Rope of Silicon Movie Club

RopeofSilicon Movie Club: 'The Sugarland Express' (1974)

We done some dumb things, but I ain't a mental subject

Goldie Hawn in The Sugarland Express
Goldie Hawn in The Sugarland Express
Photo: Universal Pictures

I was trying to figure out what genre Steven Spielberg's The Sugarland Express fits in while preparing today's Movie Club entry. It's definitely got drama as Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn), an ex-con, convinces her husband Clovis (William Atherton) to break out of pre-release four months before he's due to be released free and clear. Their goal is to make a run for Sugarland, Texas where they hope to get their child out of foster care, a child that was removed from their custody due to the misdemeanors that landed them in prison.

These two eventually hit the road by hitching a ride with an elderly couple, but the fact the old man won't drive any faster than 30 miles an hour on the freeway results in them stealing the car. A police chase ensues, ultimately resulting in the kidnapping of a police officer (Michael Sacks) and hijacking his cruiser.

To go with drama you now have action, comedy and there's a definite sense of romance throughout, even if it isn't constantly beating you over the head, which was a major standout for me. Spielberg isn't historically the most subtle filmmaker.

At the age of 26, The Sugarland Express was Spielberg's first feature film following the success of the television feature "Duel". Here he manages a large cast of extras, gets some great performances out of his leads and it also marks his first collaboration with composer John Williams and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond.

I can't say Williams' score stood out for me on any great level, but Sugarland Express is loaded with Zsigmond's sun-dappled cinematography and the shots they got from street level as the caravan of police cars race down the freeay and the pavement blurs by at the bottom of the frame were excellent.

However, of them all, I don't love any shot in the film as much as I loved this next one...

Elderly couple in The Sugarland Express
A.L. Camp and Jessie Lee Fulton in The Sugarland Express
Photo: Universal Pictures

A.L. Camp and Jessie Lee Fulton play the elderly couple left on the side of the road after their car is stolen by Clovis and Lou Jean.

Spielberg briefly checks back on the two a few minutes later only to find them still standing on the side of the road. A police officer asks if it was their car that was stolen, they say yes and he suggests they stay put before zooming off to join the chase. Much to our amusement, they stay put and it's the last we hear from them. For all we know they could still be standing there to this very day.

William Atherton, Goldie Hawn and Michael Sacks in The Sugarland Express
William Atherton, Goldie Hawn and Michael Sacks in The Sugarland Express
Photo: Universal Pictures

As far as the leads are concerned, Hawn's screeching and neurotic performance is just as fun as you've ever seen her and, truthfully, I can't remember the last time I saw her in a film and it was a welcome reminder of how great she can be.

Also, for people such as myself, growing up seeing Atherton as a bad guy in films such as Ghostbusters, Real Genius and his slimy character in Die Hard, it's a bit of a change from the norm to see him here as a caring parent and husband.

Even though they're ex-cons, the film doesn't necessarily paint Clovis and Lou Jean as villains. Instead they are better described as dimwitted optimists that have made a series of bad decisions and don't realize the extent of trouble they've gotten themselves into.

What I found interesting about this fact is that characters this stupid would typically have me dismissing their every move, but Sugarland Express doesn't judge these characters as "bad guys", they're simply desperate people and the love they are exhibiting for their child and the extent to which they are willing to go to get him back says a lot about their true character.

Ben Johnson in The Sugarland Express
Ben Johnson in The Sugarland Express
Photo: Universal Pictures

Accompanying Atherton and Hawn's performance, and helping establish them more as people that messed up rather than hardened criminals, are Michael Sacks and Ben Johnson. Johnson, playing Police Captain Tanner, seems as if he would rather let the two of them go and get their son, but as a Texas lawman he can hardly allow them to get away with kidnapping one of his officers, hijacking one of his cruisers and raising hell across half the state.

You could interpret the film as nothing more than that, a wild and entertaining road movie, but Spielberg did have a message to sell...

Spielberg mentions Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole as a film that affected his approach to Sugarland, the idea of taking a look at media sensationalism and tendency to turn tragic situations into sensationalized "events". Both films, as it turns out, were based on true events.

