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Murder Slim Review: STRAIGHT TIME

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Based on Eddie Bunker's NO BEAST SO FIERCE, STRAIGHT TIME is yet another excellent 70s lowlife crime movie.

The opening credits will immediately grab you. A staggering array of great character actors' names flash up. Dustin Hoffman, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton, M. Emmet Walsh, Kathy Bates and - the author himself - Edward Bunker. Theresa Russell is in it too as Hoffman's love interest, Jenny. This is the 21 year old, unbelievably attractive Russell. And her acting ain't too shabby either.... How could you get all this talent in a movie?

We've talked before on Murder Slim about how the early 70s movies had less pressure due to the end of the studio system. But how were there still movies like this towards the end of the decade?

In the mid 70s' JAWS and STAR WARS kicked off a trend towards merchandise obsessed blockbusters. That drove mainstream filmmakers in a new direction... from drama and conversations towards sci-fi, action and special effects.

But hey... David Lynch managed to make out-there movies in the 80s. And so did Jim Jarmusch. The killer - increasingly - was getting finance. Movie stars migrated towards the big bucks, so it was left to outsider directors to scrabble for money.

Hollywood is a business, of course. And the truth is audiences changed. Speed became the watchword of life... you snooze, you lose. And movies have sped up ever since: from obvious mainstream shit like TRANSFORMERS to supposedly anti-establishment crime movies like INSIDE MAN.

The great 70s anti-establishment/crime movies (and there are many) have a sense of patience about them. They're not afraid to have lengthy dialogue scenes. Tarantino hooked onto this in RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION. Sadly, most modern filmmakers - and a hefty chunk of the paying public - find talking dull. You think, you sink... because the anti-establishment thing is considered hippyish.

Look, there are a lot of great modern movies. It's just the 70s seems to have more. And STRAIGHT TIME, like the equally great and under-appreciated SCARECROW, is one that flies on a great script and great characterisation rather than visual pyrotechnics.

Dustin Hoffman's Max Dembo is one of his best roles in a pretty damn good career. He also co-directed some of the scenes. Maybe that's why the fucking trailer obsessively reminds us he's in the film. What's interesting is that Max is essentially an asshole. He starts off charming and sympathetic, including a nice scene with his buddy's wife and kid, but as the movie progresses his insatiable need to commit crime turns him into a nasty piece of work.

It's a good departure for this type of movie, where the crim is usually a lovable victim of society's control. Maybe this is indicative of the film's late 70s release date. Nixon had been thrown out, and America was starting to "straighten" out. As Romero says about his DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979), America had discovered that money, malls and disco dancing were fun. The lovable crim didn't fit into that new world, and a bunch of 80s movies spent their time blowing them up.

Max is also lured by money and the mirage of "the big time." He mistreats Jenny, stabs his buddy Gary Busey in the back, and his impetuousness means that his other buddy Jerry is left in the firing line. This is an anti-crime movie but a subtly executed one. You're not left wanting Max to get away scot-free but, deep down, you almost wish he could.

Harry Dean Stanton is, as ever, fantastic. One of the best scenes in STRAIGHT TIME is Hoffman's Max going to see Stanton's "reformed" Jerry. Jerry seems to have it made... he's got a nice - if talkative - wife and a decent place. But as soon as his wife scoots off for some more barbeque, Jerry confides he has to escape as soon as possible. Stanton is playing his hundredth lovable nutjob who can't resist a life in crime, and his googly eyes roll beautifully as he whispers how bored and trapped he feels in his "straight" life.

M. Emmet Walsh is also great as Max's shonky, self-assured parole officer. He pitches the note between helper and asshole just right, only showing his true colours just before Max pulls his pants down and handcuffs him in the middle of a highway.

STRAIGHT TIME is another 70s movie that you need to check out. It's crisply filmed by Grosbard, but it's the interesting twists of the characters that help this movie stick in your noggin.

Eddie Bunker was rightly pleased with this one. He even co-wrote the script and makes a nice cameo appearance as a sleazy guy in a bar.

C'mon... What more do you want?

Review by Steve Hussy