Amidst all the “acclaimed” films out there through the annals of movie history, there are always the “forgotten” ones that are littered around the feet of the big ones. In the ‘50s, it was those intense dramas that pulled no punches, one where a man (I believe it was Richard Widmark) had no qualms about throwing a lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. The ‘70s brought along many great pictures, due to much creative freedom during that decade. Many of you movie buffs out there are probably always in heaven with those selections. Even in the ‘70s, there were plenty of films that slipped through the cracks, including this one from Paramount Pictures, called “The Education of Sonny Carson”.
In his earlier days, Sonny Carson (Thomas Hicks) led a sort-of double life. He was a good student and at the beginning of the film, he’s about to receive a citizenship award. After that, the film fades into a nighttime robbery at a local store, led by Carson. Soon enough, it becomes a botched robbery when the cops show up and Sonny is sent to juvenile detention. His father (Paul Benjamin) isn’t at all happy with these proceedings as we find out in scenes intercut with Sonny running along with other boys on a daily exercise. Then again, what father would be?
Sonny comes back to the neighborhood and encounters members of a gang, The Lords. He believes that he could easily become a member and has to run “The Mill”, a pipe-and-chain gauntlet, where the cameraman had to be put into a wire mesh cage to film the sequence, as indicated on the commentary on this DVD. Soon enough, he’s a member and Sonny (Rony Clanton) becomes head of The Lords. Rony Clanton certainly handles the role well enough to keep Sonny interesting. Here’s a guy who has been through so much already, yet there is more for him in store, including two gang wars with The Hawks and more prison time. Couple that with racist cops and drugs entering the neighborhood, and it’s easily realized that it took much courage to live through that. One sequence that’s really sad and touching is where Sonny and a few members of his gang talk about what they want to do in live. One wants to be captain of the Queen Mary, another wants to be the greatest dancer that ever lived, and a third just wants to go to a place where no one can touch him. The truly unfortunate part is that these boys will probably not achieve those dreams.
Luckily, this film does not have a “polished” look enforced upon it because that would be wrong. Also, it’s nice to see that the ending doesn’t suffer from a “sappy music and crappy jammed-down-your-throat inspirational message” sequence.
The DVD itself is excellent. If Paramount Pictures actually took this on for DVD, I don’t think it would have gotten half a good a treatment as VCI Entertainment gave it. In fact, I still hold a grudge against the company for canceling their Beavis & Butt-Head DVD release ONE DAY before it was supposed to go on the shelves. The most important feature on here is the audio commentary with director Michael Campus and Sonny Carson himself. Carson approves of the filming of this part of his life story (The book only covered the half of his life that you see on screen) and really gets into a lot of what went on in his life. For example, there’s a well-known sequence where Sonny really gets more than the s**t beaten out of him by a cop that really doesn’t like him, ironically played by a real-life cop that liked Carson. There’s blood in the sequence and many punches given and Campus speaks of the first screenings for this film where both audiences on the East Coast and the West Coast did not like the sequence and many asked, “How could you have shown that much violence in a scene that took that long?” Campus then reminds Sonny how he answered those people: “Can you imagine what I endured?” Living the experience was 30 minutes. Yours was a minute and a half.” The commentary does suffer at times where both men seem to take too long in praising the actors involved, although when it comes to actor Paul Benjamin, that’s the right thing to do considering the depth that he brought to the role of Pops.
Also included is the theatrical trailer, a section of photos from the film and a photo album of Sonny’s with a commentary by him that explains what he’s done with the rest of his life. Two narrated biographies of Michael Campus and Sonny are in here as well.
For those most part, “The Education of Sonny Carson” is convincing in getting its story across about a man who may have overcome incredible odds at times, but still has an even longer path to walk in life to figure out what to do next. Maybe director Michael Campus will reapproach Sonny’s life again some day. That’s what Sonny suggests on the commentary track and it certainly seems appropriate considering that Carson died late last year. Certainly the other half of Carson’s life is interesting enough to merit a second film and those who are more familiar with him than I am, probably wouldn’t disagree.