The media does get involved in Sugarland, but not to the extent of Ace in the Hole. Here Clovis and Lou Jean are treated like rock stars as they slowly cruise through one small town and again while stopped at a gas station. In these terms, Ace in the Hole does come to mind, but in a lot of ways Sugarland Express felt, to me, like more of a PG (or even G-rated) version of films such as Natural Born Killers and Bonnie & Clyde. I'd say those are better films, but The Sugarland Express does have a sort of unmistakable charm to it that I enjoyed.

Everything really came together for me in the end. Zsigmond captures the sun's glow in the tragic final moments and the film ends in a way I have a hard time believing Spielberg would allow one of his films to end nowadays.

The big question, for me, came afterwards and wondering whether I would have been able to tell this was a Spielberg-directed film had I not known beforehand. Instinct tells me "no" as he has, for the most part, abandoned this style of "stand back" filmmaking for more obvious storytelling in recent years (though his new film, Lincoln, is a definite exception). I'd love to see him return to this style of storytelling again, something a little less polished and driven by a passion for telling a good story rather than appealing to all audiences.

Hell, I'd like to see him remake this film today and see what kind of changes he would make. Would he make changes or would he mostly make some necessary cuts to tighten the story?

The first films from many filmmakers are rarely as entertaining as I found this one to be, even though I've seen a story like this told a myriad of times. It proves that if a story is told right it doesn't matter how many times you've heard it. The Sugarland Express isn't some kind of masterpiece, but as a dramatic road comedy it satisfies for much of its running time.

DISCUSSION RULES

The rules are simple and, if necessary, will update as we go along.

  1. No topic is off limits as long as it pertains to the movie of the week or comes as a natural progression of the conversation.
  2. Keep your comments to a reasonable length. I know the urge to write a lot at once is there, but try to rein it in and get out one thought at a time. That way the conversation will move more fluidly and make sure none of your thoughts are overlooked.
  3. NO BULLYING: This is important, while you are free to disagree, do so in a mature manner. Hopefully I won't have to explain that any further.
  4. Suggestions for future Movie Club titles must be emailed to movieclub@ropeofsilicon.com. Comments on actual Movie Club articles pertaining to future discussions and not the film being discussed will be deleted to make sure we remain on topic.

VOTE FOR THE DECEMBER 3, 2012 SELECTION

Based on last week's poll, the November 26, 2012 Movie Club selection is Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, John Schuck, Shelley Duvall and Keith Carradine.

Use the following poll to vote for the December 3, 2012 Movie Club selection and to suggest films for future entries direct all your emails to movieclub@ropeofsilicon.com.

Vote for the December 3, 2012 Movie Club selection

  • Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu) (71 Votes)
  • Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman) (45 Votes)
  • Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut) (26 Votes)
  • The Bad Sleep Well (Akira Kurosawa) (14 Votes)
  • L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni) (6 Votes)

Total Voters: 162

Loading ... Loading ...

Next week's film will be Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy. For more information and an updated schedule, visit the Movie Club homepage.

Thanks for Reading! Join the Community!
Support the Site! Make it Faster! No Ads!

Your support goes a long way in ensuring RopeofSilicon.com stays stable. For less than the price of one small popcorn, you can can help support RopeofSilicon and, in turn, visit the site every day without ads! Including this one!

Subscribe Now!

  • Susan

    1. Spectacular choices for the poll.
    2. Really nice piece of writing Brad. The points about similar movies is an interesting one, especially bringing up Spielberg's Billy Wilder love. To me, this movie brings to mind Badlands by Malick, which came out the same year, but with more of a Wilder tone. These two movies play with a lot of the same elements, but in drastically different ways.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Ah, yes, Badlands is definitely a good comparison. I've only seen that film once and it didn't immediately come to mind, but a good comparison considering when they were made even though they, as you mention, are dramatically different tonally.

      • Susan

        Also, where each director went from there, with both films being their debuts if I'm right.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Timothy/ Timothy

    Well Brad, I have to say that I agree with you on the cinematography, it is excellent. Unfortunately I can't say the same for the rest of the film. I certainly found it entertaining, but not much more. It isn't helped that I found the characters uninteresting and generic. I found the film to be as a whole, an average exercise. I don't like Spielberg, his films are overtly commercial (not that it's a bad thing), and completely unsubtle.

