Back in July of this year (2019), the entertainment industry mourned the loss of Rip Torn. A cousin to Sissy Spacek, Torn wasn’t a victim of nepotism. He earned his stripes through acclaimed supporting roles in The Man Who Fell to Earth, Cross Creek, Defending Your Life and above all, The Larry Sanders Show in which he was Artie, Larry’s intrepid, exhortative producer. Lead roles were Spartan throughout his prolific career but one firebrand role swaggered along with Payday, a corrosive portrait of a country singer with a self-destructive habit for lawsuits, promiscuity and volatile spells.
Maury Dann is tailored directly to Torn’s own streak of pugnacious hedonism. A poster advertising his performance is almost a self-parody with Torn’s mouth widening into an impish Cheshire Cat-like grin as if it could be his mugshot for whatever high jinx he pursues after a night of debauchery. Surprisingly, Torn’s vocals for “She’s a Country Girl” are rather seductive and he is an excellent crooner.
It’s pretty illuminating when Mayleen (Ahna Capri) says “I love you” and his reply is a callous, Han Solo-esque “thank you”. Since Dann is such a scoundrel, his entourage of musicians are equally as reprehensible with one of the band mates practically harassing a groupie until she copulates with him. Everyone in his orbit is nursing their own peccadillos with his invalid mother being coaxed with a handful of pills.
Torn’s temper tantrums were publicized and most of his barroom anecdotes culminated in acts of aggression (infamously, Torn sent shivers down Dennis Hopper’s spine during the pre-production of Easy Rider when he brandished a knife on him). Payday’s moribund narrative is nearly autobiographical about Torn and his irresolute demons.
Beneath the bravado, Torn glistened with flickers of ecumenical compassion such as when Maury nurtures his canine Snapper in lieu of his mother’s feckless care. The viewers almost faintly empathize with Maury when a radio deejay underhandedly blackmails him into playing his record in exchange for a local appearance and a bottle of Wild Turkey. Maury is lionized on a regional scale but he hasn’t achieved stratospheric success yet.
In the same breath, Maury brazenly disrespects Mayleen when he has intercourse with Rosamund (Elayne Heilveil), the aforementioned sycophant in the back of a car with Mayleen asleep next to them. Mid-moan Rosamund tilts her head in ecstasy and her euphoria is chillingly extirpated when Mayleen is penetrating her with a jaundiced leer.
Dann’s illicit behavior is never assuaged or sanitized. In fact, his downward spiral is a continuous loop of “fixing things” such as when he inadvertently stabs a dejected fan to death. Maury is such an irredeemable miscreant that he hardly can wince out appreciation to his driver when he is the “stand-in”. The arresting, olive-black Payday will catalyze frissons in more conservative viewers who can’t swallow characters without any moral fiber but they would be remiss to casually disregard Torn’s volcanic pageantry.