By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Race driver self destructs.
Corky (Robert Blake) works as a car mechanic during the day, but on weekends he drives in some of the local races. He’s aggressive nature though causes many accidents and damages in the race, so his boss Randy (Patrick O’Neal) decides to replace him with another driver named Steve (John Gruber). Corky resents being replaced and thus enters the next race anyways and rigs the front hood of his car, so it will pop-up at a strategic time, so that he can crash into Steve’s car while feigning that it was an ‘accident’ because he couldn’t see where he was going due to the hood. The crash though puts Steve in the hospital and it’s enoough for Randy to fire Corky from his job. Now, with no money left, he goes traveling to Georgia with his buddy Billy (Christopher Connelly). They enter a few races there, but Corky parties away all the winnings and eventually come back to Texas penniless. He tries to get back with his wife Peggy Jo (Charlotte Rampling), but finds that Randy has been helping her out and giving her enough money, so that she can go back to school to get a diploma and eventually be able to earn a living without Corky. This causes him to seethe with rage and he goes back to Randy’s place of work in order to exact a violent revenge.
The film was directed by Leonard Horn, who shot to fame for having directed some of the highest rated episodes of the ‘Mission Impossible’ TV-series, which garnard him enough attention to get him a contract to helm two cinematic features. His first one was The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweatheart, which starred Don Johnson and while it wasn’t completely successful, and very little seen, it did have an interesting cinema verité style. This works the same way with a strong emphasis on atmosphere that gets small town living in rural Texas just right. Even the little moments like when Corky turns on his friend Billy in the middle of a desolate road during an impending rain storm leaves a memorable impression as does the envelope-pushing moment where Corky decides to strip down and go skinny dipping with two young boys (Matt Nelson Karstetter, Richard McGough) at a country watering hole.
Robert Blake is excellent. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine him as a leading man due to him at one time being a part of the ‘Little Rascals’ ensemble, and then rising to becoming a TV-star before falling into infamy at being accused of killing his child’s mother. However, with all that being said he was still a great actor who probably didn’t get as much starring roles as he deserved, but he plays the angry loner role to a perfect-T. Rampling as his wife, who was born in England, masks her British accent quite well and creates an odd, but interesting sounding Texas one in the process. I also liked that she sports blonde hair. O’Neal is good in support and there’s an fun collage of actual race driving champions like Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough who appear briefly as themselves though I was upset to read that Roddy McDowell’s scenes, where he plays a salesmen, got cut out completely as his appearance could’ve added an intriguing element.
The story itself is rather tepid at first. There were many films from the 70’s dealing with rugged individualists and hard drinking, womanizing rebels who couldn’t, or didn’t want to conform to societal rules and thus hit the road looking for adventure and to ‘find themselves’. This though, at least during the first two acts, adds nothing to the equation, or give us any new insights and in fact seems more like the same old, same old generic character study, but all that changes in the third act when Corky unravels completely and goes on a shooting spree. The films from that era always had the non-conformist getting ‘reeled-in’ at some point usually through the love of a romantic partner, or some familial obligation, but here it’s a meltdown to the extreme and it’s a movie way ahead of its time as it deals with what’s commonly known as a mass shooter these days. At that time this concept was rarely seen and for that it deserves definite kudos as does the message that being too irresponsible will catch-up with you and one can’t just live the outlaw image and not eventually have to pay the price.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: March 15, 1972
Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes
Director: Leonard Horn
Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)