    Here, yes it was impressive that he was able to define his technique so early on in his career. All the hallmark's are here, expect the ending perhaps. It in no way predicts the surprise of Jaws two years later, a film I love. Maybe I am being too critical about Spielberg, so I'll focus on the rest of the film.

    Hawn is entertaining, as is Sacks and Atherton. The problem is not with them, but with the characters. They seem to have no inkling of their predicament, telling the police their exact destination, and even not escaping during the multitude of chances they have. There were literally moments in which I felt like screaming at the screen for them to leave, to just go.

    At the end I didn't feel sorry for them, I just felt annoyed. Maybe I am just being a cynic, but I found the film to be overly clawing, not in a Sirkian way, but more in the typical way Spielberg gets to you.

    I hope I haven't offended everybody but that's just my opinion.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

      I think me and you share very similar thoughts on the film. It is your average road movie, mildly entertaining though nothing special and ultimately forgettable. I didn't care much for the characters either, though as I stated in my comment I thought Goldie Hawn gave an excellent performance.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      It's interesting because I felt that was their characters, which is why I described them "as dimwitted optimists that have made a series of bad decisions and don't realize the extent of trouble they've gotten themselves into."

      Your take is how I would have normally expected to feel but for whatever reason I didn't, but I can totally understand what you're saying.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

    I found The Sugarland Express to be a solid film, though nothing to special. I would definitely praise Goldie Hawn's performance, which although it can be annoying at times was rather excellent. I was also stunned by the cinematography even on the sub-par Universal DVD that could use a remaster.

    I think that the film was trying to make the audience sympathize with the parents of the child. But, to be honest, it didn't work for me. I always saw them as criminals that would do a terrible job of raising their child. And when Clovis died in the end, I didn't really care all that much. Ironically, I would say that this film has almost none of Spielberg's typical sentimentality. I guess that shows what an effect it has had on his other films.

    Spielberg's direction was definitely more subtle in this film, though I can't say that as a huge compliment considering the film didn't do much for me. Sure, a film like E.T. is drenched in sentimentality to the point that it can get annoying, but it still does work better than this film did.

    Following this notion, I will agree with what you wrote above Brad: I really would like to see Spielberg "step back" as a director and just focus on telling a good story. This is why I liked films like Jaws and Catch Me If You Can so much. He definitely did this in the case of Sugarland Express, it's just that the story wasn't all that much to win me over. It was your typical action, road movie, trying to paint these degenerate parents as deserving of their child.

    That about does it. I'm certainly glad we discussed this one as it is interesting to see Spielberg's roots, whether you like him or not as a director. I fall somewhere in between.

    Very excited to discuss McCabe and Mrs. Miller. The only Altman I've seen is 3 Women, and while I loved it, I haven't found the time to check out any of his other works. I heard McCabe is one of his best.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

      If you're looking for some good Altman films, don't miss The Player. It's a magnificent blend of humorous satire and dark cynicism.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Spielberg's sentimentality worked more on me when I was younger, but as I've gotten older it has come to bother me more and more and I welcomed the opportunity to have less of it.

      As for him stepping back, I think he does just that quite well with Lincoln, but it's a story that still has its moments of sentimentality and father issues.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Kessler/ Kessler

    I pretty much agree with you. It's not a great Spielberg film, but it's decent and entertaining. The cinematography is easily the best part. I also enjoyed the old couple who kept waiting by the road. The acting was pretty good throughout. I haven't seen much of Goldie Hawn, but I really liked her here. I also liked how Spielberg didn't portray the couple as bad people. All they wanted was to have their son back and who could blame them? However, as I learned more about them and their criminal records, it's obvious they're not fit to be parents. I could understand why they wanted their son back, but I wouldn't leave a child in their care.

    I don't really see this film as much more than an entertaining movie. The message of the media turning tragic issues into glorified events is an intriguing and relevant message, but that point wasn't hit hard enough for me. If Spielberg were to remade this film today, I feel that he would've added much more to the media aspect. The point would be much stronger I would've liked to see more of that. He probably wouldn't change the ending if that's what happened in real life. I was also surprised to see a downbeat ending in a Spielberg film. Halfway through the movie, I thought they were actually going to get their son back. The ending was a shock for me.

