Henry Moon, a reprobate horse thief and roustabout is saved from the gallows by Julia Tate, a respectable woman who owns her own ranch. The year in 1866 and the town, Longhorn, Texas. An odd ordinance provides that propertied single women can give condemned men a new lease on life by marrying them. Goin' South starts off with this intriguing premise and manages to keep us scratchin' our heads for the rest of the story.
Jack Nicholson's choice of Mary Steenburgen as his costar was a wise one. She is a perfect foil to his depiction of the crazy, irresponsible, and hedonistic Henry Moon. Julia comes across as a rational, responsible, no-nonsense woman whose only problem is sexual repression. She immediately puts her new husband to work in the mine on her property. The goal to discover gold there before the railroad takes over her land. Although Moon has other things on his mind such as seducing her and gaining the upper hand in their relationship he perks up at the thought of finding gold.
This spunky western has a gritty look to it thanks to the fine cinematography of Nestor Almendros (Days of Heaven). An excellent cast of crooked good guys (including Christopher Lloyd and John Belushi) and a grungy group of bad guys (Nicholson's old gang) are on hand to muck things up when Moon finally wins Julia's affections and they locate a lode of gold. The vulgar humor, the silly situation, and the genial good spirits of Goin' South make it a worthy successor to the zany Cat Ballou.