Ruggedy Man (1981): Jack Fisk’s Small-Town Melodrama, Starring Sissy Spacek, Eric Roberts, Sam Shepard

Nita Longley (Sissy Spacek), the young divorcee of Raggedy Man, Jack Fiske’s small-town melodrama, is a switchboard operator who lives in the office with her two young sons.

Upwardly mobile, she practices typing, aspiring for a better job. She pleads with the company’s manager for a job transfer, reminding him that, “this was supposed to be a stepping stone.” “There is War going on,” he keeps saying, which means she is “frozen.”

With no separation between work and leisure, people wake Nita at all times of the day and night; for better or worse, she is the communication center in town.

However, one day, a sailor named Teddy Roebuck (Eric Roberts) stops by and a tender romance ensues. The kids immediately relate to Teddy as their surrogate father. But the town’s residents are of the malevolent and chatty types. A gossipy customer stops by to pay his telephone bill; the next day, the whole town knows about Nita’s affair. Worse yet, the Triplett brothers, who have an eye on Nita, harass her two boys.

Raggedy Man is an incoherent text, mixing genres and borrowing elements from other films, without ever integrating them into a congruous story. Specifically, the film borrows from To Kill a Mockingbird the strange character of Boo, here named Bailey (Sam Shepard), Nita’s ex-husband who is supposed to have joined the Army but is actually in town watching over his family. Ruggedy Man also lifts from Halloween and Wait Until Dark the notion of a sexually harassed woman, helplessly trapped in her own home.

Attempting to reconstruct life in a 1940s small-town, here Gregory, Texas, the film lacks a consistent tone or approach; it’s peculiar combination of the motifs of nostalgia and cynicism.

The ending is also unsatisfactory on any level. Nita leaves town for San Antonio, and on the bus, her kids talk about Teddy, which may be a hint that the couple would reunite.