    In the end, it's just a good, entertaining movie, but there's not much else to say. When compared to Spielberg's other works, it obviously falls a little flat. It's just not as memorable as some of his other movies are. As his first feature film though, it wasn't a bad start. It is interesting to see that he started out with this movie and how he evolved over time.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

    Looks like I'm going to be on the opposite spectrum of the conversation. I think it's one of Spielberg's best. Probably top 5. I find Spielberg's optimistic approach to mainstream filmmaking refreshing. Mostly because I think he's the only one who can pull it off.

    With this, I think it's the only one of his films that ends overtly cynical. Slide's line at the end, "He took my gun, but he wasn't gonna use it!" , hit me real hard at the end. Clovis and Lou Jean were never overtly violent. The authority was nothing but violent. No workarounds. Clovis and Lou Jean, from what I can remember, never even assaulted anybody. They were provoked by the vigilante's at one point but otherwise the end goal was only to get their son back.

    The way Spielberg movies the camera inside the vehicle and around the vehicles is fantastic. The shot that Brad points out is a really good shot but I found that there were more shots in the film that did more than just give us a pretty image. The drive-in theater shot with the looney tunes playing across their faces and the difference in demeanor they both have by the end of the shot speaks volumes as to the maturity of the both of them. It also sets an unsettling tone for the rest of the film. It gives the viewer reason to think that this might not end well because up to this point it's been more action-comedy than familial-drama.

    The whole town sequence with the appreciative town-members was astounding. Really disturbing in a way because you know at this point that once they make it through this crowd they're off to tragedy. It's kind of ironic that everyone is cheering them to go on and get their baby when in actuality they're slowing them down. They're the safest when in close proximity to these people who look at them as a caring family even through all their transgressions. I didn't want them to make it through the crowd.

    It's also interesting the way Spielberg paints certain characters. If anything, the authorities and the foster parents seem like the villains, with the media and Texans, save the vigilantes, are good. But the character who's the most dynamic and probably the moral focal point is Slide. The quote at the end I pointed out really does comment on every single person we interact with in the movie.

    I guess I just connected and found more than everybody else and because of that I liked it more. That's the nature of film. (I'd also like to say that I disagree with Brad on the score as I think it's the most un-Williams Williams score we've ever gotten in a Spielberg film.)

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

      See, I didn't like that Spielberg pained the authorities and foster parents as villains. In my eyes, they were simply doing what their job and what they thought was best. If Clovis and Lou Jean really wanted their child back, they should have had to have gone a legal route, appealing the decision made by the courts.

      And yes, Williams score is his most un-Williams, but at the same time I can't really say that it was very good. And that to me is the perfect way to describe this film: it is Spielberg at his most un-Spielberg, Williams at his most un-Williams, etc. But, at the same time, all of the qualities do not necessarily make the film very good.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

        I guess it matters on if you go along with it. I went with it and was comfortable in feeling they were villains. No lives were taken by either of them yet they're resorting to killing them and that's that. The authorities were just as dumb and on the same level as Clovis and Lou Jean but at least they have reasons and goals to accomplish by doing what they're doing. And honestly, do you really think they would have gotten there child back through legal action? They both probably have no money to get an adequate lawyer and they both have criminal records. And they're obviously not smart enough to defend themselves in court.

        Also, it's funny that you weren't enamored by the film when it's the most un-Spielberg. Almost like you wanted "Spielberg" back. But you know what I think it's just taste at this point. Whether it be you or AS, he's just not someone who lights your fire and that's fine. Tarantino doesn't really do anything for me except for Inglourious. It's the way movies work.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

          Funny you mention AS, as I'm surprised to not see him commenting on this article just yet. Anyways, I definitely don't think Spielberg is a terrible director by any means, but rather that he often gets too caught up in his own overly sentimental, optimistic style. A perfect example would be War Horse. On the other hand, Jaws and Catch Me If You Can are two examples of simply great entertaining filmmaking.

