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USA 1974
Directed by
Steven Spielberg
110 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Sugarland Express

Steven Spielberg's first feature film (it had been preceded by Duel in 1971 which had been made for TV), co-written by him with Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins is a conventional enough narrative but one which mixes action comedy with tragedy and serves it up with a good deal of empathy for its protagonists.Certainly there are qualities of the director’s well-known predilections here but they are not reduced to the simplistic, sentimental  crowd-pleasing devices that form the staple of so many of his subsequent films.

When the State of Texas places the infant son of petty thief Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn) in foster care she forces her husband, Clovis (William Atherton), also a petty thief, to escape from his low security prison, and the two start a cross-country trek to free their child, now domiciled in the town of Sugarland. Along the way, they kidnap a patrolman trooper (Michael Sacks) and collect an entourage of several hundred police cars, led by Captain Tanner (Ben Johnson) who sympathizes with their plight but knows that as a lawman he has to bring them down.

It is a testament to Spielberg's skill that one can detect here the seeds of many later films from John Landis’s The Blues Brothers (1980) to the Coen’s Raising Arizona (1987) to Ridley Scott’s Thelma And Louise (1991)  and even Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994). Somewhat surprisingly, the predictable auto pile-up scenes are not well-handled and the movie drags somewhat toward the latter stages but this is one of Spielberg's more interesting efforts.




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