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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

JOE -- DVD Review by Porfle

Definitely a fascinating artifact of the waning 60s on the cusp of the 70s, JOE (Olive Films, 1970) gives us a look right into what that particular time was like. That is, a look at it through the eyes of filmmakers and actors who weren't quite sure just what to make of the era themselves yet.

The basic theme is older generation vs. younger generation--a major preoccupation at the time, especially in fiction--and how suddenly each side was so vastly distant and different from the other that reconciliation seemed impossible. 

The main adversaries seemed to be the straight conservative crowd on one side and the far-out anything-goes "hippies" who all seemed to be engaging in drugs and free love morning till night on the other. 

JOE opens with a hippie couple in their squalid flat in New York. Playing "Frank" is Patrick McDermott, who would be the drug-testing dopehead in THE FRENCH CONNECTION a few years later and here portrays a no-good heroin addict who pushes drugs to teens. 

Not only that, but he's mean to his troubled, "poor little rich girl" girlfriend Melissa, played by an impossibly young Susan Sarandon in her screen debut.

One day Melissa, feeling neglected by her dope-pushing boyfriend, goes on a pill-fueled tear through a corner store and gets thrown into a psychiatric hospital. 

Her father, wealthy businessman Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick, "Dallas", "Dark Shadows", THE TIME TRAVELERS), runs into Frank at Melissa's apartment and, after the expected clash, kills the vile, unrepentant punk. 

Later, a distraught Bill goes to a sleazy bar for a drink and encounters Joe (Peter Boyle, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, TAXI DRIVER, "Everybody Loves Raymond"), a bigoted, loudmouthed factory worker who hates hippies, minorities, commies, and anyone else who doesn't fit into his narrow range of acceptance.

When Joe discovers that Bill just killed a hippie, his admiration leads him to befriend the man and they become an unlikely pair.  After some awkward social moments between the men and their wives (K Callan of THE ONION FIELD and AMERICAN GIGOLO and Audrey Caire of THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN), they go off into the night in search of Bill's daughter, who has run away, giving Joe an excuse to direct his anger toward the counterculture punks all around him in increasingly violent form, including firearms, with a hesitant Bill swept along.

It sounds as though the viewer is in for a harrowing experience, but while toying with a gritty, HARDCORE-esque ambience, JOE never feels real enough to make us dread what will happen next even when Joe is roughing up some hapless hippie chick, whom he's just had tawdry sex with, for information.

From the first moments with Melissa and Frank in their flat, which feel like a play being performed in a small, intimate theater setting, the acting and dialogue are too affected and unreal to make us believe these are real people and that we're eavesdropping on their lives.

Moreover, the characters are all painted in the broadest stereotypical strokes, from the "groovy" stoned-out hippies to Joe sitting in the bar complaining about the (insert "n-word" here, repeatedly) on welfare and generally behaving the way a screenwriter who didn't actually know anyone like Joe imagined he would. 

With these cartoon characters exchanging phoney-sounding over-the-top dialogue in stagey situations (director John G. Avildsen does what he can with the material but he's still miles from his future success with ROCKY), it's hard to believe critics at the time raved over how intense and hard-hitting the film was, some comparing it to BONNIE & CLYDE.

Strangely enough, still others described it as a hilarious comedy that had them laughing from start to finish, which, despite the fact that there are definitely some amusing passages, really had me wondering how a film could be perceived in such widely, and wildly, varying ways.

Naturally, Joe himself has to be an extreme enough caricature of the right-wing, working class WWII vet to allow scripter Norman Wexler to offer some shocking anti-social language and actions, and to go for the big, violent ending that's meant to leave us gasping.

But with a film filled with such caricatures, their aberrant activities come off as sort of a Paul Schrader-Lite melodrama that lacks real emotional heft or visceral impact.

What the film strikes me as, basically, is an attempt to show that both sides of "the generation gap" were guilty of thoughtless, even boorish behavior and a tendency towards hypocrisy and intolerance. (With a little class envy thrown in for good measure.)

While JOE doesn't succeed in making this seem real for us, it does stand as an amusing depiction of some of the real hotbed issues of the time through some ultimately artificial characters and events.

Buy it at Olive Films
Release Date: April 28

Tech Specs:
Rated: R
Subtitles: English (optional)
Video: 1:85:1 aspect ratio; color
Runtime: 107 minutes
Bonus: Trailer


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