          With this film, I liked that Spielberg wasn't making a film by his usual standards, but as I said before that doesn't make this a good film. I would've rather seen Spielberg make a film in this manner with a more interesting, original story. That was my biggest problem with this film, not that it was bad but rather that it just wasn't anything too special.

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

            If you would concede that Drive is a hugely conventional film made in such a way that it elevates it to a different calibre, then that's what happened to me with this film. I found things in it because of Spielberg's filmmaking that I wouldn't have found, had it been made by someone with less talent.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

              That's a very fair argument, and I would concede that Drive is a hugely conventional film made in a unique manner. Personally, for me, I didn't feel that way about Sugarland Express. This is a case that we'll just have to agree to disagree. =)

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

                Hold your horses, there's an important distinction to be made. When you say Drive is "a hugely conventional film," what are you talking about? The story or the filmmaking? If you're talkin story and dialogue, it doesn't get any more bare bones than Drive. But if you're talkin cinematography, editing, mise en scène, score and performance, Drive is in a class by itself.

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

                Oh the story of course. Drive is fantastic because it takes a conventional narrative and gives it thematic relevance almost making the story feel unconventional.

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

                True dat.

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

                The story indeed. And what I meant was that Winding Refn's vision for the film was highly unique and unconventional. Perfect example would be the audience's response to the film.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mikey/ Mikey

      I'm glad to hear you liked the film, even if I was pretty indifferent to it.

      You say this would probably be in your top five Spielberg, what would your other four be? I'm just wondering because Spielberg really has changed as a filmmaker over the years and I'm interested to know if people who liked vs. didn't like this movie will tend to skew one way or another towards his other films.

      My personal top 5
      1) Saving Private Ryan
      2)Schindler's List
      3) Jaws
      4) Raiders of the Lost Ark
      5) E.T.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

        If we're going to do top fives for Spielberg, I'll add mine:

        1. Jaws
        2. Catch Me If You Can
        3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
        4. E.T.
        5. Raiders of the Lost Ark

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

          I guess I'll add mine too.

          1: Jaws
          2: Minority Report
          3: AI
          4: Radiers of the Lost Ark
          5: The Sugarland Express

          (Now I've become public enemy no. 1 lol)

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Kessler/ Kessler

            Very good thoughts from all so far. Here would be my top five for Spielberg:

            1. Jaws
            2. Schindler's List
            3: Catch Me If You Can
            4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
            5: Minority Report

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

              1. Jaws
              2. Duel
              3. Schindler's List
              4. Minority Report
              5. Munich/Catch Me if You Can (I would have to watch both of these films again).

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/chewbaca38/ chewbaca38

        1 Jaws
        2 Jurassic Park
        3 Schindler's List
        4 Private Ryan
        5 AI

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      I'm glad you brought up that final quote from Slide. I couldn't come to terms with that scene and largely because I think I'm such a visual viewer and I just couldn't stand that last shot... For as beautiful as I fell it was meant to look with the figures silhouetted against the water and the sun setting giving it that golden hue, I thought it was so ugly and such an unworthy image for a quote that, like you said, does a lot to sum up the picture.

      I would have loved to have seen Slide's face as he said it and the reaction to what he says, but I felt so much was lost in the ugly image.

      As for the score, I really just meant it wasn't as if I felt the film featured a Williams gem we had been overlooking all these years, but it certainly is very un-Williams and Spielberg also doesn't over utilize the score as he seems to do so much these days.

      Thanks for your thoughts, loved reading your comment!

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

        Gonna be cliche for a second and just say another man's trash ya know? That's why I love film and why I love this movie club and this site. A movies quality is determined by you and someone else's opinion, even if you disagree, shouldn't change how you feel. It can inform the way you interpret something but in the end it's all down to the way you as a viewer see that specific film. And I feel this site and it's commenters isn't judgmental about a viewers feelings. (*COUGH* IMDB *COUGH*) We disagree but that's the nature. That's the reason your site is the first on my internet schedule everyday.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mikey/ Mikey

    The cinematography and William Atherton's character were the only two things I found of interest in this movie. Coming from someone who generally like Spielberg (his last 3 films excluded), I definitely found this to be a lesser work for him. Goldie Hawn's performance I found to be annoying and her character was fairly boring.

