Tag Archives: James Frawley

Kid Blue (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bandit tries changing careers.

Bickford Wanner (Dennis Hopper) suddenly realizes that being a train robber is no longer worth the hassle, so he decides to go straight by moving into the town of Dime Box where he does a variety of menial labor jobs that he finds to be thankless. When his former girlfriend Janet (Janice Rule) shows up he gets a hankering to go back to his bandit days when he was nicknamed Kid Blue and acquired a legendary status throughout Texas.

There were a lot of revisionist westerns during the early 70’s and most of them made an impact, but this one got lost in shuffle. Personally I was impressed with the first 30 minutes where the small town residents are portrayed as being prickly, cold people whose personalities reflected the harsh, dry, desolate landscape that surrounded them. The way Bickford gets treated as an ‘outsider’ simply because he wasn’t originally born there is exactly the way anyone would’ve felt in the same situation and thus it creates an accurate and vivid setting environment.

The counter-culture movement of the late 60’s gets puts it into a western motif giving the viewer a firsthand feel how oppressive the establishment (in this case the town’s citizens) were and what a lonely, frustrating experience it is to somehow try to fit into a system that doesn’t want you to begin with. Having this theme captured outside of the modern trappings makes the message stronger and when Bickford finally does lose his cool you relate to his rage and enjoy seeing him lash out.

Unfortunately it loses focus by the second act as director James Frawley can’t seem to decide whether he wants to turn this into a comedy or gritty drama. Both Ralph Waite and Ben Johnson make for good antagonists, but there’s never a satisfying one-on-one moment where Hopper stands up to either of them in any cinematic way even though you sit through the whole thing hoping that at some point he will.

Hopper looks the part of a young man even though he was already 36 at the time, but the character’s motivations are confusing. This was a man who at one point was supposedly a successful train robber, so why does he put up with all the crap and not go back to his old ways sooner? He tolerates their abuse for far longer than any normal person would and for seemingly no reason. Having the character suffer from a physical ailment that wouldn’t allow him to return to his bandit lifestyle would’ve helped make his situation more understandable.

The ending in which Bickford robs the factory and the whole town gives him chase has strong, colorful potential, but the film doesn’t go far enough with it. It also introduces too much of a bouncy musical score that gives the action a lighthearted/slapstick quality that undermines the realism. The third act should’ve focused entirely on the chase while nixing an ill-advised story thread dealing with a love triangle that adds nothing and seemingly put in solely to pad the undernourished plot. Even though the setting is supposed to be Texas it was actually filmed in Mexico.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Frawley

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

The Christian Licorice Store (1971)

christian licorice store 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: He searches for answers.

Cane (Beau Bridges) is a successful tennis player who has a close bond with Jonathan (Gilbert Roland) his mentor/coach who at one time during the 30’s was a tennis star himself. Things seem to be going well for him both on and off the court. He even starts fitting in with the chic Hollywood crowd and invited to some of their swanky parties. He meets Cynthia (Maude Adams) a beautiful photographer and their relationship begins to sizzle. Then Jonathan dies suddenly in his sleep and the emptiness in Cane’s life and the people in it come to a head. He begins searching for meaning and finds nothing, which eventually drives him away from his girlfriend, career and life in general.

The film was directed by James Frawley who is the son of actor William Frawley best known for his portrayal of Fred Mertz on the old ‘I Love Lucy’ episodes. James himself dabbled in acting a bit before turning to directing, but proves here to be completely in over-his-head. The attempt to replicate the French new wave type of filmmaking that had become so trendy at that time and done quite well by accomplished directors like Jean Luc Goddard and Michelangelo Antonioni is a disastrous dud and all the more reason why the artsy stuff should stay with the Europeans who have a better handle on it. From the very first shot forward this thing limps along with no pace, story or momentum. The cinema verite-styled takes go on for too long without enough visual flair to help carry it. The perceived ‘sophistication’ is nothing but an empty façade and an embarrassment to watch making it no wonder that the studio shelved this thing for 2 years before finally letting it out to a limited release.

Bridges does well, but the material offers him little to work with. Adams is surprisingly strong and this may be one of her best performances in an otherwise overlooked career. Silent film star Roland is solid as well particularly with the discussion he has with the two leads about aging and the quick passage of time, but he exits the story too quickly. Legendary French director Jean Renoir is the ultimate scene stealer even though he is only in it for less than five minutes, but clearly shows in that brief period how to own the screen and make the most of it in an almost effortless fashion.

The only thing that I liked about this sleep inducing 90-minute bore and actually even found original is the party scene where Beau meets up with several famous directors of the day including Monte Hellman and Theodore J. Flicker. The camera pans between several different side conversations of the various groups of people there and then everyone goes into a small theater to screen a new film where they then watch the opening credits to this film that they are all in, which I found to be kind of cool.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Frawley

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: None at this time.