Movie Review: Outlaw Blues (1977)
“”I’ve done more living in the past two weeks than I did in the last six years. I got a hit record. I been on TV. I got chased. I got shot. And I fell madly in love. Hell, I’d do another six years just to live it again.””
Outlaw Blues (1977)
Director: Richard T. Heffron
Cast: Peter Fonda, Susan Saint James, John Crawford
Synopsis: An ex-convict goes after the Country and Western star who stole his song.
When it comes to making movies there are a few no-no’s, a few rules that should rarely be broken: supermodels should not be given roles that require them to speak lines; action stars should throw the towel in before their 60th birthday; classic movies should never be ‘reworked’ (or even worse, rebooted), that sort of thing. Now, having watched Outlaw Blues, I can add another rule to this small collection: Peter Fonda (Easy Rider, The Runner) should never sing on screen. It’s not that he’s a particularly bad singer, it’s just that he’s not very good. So, credibility tends to be snapped beyond breaking point when a movie tries to persuade you that an entire nation has supposedly gone crazy over his song.
Fonda plays a jailbird who plays his eponymous song to a visiting country & western star (Jim Callahan), who isn’t Johnny Cash and is at pains to make that clear to the audience in case it should contain any of Mr Cash’s lawyers. This C&W star is named Garland Dupree, and he’s not beneath filching Fonda’s song and passing it off as his own. When Fonda is eventually released he hotfoots it straight around to Dupree’s recording studio and accidentally shoots him in the foot. Somewhere along the line, he hooks up with one of Dupree’s backing singers (Susan Saint James) who turns out to be something of a publicity whiz, and soon has Fonda’s own version of his song racing up the charts.
Outlaw Blues starts off looking as if it’s going to be a fairly straightforward drama, but, shortly after Fonda shoots Dupree, it takes off in an entirely different direction, tacks a few hillbilly chords onto the soundtrack and turns into a kind of Duke of Hazzard, let’s-make-asses-of-the-law comedy. It’s not a good move. While it was trying to remain realistic it was reasonably engaging, but once Fonda is back on the run the whole thing just gets increasingly silly. Fonda is no leading man, something which is borne out by his relative lack of an acting career, so why the producers of this film thought he had enough about him to carry the story is a mystery. Susan Saint James is a pleasant enough co-star, but she is also too lightweight to offer much more than something pleasing to look at. Jim Callahan as Garland Dupree – the film’s equivalent to Boss Hogg, I suppose – is probably the best thing about it, but he disappears for most of the middle section of the film.
If Outlaw Blues manages to make any kind of impression, it’s one that, like its’ eponymous song, will fade quickly from your memory.
(Reviewed 17th November 2011)