    The scenes that I really did love though were the few times when Clovis would say something off hand to Lou Jean about not actually getting the baby and you get the impression that he realizes, if not even consciously, that their mission will be futile and there's no way this will actually work. This is a nice break from Hawn's constant ignorance and assurance that all will work out in the end. Also when he walks up to the foster parent's house, the look on his face is great. He knows something is wrong but no matter what he faces he's determined to at least try to get his child back for his wife.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Yes, the fact Clovis was doing what he was doing despite the fact he seemed to realize they were only going to fail was a big part of it for me. It showed, to me, his love for Lou Jean and his want to please her and make her happy.

      I think this is one of the reasons I was able to overlook the absurdity of what they were actually attempting to do, the reason behind their actions said so much about their characters.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mikey/ Mikey

        If I had gotten the impression of loving desperation from both characters, then I probably would have liked the film much more. Unfortunately, I only got the vibe from Clovis, while Lou Jean struck me as completely ignorant, annoying, and boring. If the film had focused more on Clovis instead of Lou Jean, it would have been much more emotionally resonating as a whole instead of just the few scenes I mentioned.

        Oh well. Not my favorite, but I am glad the movie club gave me reason to watch this, even if I'll mostly likely never return to it again. Really looking forward to next week's though.

  • Lewis

    It's been awhile since I've seen this film, but I remember it to be a memorable picture. Very much a product of 70s cinema. Part chase drama, part offbeat comedy. It marked an auspicous directing debut (for features) for Spielberg. Personally, I think this is one of his better films. Holds up well. Great performances. The cinematography is very similar to another great "lost classic" of the 70s called Scarecrow (the wonderful Al Pacino-Gene Hackman buddy drama)...again both films are similar in that the main characters take "treks" across the country, enhanced by Zsigmond's lush, realistic landscapes. No surprise that Vilmos also photographed Scarecrow. Let's consider putting Scarecrow as a Movie Club selection!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    I have to say, Brad selecting this film for the movie club leaves me a bit bewildered. It must have been a pretty dire lineup at the Cannes Film Festival if this film managed to grab a Best Screenplay award. I mean honestly, get serious. The film started out pretty mediocre but it only got worse as it went along. After the first hour it just became incredibly tedious and boring. The only other film I’ve seen with Goldie Hawn is Everyone Says I Love You (1996) and it appears I’ve been very fortunate in avoiding her other work. My lord is she awful in this film. She’s hopelessly irritating from beginning to end and if the film went on much longer I probably would’ve contemplated suicide (I wish I was exaggerating). As far as the film itself is concerned, the story is nothing especially original or interesting. The character’s themselves are poorly drawn and wholly insipid and mindless. If this film were to be compelling on any level, the characters would have to be at least somewhat interesting. We aren’t going to care about the characters JUST BECAUSE they are the main characters. The Sugarland Express amounts to little more than a schlocky and uninspired B movie.

    "Sugarland Express felt, to me, like more of a PG (or even G-rated) version of films such as Natural Born Killers and Bonnie & Clyde." - Not to pile on old Spielberg, but I think that pretty much says it all. Most of his films feel like PG versions of films other, bolder, directors have attempted. Is it too dark? Don't worry, Steve will fix it. Schindler's List too bleak? Eh, let's tack on a a sentimental ending that would make Frank Capra blush. Just imagine what longtime friend Stanley Kubrick would've done with the Holocaust....

    2 / 5

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

      I actually thought Goldie Hawn played the role very well. It's just that I found her character to be so unlikable. I too am left stunned that the film won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes, which has to be the most prestigious film festival in the world. Must not have been too good of a line up that year.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

        I don't know man, I thought Hawn was rancid. Her other film work only supports this impression. Kinda like the Jennifer Aniston of her day.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

        Mahler was there which I'm sure you know since you're a Kenn Russel fan. Also, The Conversation, Arabian Nights (Pasolini), The Last Detail (Hal Ashby), and Stavisky... (Resnais)

        So it seems like it was a strong year but honestly the jury always gets those prizes wrong. I mean you only need to check out the IMDB history of the Cannes film festival. Plus they probably wanted to award it with something because the jury liked it so much. That seems to be the case with that festival.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

          Of course I know about Mahler =) (Although I will admit it slipped my mind that it won the Technical Grand Prize when I was first writing up my comment.)

