Existential Exploitation: BOBBIE JO & THE OUTLAW (AIP 1976)

I discussed filmmaker Vernon Zimmerman in a post on his UNHOLY ROLLERS back in January. Zimmerman wrote the script (but did not direct) for 1976’s BOBBIE JO & THE OUTLAW, which on the surface is just another sex’n’violence laden redneck exploitation film. Yet after a recent viewing, it seemed to me Zimmerman was not just delving into exploitation, but exploring something more: disaffected youth, gun culture, the cult of personality, and violence in America, themes that still resonate today.

Former child evangelist turned rock star turned actor Marjoe Gortner is Lyle Wheeler, a drifter who enters quick draw contests and idolizes Billy the Kid. Lyle’s a hustler, as we find out as he pulls into a gas station and steals a Mustang from a travelling salesman. Lyle outruns a police car hot on his tail, causing the cop to go off the road, and revs into the next town, where he meets Bobbie Jo.

She’s played by Lynda Carter, a small town carhop with big dreams of country music success. Bobbie Jo has a mother (B Western vet Peggy Stewart) who nags and drinks on the sly, and a sister Pearl (Merrie Lynn Ross) who left home to be a stripper. She doesn’t date the local boys, who quite frankly are just lusting after her big boobs, but when outsider Lyle shows up, the two find an immediate attraction and hook up.

The young lovers, along with Bobbie Jo’s hippie pal Essie (Belinda Balaski), hit the road for a series of adventures that includes trouble with some tough Mexicans at a bar and tripping on mushrooms in the mountains with an Indian shaman. They visit sister Pearl and her sleazy boyfriend Slick Callahan (Exploitation star Jesse Vint), who pulls a payroll robbery that ends when Lyle shoots and kills the guard. Now the quintet, like a modern-day Barrow gang, are hunted outlaws, and when scared Essie drops a dime to the sheriff, she’s killed in the crossfire of a deadly shootout. Lyle vows retribution by pulling off a bank robbery, leading to a crime and murder spree across New Mexico….

Zimmerman’s script transplants BONNIE & CLYDE to mid-70’s America and is peppered with cinematic allusions, including a doomed deputy named Abel Gance. He shows us the ennui of the character’s lives, all of whom are societal outcasts that together form their own version of the nuclear family unit. Mark L. Lester takes the director’s chair; he’s known for some interesting Exploitation films of his own (TRUCK STOP WOMEN, CLASS OF 1999, FIRESTARTER, COMMANDO, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO), as well as the notorious dud ROLLER BOOGIE. Two side notes: this was the first film for future director Chuck Russell (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, THE MASK, THE SCORPION KING), who worked on the film as Production Supervisor, 2nd Assistant Director, and appears as one of the deputies. Former Monogram/Allied Artists president Steve Broidy (who knew a thing or two about exploitation films) served as co-producer.

Marjoe Gortner, never the greatest of actors, does yeoman’s work as the delusional Lyle, and a pre-WONDER WOMAN Lynda Carter is fine indeed as Bobbie Jo.  The movie is famous for being the only time Lynda goes topless onscreen, but there’s much more to it than that. BOBBIE JO & THE OUTLAW may not rank as one of the 70’s best films, but I posit here it is certainly one of the most underrated. Am I reading too much into it? Should I just enjoy the violent joyride and the nubile charms of Lynda Carter? All movies are subjective; watch it and judge for yourselves, and see if you agree or disagree.

 

 

Danger Is Their Business: STUNTS (New Line Cinema 1977)

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With the success of films like WHITE LIGHTING, CANNONBALL, DEATH RACE 2000, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (not to mention the continuing fascination with Evel Knenevel), movies revolving around stunts and stuntmen were big box office in the 1970’s. New Line Cinema took note and produced STUNTS, a murder mystery about stuntmen being killed off that gives us a behind-the-scenes look at low-budget filmmaking in addition to a good cast and well-staged action.

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When stuntman Greg Wilson’s hanging from a helicopter gag goes horribly awry, resulting in him plummeting to his death, his brother Glen arrives on the set determined to do the stunt himself and investigate Greg’s demise. Along the way he picks up B.J. Parswell, an attractive reporter doing a story on stuntmen. Glen’s fellow stuntmen start getting picked off one by one in gruesome “accidents”, and he must find the killer before he becomes next.

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This basic variation on “Ten Little Indians” serves as the backdrop for some exciting stunt-and-special effect scenes, including one where Glen, asking for more explosive charge in his car, does a spectacular five-and-a-half rolls, emerging unscathed. The film-within-a-film setting also allows the viewer to observe some aspects of moviemaking on a tight budget, which always fascinates me. Director Mark L. Lester keeps things moving, adding comedy to the mystery and action. Lester knew a thing or two about low-budget films, having helmed TRUCK STOP WOMEN and BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW among others, before making hits like ROLLER BOOGIE, FIRESTARTER, COMMANDO, and CLASS OF 1999.

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Robert Forster stars as Glen, and he’s one of my favorite underrated actors. The star of Haskell Wexler’s MEDIUM COOL and TV’s BANYON (a short-lived detective series about a 30’s private eye) struggled for decades starring in low-budget movies and supporting roles in larger ones before being rediscovered in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 JACKIE BROWN, earning an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Fiona Lewis (BJ) is known to horror genre fans for DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN and TINTONERA. Ray Sharkey (THE IDOLMAKER) plays macho stuntman Paulie, Joanna Cassidy (WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBITT?) is Patty, and Bruce Glover (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) is Chuck. The great Richard Lynch plays special effects wizard Pete Lustig, Candice Rialson (HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, CANDY STRIPE NURSES, CHATTERBOX) is horny starlet Judy Blake, and James Luisi (THE ROCKFORD FILES) is her cuckolded producer hubby. Veteran Malachi Throne (IT TAKES A THIEF, BATMAN villain Falseface) puts up with everyone as director Earl O’Brien.

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But the real stars are the stuntmen behind the scenes, and this film assembled some of the best: Joie Chitwood (cars), Deanna Coleman (motorcycles), Dar Robinson (high fall), Lee Pulford (barroom brawl), and Chuck Tamburro (aeriel) all perform their specialties to thrill the audience. STUNTS doesn’t work as a mystery (it was originally titled WHO IS KILLING THE STUNTMEN?), but as an action pic it’s chock full of wild and wooly, death-defying stunts and, though not the best of it’s genre, is an entertaining 90 minutes of fun for movie buffs.

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