A nasty little film, and the last from the great noir artist Phil Karlson (The Phenix City Story (1955), 99 River Street (1953)). A transparent bid to capitalize on the surprise success of Walking Tall two years previously, it's a bruising revenge story that finds the doughy strongman Joe Don Baker tossed into the swamp of state corruption. But he's not quite innocent. His fall is initiated in an animalistic brawl in his suburban garage, the dirty cop on his trail finding his end on a cement floor. Karlson's distanced framings capture every landed blow, allowing for a kind of meathead poetry in their stumbling, groping manuevering for dominance. Baker's character Ron, while set-up to take a fall, is solely responsible for the savagery of the killing, and Karlson never soft-pedals his unlikeability.
Arrested for murder, the film shifts to a prison site, where the tone lightens considerably. Safely ensconsced in jail with his fellow low-lifes, Ron is still tight-lipped, but considerably more at ease. He slides in with a jovial mafia don who secures his parole, and he's quickly back on the Tennessee streets, where the film gets ugly again, and where Ron's vengeance stains everyone near him.
Thanks to Dave Kehr for recommending this one.
Interviews to read:
Abel Ferrara at Filmmaker magazine:
"Filmmaker: What was your dream job as a kid?
Ferrara: Washing dishes in a hospital full of hot nurses."
Gilbert Arenas at SLAM magazine:
"Gil: I’ve got an invention. I’ll let your hear it, but if you make money you’ve gotta hit me off.
SLAM: I got you.
Gil: It’s called the Cool Aid (note: I couldn’t tell if he said Cool Aid or Cool Wave. Either way, copyright pending…) It’s like the microwave, but the Cool Aid. So for instance you can put a warm soda in the machine and boom, it’s cold. Most people, “Oh no, you call that the freezer”, but nah, the freezer takes two minutes. Just like you’ve got the oven and the microwave, you’ve got the freezer and the Cool Aid."