          But, yeah it actually was a pretty strong year, so I'm not sure why this was awarded anything at Cannes.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      I think your reaction to it is what makes it a perfect selection for the Movie Club. That and the fact I had never seen Steven Spielberg's debut feature film.

  • http://cinemmaconfessions.blogspot.com Gautam

    Brad, seriously you should think of selecting films that are conversation starters. Films with implicit meanings, symbolism etc. To me Sugarland Express is any other high octane drama and as many have already pointed out, nothing special about it. Infact I believe Hollywood specializes in such kind of movies and churns it day in day out. Yes, it's good one time watch. Period.
    Though I am no-one to suggest which films you should select but if we really want a good interesting discussions, films with deeper themes and probably even open endings would be the right way to go.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Along with AS above you, your comment is exactly what a Movie Club needs. I had never seen the movie. It was Steven Spielberg's debut feature film and I felt it was an important one to take note of considering he is one of today's most well-known directors. It's not a stand out gem, but that's why you go to the movies.

      Look at the comment left by Aleonardis above, clearly there is more to this film than just a complete dismissal in my opinion.

      Going forward each and every film will have been voted by the readers so hopefully in the future when I post my reminders there will be a little more passion exhibited based on what films you guys want to watch next. After all, the Club is now in your hands, not mine.

      • http://cinemmaconfessions.blogspot.com Gautam

        Your argument holds true, if everyone is okay with discussing the mediocrity of a film. I am not saying the film has to be exceptional so as to be discussed but we should be discussing more about the underlying deeper meanings instead of just pointing out the merits and demerits. A good example would be Prometheus. Even though it's not a gem of a movie but still it's a great movie to discuss.
        I am sure you would also agree that we had the best discussion when Picnic at Hanging Rock was the movie club selection. Films that have many aspects/facets/layers to it than what meets the eye would generate the best and most interesting conversation in my opinion.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

          But you can find meaning in all the films Brad has chosen so far. You just need to be willing to look. Some films it's harder like this one, but the last three are chock full of themes and ideas that can be explored. It just so happens, that with these last three, we've been more hung up on the quality I think. Though I will say that The Ice Storm discussion was nice but it wasn't as bustling as Picnic. Now I'm not saying that all films have underlying messages that the filmmaker intended, but these last three have.

          Also, I've noticed that movie being chosen is consistently the film that is the most well know or from the director who is the most well known. My choice has yet to win. Except for this one which seems to be going to Tokyo Story. But previously, I've voted for The Exterminating Angel because Bunuel's films are laced with themes. Before that, Monsiuer Hulot's Holiday. I feel like we're only choosing the films because we know them. Maybe we should do a #GoodResearch and inform our decisions. I'm not complaining though because I'm still seeing a new movie each time it's just that I want to be challenged and Scorsese isn't really too deep. Still looking forward to the november batch. I love this aspect of the site.

          • http://cinemmaconfessions.blogspot.com Gautam

            Yes, Ice Storm and Sex, Lies were obviously better choices. Both of them had implicit meanings associated with it, but they somehow didn't click as a real conversation starter. I guess people would be more enthusiastic if the films are more obviously intriguing unlike the above two. I know that's hardly Brad's fault.
            And I agree movies that are more well known are chosen over the real deals. But then some of the options were actually straightforward films, and having seen those I felt it won't be really discussed much. Having said that I am really looking forward to Tokyo Story which is one of the best selections I must say.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

              Straightforward in narrative and execution but that doesn't mean that theres nothing under it all. If we were doing this 50 years in the future and the choice was The Dark Knight, how much do you want to bet that the conversation would only be about Heath Ledger's performance and the truck flip or how it wasn't nominated for Best Picture? Even this conversation went into why it won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. Can't we just look at the film itself because that's what this movie club is about is it not?

              The Dark Knight is conventional and executed the way a normal movie would be executed but it's of higher quality than normal. But dig deeper and you can talk about the psychology of the whole cast of characters, the way it depicts the general public, the use of the media, and even just how important it was to the genre. This is what we should be striving for with this movie club.

