it easy and goes out.
Woody pushes a motorcycle for a friend, but it does not start. Woody says it is the dust.
Woody and Mary are in bed, and he says things aren’t going well around there. They are touching each other and kiss. He gets on top of her.
Woody is sitting on his porch playing guitar. He stands up and is thinking. In the house he leaves the note “Going to California. Will send for you all.” He puts on a coat and hat. In the backyard Mary says hi and waves. He walks out the front door, and his brother George says he will see him later and goes into the house. Woody walks into the street and flags down a truck that stops and picks him up.
Woody is sitting by a highway near oil pumps and puts out his thumb. Woody is riding in the rumble seat of a car. Woody is walking and puts out his thumb. He sits on a chair by the road and plays harmonica.
Woody walks in a town. He sees a train coming slowly, and a man tells him to get down. He asks Slim Snedeger (Ji-Tu Cumbuka) if that train is going to California. Slim says it is going in that direction. Woody asks if they are going to catch that train, and Slim says he can ride along. They get up and run along by the train and climb into a boxcar. They help Woody in and join about a dozen people. Woody introduces himself to Slim and meets Crippled Whitey who says he can spot a gang fight before it starts. Slim asks if he sees if one is going to happen. Whitey says one will start in about ten minutes. Slim says riding in boxcars makes you meaner than a rattlesnake. Woody says it beats walking.
As the train pass through a town, a fight has broken out in the car. Woody hits someone, and Whitey tries to hit Woody and push him out. Slim says it is slowing down and tells Woody to jump off and run as he lands. They both do so. Slim climbs on a ladder on another car and tells Woody to come on. Woody climbs on an oil-tank car and moves up to the next car and joins Slim on the roof. Woody says he lost his brushes. They sit on the center of the car, and Woody says they were the best brushes. He was hoping to make money painting signs. Slim says they are putting up many signs in California. He has not been there, but he has heard about it. Slim says he is going to look at the Pacific Ocean and then go to work picking fruit. Woody says you drop a seed in the ground, blink your eye, and you have a tree bustin’ with fruit. Woody plays harmonica.
Men are playing horseshoes. They hear the train coming, and a man tells them to check ‘em. Slim says they are coming into Acomita. The men have clubs or rifles as the train arrives. The train slows down and stops. Slim and Woody are lying on top while the men empty the boxcar. A man finds them on top. The men are herded together, and a man tells them they are going to let them ride inside and asks how much money they have. Woody says he has no money. The man calls him a vagrant and says they have a curfew on vagrants every hour. A young man laughs mockingly, and the man orders him to get on his hands and knees, threatening to shoot him with his pistol. The men with money board the train. The man warns the others to get down the road, saying the next time they will get thirty days. Slim from the train tells Guthrie he will see him in California.
Woody is hitch-hiking at night as cars go by. He lies down. In the morning he walks through a small town. He asks a pastor at a church if he has any work for a small meal; he would do anything to earn it. The minister says there is no work to be done, but he could feed him as an act of charity. This might help him in the short term, but it might hurt him in the long term. He smiles and wishes him good luck.
Woody is in the back seat with a couple who are pulling a trailer. Woody says he learned on his trip that the more you eat the more you shit. They pull over and let him off.
At night a car stops in a town. Inside a coffee-shop Woody is playing piano and singing. A waitress gives him a cup on the house and says he sings great. He tells her he wrote a song especially for her. Later she is asleep in her bed while Woody is sitting at a table writing a letter.
Woody is walking and talking to himself on a country road. He rides on the back of a truck with two children. He realizes they have arrived at the California state line, and the vehicles have to wait in line. They walk and wonder what is going on. Woody says they are turning people back. Others tell them that they are checking people out. You have to have $50 to get in. The Los Angeles police set this up. Woody tells the man he came with who is turning around that he will try another way. He gives the man the little money he has. He waves goodbye to the children and walks off the road in the desert.
At night Woody comes to a campfire and says howdy. The man offers to share his blanket, and Woody does so.
