By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Two rural families feud.
Rod Steiger is the patriarch of the Feather family while Robert Ryan heads the Gutshall household. Both families live next to each other in poor ramshackle shacks in rural Tennessee. Neither side gets along and both will occasionally play tricks on the other in order to try and get the upper-hand. One day the Gutshall boys send a letter to the Feathers signed by a Lolly Madonna even though that woman doesn’t really exist and was created to get the Feathers away from their whiskey still so the Gutshalls could destroy it. However, two of the Feather boys, Thrush and Hawk (Scott Wilson, Ed Lauter) spot Ronnie (Season Hubley) sitting at a bus stop in town and think that she’s the mysterious Lolly, so they kidnap her and bring her back to their farm where they hold her hostage. The Gutshalls see them bring in this new girl, but have no idea who she is, so the Gutshall’s daughter Sister E (Joan Goodfellow) sneaks over to the Feather residence to spy on them, but gets accosted and raped by Thrush and Hawk in the process. Now the Gutshalls feel the Feathers need to pay a price and both factions go to war, which causes several casualties.
The screenplay was written by Sue Grafton, better known for her later mystery novels, and based on her book ‘The Lolly-Madonna War’, which was published in the United Kingdom, but never in the U.S. Supposedly the story is a metaphor for the Vietnam War and the horrible destruction of violence, but trying to make a profound statement through the follies of a bunch of stereotyped hillbillies doesn’t work. For one thing they live in homes that look like they were abandoned 30 years ago and drive in rusted pick-ups that seem taken straight out of the junkyard. I realize poor people can’t all live in nice homes or drive fancy cars, but most can at least maintain them a bit better. Also, neither family owns a telephone, but they do have electricity, a refrigerator and even a TV, so if they can have all of those things then why not a telephone too?
Hubley’s character has no real purpose in the story as the Gutshall’s daughter could’ve been raped for a variety of reasons without any stranger needing to be present. She doesn’t do much when she’s there anyways except sit quietly in the background and observe the feuding. Having her fall madly in love with one of the boys, played by Jeff Bridges, and grieve openly when Hawk, the same man who violently kidnapped her just a day earlier, gets injured seems too rushed and out-of-whack to be believable. I’m well aware of the Stockholm Syndrome where victims can over a great deal of time fall for their captors, but this takes that concept to a ridiculous new level.
Despite being top-billed Steiger is seen very little, especially during the first hour and he’s not allowed to chew-up the scenery like he usually does though watching him make a ham sandwich where he applies a massive amount of ketchup is fun. Bridges pretty much takes over things by the end, but for the most part no one actor, despite the plethora of well-known faces, headlines here and if anything they’re all wasted by being locked into roles that are caricatures and indistinguishable from the others.
The pace is slow with an inordinate amount of talking that over explains things that the viewer could’ve picked up on visually. When the action does occur, like the death of Bridges’ first wife, played by Kathy Watts, it comes off as corny. The animal lovers will not like the scene where Steiger shoots a horse looped together from several different angles and in slow-motion, nor the segment where pigs get tied to a post and scream in panic as a ring of fire gets set around them. The final shootout though is the biggest letdown as the film fades-out before it’s over, so we really never know who survives it and who doesn’t.
Fred Myrow’s haunting score is the only thing that I liked, but everything else falls flat. If you’re looking for a movie with a anti-war/anti-violence message there are hundreds of others to choose from that do it way better.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: February 21, 1973
Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes
Director: Richard C. Sarafian
Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube