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Critics at the time were impressed by this new director, Steven Spielberg,
who had previously directed Dennis Weaver in that spooky TV movie "Duel",
but they were really impressed with Goldie Hawn, still mainly known as the
blonde nitwit from "Laugh-In". She had been quite respectable in
"Butterflies Are Free" in 1972, but she turned in a beautifully nuanced
performance in this one.
I would certainly argue with any notion that this film is "underrated". It's always been well regarded, even back in the days when Spielberg was known as the clever kid who made "Jaws". That doesn't mean it has ever been easy to see.
Now, with the passage of time, "Sugarland Express" looks even better than it did in the 1970's. One still has no trouble at all getting caught up in the quixotic mission of these characters.
After the success of Duel (which was really a TV movie) Sugarland
Express (Spielberg's first feature film) flopped at the box office,
though it received a reasonably warm critical response. In fact this is
a great little movie for all kinds of reasons.
If you're interested in Spielberg as a director this is fascinating as it begins to lay out most of the themes that have driven his work ever since - family (especially divided and dysfunctional families), childhood, parenthood, outsiders, America and Americana etc. It's also a really interesting piece in terms of his developing style. This is the first Hollywood film in which panaflex cameras were used allowing Spielberg to produce fantastically elaborate and fluid shots even in the confines of a car (see the superb 360 pan fixed on Ben Johnson's car when he first talks to the Poplins)- a kind of cinematography that has become a hall mark of Spielberg's, as have the rising crane shots and extended tracking shots that pepper the film. Spielberg skies and "God Light" (his term for shafts of light in mist/at night) also feature heavily.
It's also a really interesting if somewhat unrecognised influence on films like Thelma and Louise which seems to lift its basic structure and characters right out of this film. The way Ben Johnson's Captain Tanner equates to Harvey Keitel's police officer in Ridley Scott's film seems particularly close.
Fantastic performances all round too. Johnson, Horne and Atherton (a much under-used actor who has been largely wasted since, playing roles like the self serving journalist in the Die Hard films)particularly shine.
It's also very funny, sad and engaging from beginning to end. Can't recommend this one enough - especially if you're a Spielberg fan.
Before Jaws propelled Steven Spielberg to the moon, he was a television
director, often on episodes of Columbo and Night Gallery. Then came
Duel, his taut, experimental feat of man vs. man in machines thriller
that made him notable, if not bankable, in the Hollywood eye. His first
theatrical release, The Sugarland Express, is to me still one of his
ten best (maybe not top five, but up there). Along with his
screenwriters (whom would all go to win at Cannes), Spielberg brings a
true story with a sense of the tragic realism, but also the sense of
adventure and fun that goes into Spielberg's most entertaining films.
There's usually a sense of excitement, but one can sense this is not
the kind of story that will end up as the main characters think.
Goldie Hawn (as pretty as she is dramatic and chippy) and William Atheron (later impressionable in Ghostbusters, very much so here), are a husband and wife- the husband is in jail at the start of the film, and Hawn breaks him out with little trouble. They have a custody battle, literally, going on with their son, who is away at a home. They have to go through Texas- aka the 'Sugarland Express'- but it won't be easy. Soon there's a pursuit across the state, as the couple becomes rather famous in their simple pursuit of getting the one they love. Hawn and Atherton play off each other well, and Spielberg even at his young age as a director here gets very good performances out of them, especially out of Atherton who has a kind of urgent, tense, but focused way about him throughout. Hawn here isn't totally in the kind of mode like in her vehicle comedies- she's playing the worried mother, as determined as her husband, but her performance still contains a kind of naiveté that's crucial to the character.
And in full widescreen glory Spielberg flexes his technical chops to a full capacity. He doesn't make the film as a thriller like with Duel, but it still drives suspense on in its road movie way. There are a couple of shots that are done for the first time (see trivia) to great effect, and there is a scene in a small town I still remember very well due to the amount of people that are in it, and how Spielberg directs this wonderfully. In some ways this is like one of those Lifetime movies crossed with Smokey and the Bandit only played more for realism; there's something very interesting that we don't get to see much with the son, he's always in a world of his own inside the house, as the situation builds on the outside.
This all builds up to an ending that some have said doesn't work, or (like with some of Spielberg's other films, War of the Worlds for example) is too abrupt. I found that it worked just as well as with the opening scenes. It's realistic, at least for the period, and its important to remember this is based on a true story, and in these establishing and closing scenes the audience gets the real meat of the story (Catch Me if You Can did this too, though in a different way), and then in the middle some of the more dramatized parts come in. It wasn't a smash success on its first release, but it made enough of an impression with its win at Cannes and its writers guild nomination (ironically it was nominated for Best Comedy) to get Spielberg his next gig, which ended up being the real test of his career. As a nifty tale of overly concerned parents on-the-run, its really very impressive.