The man and Woody are hiding in a car as a train starts moving. They get out and run and climb on the train. The other man gets on top and stands up and says he never saw a train take off so fast; but he is shot and falls off the train. Woody hangs on to the back of a car. He gets tired of holding on and drops off when the train slows down in a town. He can barely walk to a nearby building and sits leaning against it. Later a train comes by and wakes him up. He walks and sees a busy street.
Woody says he has cleaned a wall in a restaurant, and a Chinese cook gives him the best chili with onion and crackers. Woody sits at the counter and eats. He asks where he can get a job, and the man suggests he go home.
Woody sees a woman trying to change a tire while her husband Luther Johnson (Randy Quaid) is sitting on a board to prop up the car. Woody helps her and says the wheel is bent.
Later Woody is riding with them in the car loaded with stuff. They pull into a camp with cars and people. Woody asks why people are living like that. Luther says it is the same as the other places. He says they advertised for 1,000, but 1,200 showed up. The first ones are in houses. He says he worked three days last week for low wages. His wife Liz (Elizabeth Macey) says they have nothing left. Luther invites Woody to spend the night in the truck if he wants.
Woody is helping them unload, and they have put up a tent. He says something ought to be done. Luther says they could form a union and go on strike, but people can’t afford to miss work. He says they work for four cents a bushel picking fruit. Woody says he could sell Luther’s guitar in town. Luther asks if he is coming back, and Woody says he has nowhere else to sleep. Luther says okay, and Woody leaves.
That evening Woody enters a soup kitchen and offers to paint them a new sign for a bowl of soup. Pauline (Gail Strickland) says the soup is free. He says he does not want any free food, and she says they don’t have any other kind. He tells her to pass the soup. She asks if he plays. He asks if he could paint them a sign for a favor. She says they could bring some paint tomorrow, and he says he may come back. He suggests red and white paint.
Woody is sitting at a table playing guitar and singing “Taking It Easy” when a fight breaks out.
At the camp a man says they need thirty more pickers and tells them to line up at the gate in single file. Woody hears this and walks over, but people are walking the other way. He sees a truck with people in the back drive off. Luther tells Woody they are bastards. Woody asks why he stays there, but Luther says the other camps are the same. He says they have been to four camps.
Pauline says his sign is beautiful and offers him something to eat. He asks her to fix him dinner at her home, but she says no. She tells him she is Pauline and that her husband died. He asks why she won’t fix him dinner, and she says she can’t. He laughs and says he can’t blame her. He tells her to give it a couple hours to dry and walks off.
At the camp two girls are playing guitars and singing “Columbus Stockade.” They hear car horns and say the Ozarks are coming. Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox) gets out of a car with a guitar and stands on a platform and tells the people they need to shout “Union!” He tells them to do better, or he will leave. They shout louder, and he says that will do and starts playing and singing, “There’ll be pie in the sky when you die; that’s a lie.” They sing into the night. Later a boss gives an order to two men. They sing a traditional song while the boss tells men to get back in their shacks. Woody sings “This Train Is Bound for Glory.” A new car arrives. A man with a club walks through the crowd and hits a fence and asks what they are doing. The man tells Ozark he warned him to stay away from here. He says that is it and starts beating people. A car tries to move through the crowd which starts to chant “Union.” The car gets free, and Ozark is driving with Woody in the front seat. Woody says he was not trying, and Ozark suggests that he start. Woody asks what.
In a studio Locke (John Lehne) asks Guthrie to sing a song. Woody plays guitar and sings “Oklahoma Hills” and plays harmonica hanging from his neck by wire. Locke tells him that he has the job, and Woody keeps singing. Locke comes out of the control room and gives him money as an advance. He tells him to get some decent clothes and show up there next week for $20 week.
Woody in better clothes goes into the soup kitchen and tells Pauline that he would to come over for chicken and dressing. She says she does not know him but then turns around sees him cleaned up.
In the studio Woody is playing guitar with a quartet as they sing the “Hobo’s Lullaby.” Ozark introduces Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, and he sings “I Ain’t Got No Home.”
People are working in a field. A car pulls up, and Ozark sits on the front of the car and tells the workers that it would be nice if they had money to put food on the table. Another car arrives, and they hurry into the car as a man gets out and clubs Woody. They drive off and shout “Union.”
