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The Sugarland Express (1974) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • Lou-Jean, a blonde woman, tells her husband, who is imprisoned, to escape. They plan to kidnap their own child, who was placed with foster parents. The escape is partly successful, they take a hostage, who is a policeman and are pursued through to Texas...

  • When faced with the loss of her infant son, Lou-Jean Poplin makes her husband, Clovis, escape from a minimum security prison. Threatened with capture, the couple take rookie Texas State trooper Maxwell Slide hostage, and head across the state in his patrol car. Pursued by dozens of police cars, the trio contend with their sudden elevation to folk heroes, and vigilantes out to stop them. Their only real friend may be trooper Captain Tanner, who struggles to find a peaceful end to the situation.

  • In Texas, Lou Jean Poplin has just completed an eight month sentence for petty crimes committed. Her husband, Clovis Poplin, is in minimum security pre-release remand, where he is serving the remaining four months of a one year sentence also for petty crimes committed. Albeit by threatening means, Lou Jean convinces Clovis to break out of remand. The reason?: child welfare services have awarded permanent custody of their infant son Langston to his foster parents who live in Sugarland, Texas. Lou Jean vows to get Langston back by whatever means, and she needs Clovis' help. Early on in Clovis' escape, they take highway patrolman Matthew Slide hostage in his patrol car, he who is to drive them to Sugarland. Captain Harlin Tanner, who is leading the pursuit of the Poplins, sees that the Poplins are basically decent but misguided kids who in their current mission have committed some serious crimes, all which he takes into account when deciding on the appropriate course of action to end the pursuit while trying to protect Slide. But the case takes on a life of its own when the story hits the airwaves, with every Texan having his or her own very strong opinion on the Poplins, what they are doing and how best to help or hinder their mission.

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  • A woman attempts to reunite her family by helping her husband escape prison and together kidnapping their son. But things don't go as planned when they are forced to take a police hostage on the road.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • The real incident took place in May of 1969. This one is about February of 1973, just west of Houston, Texas (Sugarland in actuality), Clovis Poplin is serving the remainder of his one year prison sentence in pre-release at the TDC Pre-Release Facility for petty larceny. His wife Lou Jean is also newly released from prison and comes to visit him with the intention of breaking him out because she just lost their child to foster parents that intend to adopt Baby Langston. She threatens to leave him for good if he does not go along with her plan. Clovis and Lou Jean are uneducated and not playing with a full deck; Clovis is naïve and easily manipulated and Lou Jean is beautiful, but annoying, ignorant, impulsive, and borderline sociopathic.

    Lou Jean is wearing Clovis' clothes underneath hers and they very easily sneak out of the facility, posing as visiting friends of Clovis' fellow prison mate, Hubie Nocker. They hitch a ride out with his parents, with his father driving on the freeway less than 25 miles an hour. A young patrol officer by the name of Maxwell Slide stops him and gives him a warning citation. Fearing that the young officer will spot them, Clovis and Lou Jean steal the elderly couple's 1956 Buick Roadmaster skidding and speeding over the Brazos River and through the town of Richmond, wrecking the car near a slough. Lou Jean pretends to be badly injured, and Patrolman Slide is kidnapped at gunpoint. Because Slide is new and inexperienced to the force, they seem to have little problem with his cooperation.

    Veteran police Captain Tanner is in the middle of a court hearing in Houston and the hearing immediately adjourned until later so he can get to the kidnapping. Tanner is a mannered and genteel soul who seems sympathetic to the Poplin's and Slide's dilemma, but realizes with his job he needs to stick to his principles and do the right thing.

    During the trip across Alternate Highway 90 and Interstate 10, the local radio station reveals Clovis to be a native of Crowley, a small town just south of Fort Worth and Lou Jean as an unemployed beautician from Sayers, a town just east of San Antonio. The Poplin's stop at a porta potty in the road so Lou Jean can relieve herself, an Exxon Humble filling station with cop cars escorting them, an Arco filling station taking a load of gold stamps, two Louisiana state troopers join in and participate, stop at a chicken stand in Pleasanton, then take Loop 1604. At a Fina gas station in Converse, Slide zooms his police car to escape the convoy of police cars so they can rest for the night.

    Clovis, Lou Jean, and Officer Slide hide out for the night at a used car lot near the old Loop 13 Drive In Movie Theater on Military Drive, with Slide handcuffed to the backseat of the police car and Clovis and Lou Jean staying in an RV. Captain Tanner and half the state police force are using the Harlandale ISD football stadium for the night.

    Captain Tanner has summoned Lou Jean's father from his home in Sayers by helicopter to make a statement to her via police radio to persuade her to turn herself in. He's an elderly man, courteous to the police officers, but just as ignorant and uneducated as Lou Jean and states on the radio that she's no good, would shoot her and Clovis if he had a chance, and that God will get her. Lou Jean does not hear this, but Slide hears it on the police radio in the car just before she comes to check on him. He assures her that he knows she's really a good person inside and comes to realize her upbringing was not a pleasant one.

    The next morning, an unidentified trio of right-wing gun nut lunatics leave their home and intend to find Lou Jean and Clovis. They spot them at the used car lot and shoot at them repeatedly. The police get the word and arrest the men, who are not the National Guard they claim to be. Tanner assures Clovis and Lou Jean that they will be left alone. But Tanner realizes he still needs to do his job. He asks the couple and baby to hide in a downtown shelter and enlists two sharpshooters to their home to kill the couple.

    Down the trip on Highway 90 from San Antonio to Sugarland (Del Rio in reality of this movie, except the filming location of the home and downtown was actually Floresville), Tanner dodges media, the trio in the police car are welcomed and supported by a large crowd in the fictional town of Rodrigo (probably Hondo), and they make it to the house.

    Clovis does not want to get out of the car and fears it's a trap, but Lou Jean pushes him to do it. Clovis is shot in the chest. The three of them drive to the Rio Grande river to cross the border, but Clovis dies at the wheel right before he can escape.

    After Clovis dies, Lou Jean is arrested and Officer Slide consoled by Captain Tanner for his bravery and a job well done. Lou Jean served 15 months of a 5 year prison sentence and was awarded custody by the state after getting out on parole.

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