Haven't heard about "Sugarland Express" till recently and I had to see it
because it was vintage Spielberg, and I'm a fan. And I wanted to see the
young Goldie Hawn. I was not disappointed. It was one of these road-chase
movies, bigger than life, but it was unique, especially because it was based
on a true story. That fact made me incredulous throughout the film, but
everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger than life.
Goldie desperately wants to get her baby back. She was in jail for some minor crimes and was found to be an unfit mother and her baby was put in a foster home and the foster parents were going to adopt him. Despite being a young girl, or maybe because of it, she was desperate to have her baby back. It was a love-child and the mother-love was passionate and obsessive. Hawn played the part to the hilt and used her sexuality and femininity to overcome the objections of her husband who was in a pre-release facility with low security.
She had a plan to help him escape, but he didn't want to risk it, take a chance of being caught and being incarcerated again. He only had four more months to serve. The other inmates were incredulous as they disguised themselves and got an old couple to give them a ride.
From this quiet beginning the film proceeded to repeated crescendos of drama and excitement. Try to imagine the young couple, young officer in tow, leading a chase of police cars, first a few, then a few dozen, then many dozen and ultimately hundreds, law-enforcement officers from all over the state and then snipers and a helicopter.
Lucky for the young couple an old-hand cop realized they were just a couple of kids and he staved off snipers with telescopic long-range rifles and a couple of vigilante gun-nuts.
You know something bad is going to happen at the end, because these kids didn't know what they were doing; they were madly in love and in a fantasy-land of getting their little boy back and living happily ever after in Mexico. Something bad happened, but something good happened. It will be worth your while to see this little classic from one of the greatest directors of the 20th century.
Petty crook is busted out of pre-release jail by his determined-yet-reckless wife; seems their infant son has been farmed out to a wealthy foster couple while the two were behind bars and the Mrs. wants her baby back now. Director Steven Spielberg's first theatrical film has a scene midway through that still takes my breath away: Goldie Hawn and William Atherton take refuge in a mobile home parked in a lot behind a drive-in movie theater, a cartoon is up on the screen and Atherton supplies the sound effects--but, as the cartoon descends into violence, he stares out the window while his wife giggles on, oblivious to the parallels between the film and the paths their lives have taken. It's a miraculous moment in a high-spirited comedy-drama about trying to get what you want--even at the expense of the law. I'm surprised most Spielberg fans turn their noses up at this movie, it's one of his best. The finale doesn't really work (the picture switches gears too many times and eventually leaves us eating dust), but Goldie Hawn's performance is brave and funny and wonderful. In fact all the acting is excellent, right down to the last two-line player. *** from ****
Man, I forgot how much fun this movie actually was. In my mind it was a
heavy drama but on my recent viewing (finally it's on DVD!) I
rediscovered this movie and found out how fun it was. It kind of has
the same fun feeling the other 'based on a true story' Spielberg
movies: "Catch Me If You Can" and "The Terminal" have.
The movie is made with lot's of profession and very little money. The small budget does not stop Spielberg of making a good movie. This movie was also the first Vilmos Zsigmond/Steven Spielberg collaboration. They later worked together on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". But more importantly; it also was the first collaboration of John Williams and Steven Spielberg, one of the most successful collaborations in movie history, as later turned out.
the movie features a young Goldie Hawn and William Atherton who I really like as an actor. Atherton is probably best known for his role in "Die Hard 1 & 2", "Ghostbusters" and the more recent movie "The Last Samurai" in which he has a small part early in the movie.
It might be a bit too slow and probably boring for some people but I still recommend this movie. It has both action and substance. In a way also a must see because it was Spielberg his first real big hit and can be regarded as his breakthrough.
There's something so incredibly fascinating about watching the humble
beginnings of a director as renowned as Stephen Spielberg. The
Sugarland Express is one of his earliest films and it is not of the
calibre of films like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the
Indiana Jones franchise, but it still remarkably entertaining. It tells
the story of two lovers who go on a mad run from the law in order to
kidnap their son from his foster parents. Lou-Jean, played by Goldie
Hawn, breaks her husband, Clovis, out of jail in order to do so and
this sparks mad paranoia in the two. The run from the law doesn't occur
until the two kidnap a policeman and his vehicle, forcing him to drive
them to Sugarland, Texas in order to find their baby boy. This is a
wild, exciting, often hilarious film, and to top it all off it's based
on a true story.
I think what defines this film more than anything is the distinct new Spielberg smell. It has all of the things we recognize from the bigger Spielberg films, just on a much smaller scale. The dialogue flows so naturally and fits right in with the action and camera work of the film. There are lots of familiar camera techniques in the film, especially the fluid camera movement that goes on within the confines of the police vehicle, where a lot of the film takes place. Nothing is as grand and widespread as Spielberg's classics, but anyone who respects the genius can respect this film for what it is because, like it or not, this is where it all began.