Woody and the others are singing “Hard Travelin’” for convict workers.
Woody walks in a suburb and finds a mansion. Pauline opens the door, and he says he was expecting the mayor. At the dinner table he asks her if she ever gets embarrassed. She asks about what, and he wonders about her having so much when others have so little. She is sorry for the people who have nothing. He says sorry does not get the hay in. He says she gives them a little charity. He tells her that when he was on the road, he met many kinds of people—bums, families, people aching to work, and those trying to get somewhere. He says they all have something in common with her. He says the human thing goes away because he is afraid he is going to lose something. She feels as human as anyone else, but he says that doesn’t give him anything. She asks why he came there, and he says he liked the way she looked and hoped they had possibilities. She asks what he thinks now. He says he is looking at a rich person, and she is the only one who looked back. He sings a song about Samson and a pretty woman.
At night Ozark is waiting in the car while Woody paints “Visitors Welcome” over a “No Trespassing” sign. He also paints “Come on and fill your bellies” on a fence.
In the studio Woody and Ozark perform.
At a meeting a woman says they must organize, or the owners will have them on their knees forever. She says they are getting donations from all over the state. A man says they will not get jobs until they listen to them. A man says they are Commies. The man tells them to stand up for their rights. Woody and Ozark come to the microphone and sing “Union Maid.” People sing along, stand up, and clap their hands as they sing, “You can’t scare me. I’m sticking to the union.” Two men come in and start a fight that spreads.
Woody is in a bath while Pauline in a slip is in her bed with a book. She asks if he ever thought of becoming a painter. She tells him she is happy that she knows him.
Woody sits down for breakfast with Pauline. He picks up a glass of orange juice and tells her that he is married and has kids. He stands up and says he could lie to her before, but he can’t lie to her now. He says he was carrying a tune for her being around her and knowing her. He takes his guitar and walks out.
At the radio station Locke tells Woody that most of the mail is favorable. He tells him that he is giving him and Memphis Sue their own half-hour show to do every night for $35 a week. He says he has new sponsors who insist there will be no controversial songs on their program. Woody asks if he can sing his own songs, and Locke says he can as long no one gets riled up. Memphis Sue says that sounds okay, and Woody agrees.
Woody walks away from KTNS and uses a pay phone to call Mary Guthrie in Pampa. He says it is good to hear her voice and that he will send her money so they can come out there. They will find a house, and he says he loves her.
Children are sitting on boxes by a field as a plane flies over. Ozark says it is a field school, and they stop the car. Woody tells the children they can sing songs about anything they want. He sings “Howdido.”
On the road in the car Ozark is driving and tells Woody that he should do like the man says. He says it does not have anything to do with coming out to the fields.
In the studio Woody and Memphis Sue are singing with a bass player. She announces a song, but Woody says he decided to sing another and sings “Do Re Mi” about how California requires people to have some money.
In swim suits Ozark tells Woody that Locke wants him to make a list of everything he is going to sing.
Woody and Mary get out of the car, and Woody tells Ozark that he has not seen Mary for months. They go into the house, and he shows her the kitchen with an electric refrigerator. He takes her to the bedroom, and they kiss. He picks her up and puts her on the bed with himself. He tickles her, and she laughs and says, “Whoo-whee.”
A man in a suit and tie is waiting. As Woody and Memphis Sue come out of the studio after a show, the man says his name is Baker and that he is an agent. He knows he does not have a contract and says if he is willing to travel, he can help him make three times what he is making now. Woody asks how, and he says better shows will help. He thinks he could get him a coast-to-coast broadcast because he knows important people. Woody says he will think it over. Baker says they can talk when he comes back with something in the works for him. Woody says sure, and they shake hands. Baker says he is going to be on his way before he knows it. Baker leaves, and Locke asks Woody to wait. He says he has not seen any lists yet. Woody say he hasn’t written them yet and walks away.
In a field a worker shows Woody an artichoke, but he says it does not look very appetizing. He asks the man how much he gets paid. Another man asks Woody if he is one of those union men and says he can’t talk to him.
Woody, Ozark, and two others are singing “Deportee” for a wealthy audience at a fundraiser.