              • http://cinemaconfessions.blogspot.com Gautam

                First of all, you are also re-iterating the same thing which I also believe and that is the conversation should be much more than just merits and demerits or everything around the film.

                And I would disagree that Dark Knight is just any other conventional film. It has underlying messages and themes which makes it a good candidate for discussion even today leave 50 years from now.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/chewbaca38/ chewbaca38

    "PG rated Bonnie and Clyde" is a perfect description of this movie.

  • Andrew

    I don't get people being annoyed with this movies selection; you voted for it.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Actually this was the last of the ones I selected before the club started. The first one voted on by users will be next week's The King of Comedy.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    Brad, can I just make a suggestion for a future film for the movie club. I know we have David O Russel's Flirting with Disaster in a couple of weeks but having sat through a early David O Russel double bill with Flirting with Disaster and Spanking the Monkey can i suggest you give Spanking the Monkey a shot on a poll? It's incredibly interesting and there is a ton of discussion that can be had about it.

  • mccallhall

    As a product of its time, "The Sugarland Express" stood out as an almost anti-movie, one of those off-center films that the young directors of the time were making. (And here I refer to 'Five Easy Pieces', 'The Last Picture Show', 'Brewster McCloud', 'Harold and Maude', and so many others.) I think it is important to remember that 1974 was still the "hippie era" for a lot of people, and established, major stars of the screen, such as John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, etc. were still very much active and well-represented in theaters. When I sat down in the theater in 1974 to watch "The Sugarland Express", I knew a little about the director, Spielberg, who made the well-received TV movie "Duel", and I was used to reading the reviews from Time, Newsweek, etc. I was in my 20's and adventurous as far as films went, and I tried to see practically everything that came out.

    So anyway, "The Sugarland Express" was quite a different movie in 1974, as it would be today, being seen by later generations of film lovers, who can compare it to later movies, and of course to all of the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg, who is now a legendary director. Please note that I am not saying that today's film buffs cannot appreciate it as a movie because they were not around in '74. They certainly can appreciate it, and mainly because they have nearly 40 subsequent years of movies to compare it to. If anything, those of us in 1974 had little to appreciate it with, or compare it to, as movies like these were just so new, and so unexpected. I loved this movie when it came out, and I'm sure if I saw it today, I would still enjoy it, but probably only as a nostalgia piece.

    The one image of "The Sugarland Express" that I took with me when I left the theater, and have retained ever since, was the haunted face of William Atherton as Clovis, as he watches the Road Runner cartoon at the drive-in, and realizes that when he falls off his cliff and goes splat, he is not going to be able to get up and try again, unlike the Coyote. And that's just what happened at the end.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JaneD/ JaneD

      I agree with you - this is a film very much a product of it's time and I, too, appreciate it for that.

      I was also very taken by the scene where Clovis is watching Wile E. Coyote plummet off the cliff. It is a brilliantly directed scene as we see Clovis's expression with the cartoon itself reflected in the window - we can watch his reaction and see what he is watching at the same time. Clovis must have had a premonition of what was to come. It is a great use of foreshadowing. I actually went back and re-watched that scene after the movie was finished.

  • Dan

    You're really selecting some interesting flicks for this movie club. The vote for this week being Cries and Whispers, The Bad Sleep Well, Tokyo Story, Shoot the Piano Player, and L'Eclisse? I mean, hell yes, these are real films. I can get behind this 100%. The King of Comedy next week? Um, YES, easily one of Scorsese's best films, and still tends to be underrated for some crazy reason (though, admittedly, it's found more appreciation over the years than it had initially). Just wanted to see The Killing of A Chinese Bookie get in there. My favorite Cassavetes. Overall, I applaud you, these are choices from a real fan of cinema. Somewhat obscure without being downright pretentious, and throwing in some classic American flicks to balance it out every once in a while. Well done.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

      I completely agree with everything you said. Brad, this have been some very good choices so far, both in your first four selections and for voting in the polls. As a film lover, it's great to see a combination of foreign, older, classic, and contemporary films be given the opportunity for discussion.