But not only is The Sugarland Express a fascinating look into how Spielberg got his start, it is also just an incredibly fun film. Goldie Hawn plays the border line psychopath mother perfectly. She wants nothing more than to see her baby boy again, and she won't let anything stop her. The film hits both ends of the spectrum very nicely. A lot of it is very comedic, ranging from cleverly hilarious to downright goofy at times. Yet there are also moments of sincere dramatic tension. Through all of the offbeat wackiness, the film never forgets the situation it is dealing with. Despite everything, it is still two convicts running from the law, a subject that the characters must handle with care. And the film brings this to light very well, as it is very gripping at moments, and almost touching at others.
The Sugarland Express isn't much more than a very exciting adventure story with some enticing moments of drama thrown in, but you have to love it for that. It doesn't try to be much more and it pulls off everything it wants to deliver with a lot of talented finesse and grace. This is not a film to miss. It's only mistake was coming right before Jaws, a masterpiece that overshadowed it greatly, hence why we know that name, but few of us have heard of the pleasant little gem that is The Sugarland Express.
I began my Spielberg Festival at the Cinematheque by his first movie done the year I was born. It's my first viewing and it's amazing to see how his first feature takes root from his first project ("duel"), even thought the story is totally different. In fact, you'll see that all his movies can be tied by two, so check my pairing note at the end of my next reviews. It's maybe easy now to predict that Spielberg would become a master but on the other hand, all his future trademark are already there: He knows how to tell a story and i can tell the difference with today movies where the plot and edit are unintelligible (transformers, cars,). Next, Spielberg has en "eye": he knows how to put the camera to have a stunning visual, especially his close-ups. Then, he is excellent with his cast and knows how to built emotions. Even if hundred policemen chased the couple, the audience supports the side of the family and don't view them as criminals. At last, with nearly 40 years behind (thus nearly my age), the movie has a good historic and cultural value. In some ways, it announces the media folklore of the 80's and so on. At least, his screenplay won the Award at Cannes Festival and it's a sure proof that this newcomer would become a name!
The first theatrical feature by Spielberg, his last as just another
director before "Jaws," this story is saddled by what I call an
'idiot's resolve' plot. This means the main characters behave like
complete idiots and, in real life, wouldn't get two steps in the
direction they're going, much less the miles of roadway managed in this
pic. But - and this is an important point - the story is supposedly
based on a real life incident, which means such theorizing may not
apply here. It all depends on how much Spielberg and the writers
exaggerated events, which I tend to think was quite a bit. The story is
jump-started in that a 2-year old baby is placed in foster care; the
real parents (Hawn & Atherton), small-time criminals, won't have it and
break the father's incarceration to set out for the foster home. But,
from the outset, these two are presented as such obvious losers, I was
hoping they'd never reach the kid. The father, for example, has only 4
months remaining of post-prison time to do; in short order, the idiot
couple's transgressions escalate from auto theft to kidnapping of a cop
(Sacks). In essence, they quickly sabotaged any chance for themselves
of getting the kid back in a happy fashion.
I also got the impression Spielberg was poking a lot of fun at Texas and Texacans in general, where this takes place. Besides the two idiotic so-called parents, most everyone else is also presented as a buffoon, a country hick with no clue. The more sinister examples are those who live for the opportunity to shoot someone - this is gun country, after all. The only one who escapes with his dignity intact is the police captain, well played by Ben Johnson. There are traces of the imagery and poignancy which many of Spielberg's later pictures would be laced with. There's the absurdity of that long, very long line of police vehicles, lights flashing, following that one car with the fugitives (I guess no other crimes needed attention in the county that day?). And the sudden look on Atherton's face when he watches a Road Runner cartoon is amazing. But these are a few instances far and between in an ambling picture. Hawn is immensely likable, of course, but in the end she comes off as an idiotic screaming shrew who directly causes bad stuff to happen. Maybe it's just me, but I don't really like women such as this. But then, if this is true-to-life, Spielberg captured some sense of an unpleasant reality we have no control over. It just didn't retain such a consistency through the entire movie.
Spielberg surprised me with this movie, regardless of whether or not I
thought it was going to be good or not. Usually, debuts from
film-makers aren't really that good. Very rarely do we have a
film-debut that's as good as this. Goldie Hawn was really good as Lou
Jean Poplin, who wants her son back from a foster home in Sugerland,
Texas. I was surprised to hear that this was based on a true story as
well. I had no idea that anything like this happened. The ending was
sad as well, but I won't give it away. You'll have to see it
Over all, this is one of the best debuts that I've seen in a long time.
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