In the kitchen Woody tells Mary that it was easier to put up with dust storms than it is to put up with greed, and she agrees. She is squeezing orange juice and asks if he made up that list for Mr. Locke. He says no and that it is not easy for him to do. She saw an old man with no teeth and no shoes who came to the door begging for food. She gave him fried chicken, and his face lit up. She is afraid they might be like him in a few weeks. She does not want it to happen again. He holds her hand.
Woody goes into KTNS, and Luther with a battered face tells him they did that to him with clubs. He says he has been learning from his baby that when she wants something she cries until she gets what she is after. He thought about the thousands of people working in the fields never saying anything. He does not want to end up like that. He made up his mind he would speak out like his baby so they will know what he wants. Woody asks what Liz thinks, and Luther says she is scared but proud of him. He tells Woody to keep up his music because everybody is listening. Woody hugs him.
Woody gives the list to Locke who tells him to wait a minute. He asks if “Long Green Valley” is about the San Fernando Valley, and Woody says it is about a man who thought his wife was sleeping around. Woody goes into a room and starts tearing it up, destroying equipment.
A train is moving with Woody and his guitar on a boxcar.
In a camp during rain Woody sings as people stand around.
Woody plays guitar and sings while riding on a freight train. At a food-boxing factory Woody sings that he is a union man in a union world because a “Better World” is coming. He refuses to get out, and three men beat him up and smash his guitar.
On a train Woody is drinking and talking to a boy who says his parents don’t know he exists.
Woody sees his baby girls in front of the house. He goes in and tells Mary he is home. She asks where he was, and he says he had to touch the people a little. She asks if he has been fighting again. She says Locke has been calling and is mad. The agent has been calling too. She says Locke was paying him good money. She says she and the kids need it and starts crying. He says he truly cares about them, and she says he spends his time out there trying to fix the world. He says he can’t stand to sit still because he feels he should be somewhere else. She asks what she is to do while he is gone. She says they are going to be on their knees begging. He tells her to stop talking and warns her not to say another word. She cries, goes into the bedroom, and slams the door. He slams the refrigerator door.
Locke tells Woody he will give him one more chance, but he has to stick to the songs. Woody and Memphis Sue are performing. Woody dedicates the next song to the hungry people out there.
Locke lectures Woody that he forces him to treat him like a child. He asks what he should say to him. Woody says he can like his songs, but Locke says that is not up to him but the sponsors. They pay for what they want to hear, and they do not want that kind of material. Woody does not want to sing for them. Locke says he can replace him. Woody says he can sing on the street, and Locke tells him to go. Woody leaves, and Ozark asks what he is up to. Woody admits he was fired. Ozark asks if he said anything about Baker. He says he is getting things rolling for him, including a spot on CBS coast to coast. Ozark says he has a show lined up in a big hotel down town. They decide to celebrate.
The car parks in front of the house, and Woody carries presents while Ozark has a toy wagon. They go inside but find no one is there. Woody says it is everybody’s birthday. He finds a note and says Mary is gone with the kids to go back to Pampa. Woody says she left yesterday before he got fired. He says she always puts the time on her notes.
In a night club a man is singing, “I’m in the Mood for Love.” At a table Baker advises Woody to be careful with CBS on the material he selects. The manager thanks the singer and says they already have a ballad singer. He calls Guthrie. He plays harmonica and guitar and sings. The manager tells him to stop, and he talks to a woman about dressing him in overalls like a hick. Woody asks where the bathroom is and walks out. Ozark catches up with him and tells him he is missing a good chance. Woody says he does not want to play for people eating lamb chops. Woody says the worst thing is cutting yourself loose from the folks. Ozark asks where he is going. Woody says he does not know and then says New York. Ozark asks when he is leaving, and Woody says now. Ozark asks why New York, and Woody says there are people there and unions.
Woody with his guitar gets on freight trains to go east. He sings “This Land Is Your Land.”
This biopic reflects the desperate poverty of many people during the Depression and portrays the creative folk singer who lived in poverty and tried to help people by making them more aware with his songs of their rights and unions. The film concentrates on his wandering and early singing career in California before he achieved greater acclaim in New York.