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John G. Avildsen
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John G. Avildsen,
Bill, a wealthy businessman, confronts his junkie daughter's drug-dealing boyfriend; in the ensuing argument, Bill kills him. Panic-stricken, he wanders the streets and eventually stops at a bar. There he runs into a drunken factory worker named Joe, who hates hippies, blacks, and anyone who is "different", and would like to kill one himself. The two start talking, and Bill reveals his secret to Joe. Complications ensue. Written by
An odd thing about the movie is that no one comes off very sympathetically. That goes for life styles as well, whether working class, upper class, or hedonistic hippie. Everyone's compartmentalized and disdainful of non-peers. Of course, the movie's crux lies in working class Joe's (Boyle) alliance with white-collar Bill (Patrick) over their mutual hatred of hippies. And that's following Bill's pivotal murder of his daughter's drug dealer boyfriend.
The movie was much talked about at the time. After all, the hippie movement was widely seen and heard on America's airways, but not so working class America's reaction. For guys like Joe, it seemed everybody was making social progress except for working class white males. Plus, pot-smoking kids were doing things that beer swilling blue-collar guys could only dream aboutfree time, free sex, few responsibilities. Worse, these kids were insulting the nation's traditions, the very ones that afforded them the luxuries they enjoy.
The movie may exaggerate some, but the nub of Joe's hatred of those he thinks are ruining the country is on the mark. (Then too, I suspect a similar sentiment lives on in today's Tea Party, though not as pronounced.) The movie also suggests the potential of a broader cross- class reaction. Significantly, Joe's working class anger eventually spreads to white-collar Bill, as together they make war on what they see as a youthful parasitic class. To me, the movie's really about the emerging crisis of the Vietnam era, concerning not only who will shape the nation's present, but its future as well. Now, after 50-years, the hippie movement may have vanished, but the animus against minorities and others regarded as not fully American remains a potent force. The movie may have aged, but this aspect hasn't.
In passing-- note in the movie how the feminist movement has yet to have impact. Thus uppity women are not included in Joe's long list of cultural evildoers. Still, it's entertaining to wonder how Joe and especially his dutiful wife would react to housewives desiring more options.
The movie itself has a number of memorable scenes. I especially like it when our two crusaders guzzle booze while denouncing pot-smoking kids. Then too, Joe's barroom tirade came at a time when audiences were not used to such uncensored explicitness as gutter obscenities and hateful ethnic slurs. Thus Boyle's fiercely delivered rant was spellbinding at the time, and I suspect still is. But most of all is that subtle sequence of Joe and Mary Lou (Callan) sharing an awkward evening with their social betters Bill and Joan (Caire). What a masterpiece of staging, scripting and performance. It's almost wrenching to watch the two wives try to deal with the class barriers separating them once they've been thrown unceremoniously together. Caire is especially meaningful as she betrays hardly a hint of what she's really thinking, while the eager Mary Lou does her best to please. Yet every time the housewifely hostess does something agreeable, Joe steps on it with an uncaring remark. Comparisons with TV's Edith Bunker and All in the Family (1971-1979) do hit the mark.
It's easy to deride Joe's unabashed vulgarity. Still, he's always straightforward about what he thinks. No guess-work there, unlike the white-collar guy who plays up to him once he thinks Joe's going to be his new boss. Plus, Joe works hard at a demanding foundry job. In short, he's that average joe who does the sometimes dirty work that keeps the nation running. In that key regard he deserves respect, maybe not for everything he thinks, but surely for what he does. And maybe if hard working guys like him got more respect for what they do, they wouldn't be so ready to take frustrations out on others. To me, that's one of the most important issues raised in a movie that's as relevant today as 50-years ago when I first saw it.
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