...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...
The next two films in our retrospective contain very strong performances by Ms. Studlendgehawn. I hadn't seen either until they came in the mail this week. I love Netflix.
Butterflies Are Free, 1972
In Butterflies, Goldie plays yet another young waif with more modern sexual mores. Like her first two films, this one is also based on a stage play. The screenplay was written by the original playwright, which is probably the reason why it's so chatty and the action takes place almost completely inside an apartment. Writing for the screen and writing for the stage are two different animals, a fact that is often lost on theater people.
Butterflies is about a blind guy who is trying to gain some independence from his overprotective mother and make it on his own. It's the kind of simple PC message movie that Hollywood made a lot more of in those days: "Blind people are people too." Goldie plays the free-spirited next door neighbor who is afraid of commitment. The conflict arises when Goldie meets the mother (played by veteran TV actress Eileen Heckart, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this role).
Goldie again demonstrates a surprising dramatic ability in addition to her already established comic talent. As usual, she lights up the screen. Blocking was important in this movie because of the limitations of the apartment set. But Goldie seems to glide effortlessly from couch to floor to kitchen to table to bed. She handles the emotional transitions with the same ease. The drama seems to slow down in the middle of the movie, but things pick up at the end with the addition of Paul Michael Glaser (pre-Starsky, of course) in a bit role as a sleazy director of experimental (i.e. nude) plays.
The blind dude is played by Edward Albert, the son of Green Acres' Eddie Albert. He's an interesting guy. Half Colombian, educated at Oxford, he has an IQ of 157 according to IMDb, and he speaks Spanish, French, Portugese and Mandarin. Unfortunately, I found his constant wisecracking throughout Butterflies to be a distraction. He delivers his sarcastic lines with a deadpan affect that is too annoying for my taste. The mom character is just as sarcastic, but much more appealing.
As is my wont, I paid special attention to the costuming. Goldie had three outfits in this film. In the first act, she wore a cute peasant blouse and flirty ankle length skirt, which was her best look. She spends the middle third of the movie in a bra and panties only. I thought Goldie looked a little thick in There's A Girl In My Soup, but I must say, she was in awesome shape for Butterflies. Finally, during the third act she wore a dreary green floral dress, which was nothing to write home about.
As for ratings, I gave Butterflies three stars (liked it). The final act, with it's romantic suspense, saved the movie for me. Yes, I had a few tears. But I cry at the drop of a hat with these kinds of movies. In the end, all three main characters learn something from each other. Personal growth is always a good thing in a romantic comedy, if not in life.
The Sugarland Express, 1974
If Butterflies Are Free sounds like too much of a chick-flick for you, definitely check out The Sugarland Express. Not only was it Goldie Hawn's best role to date, it was Steven Spielberg's debut as a feature film director. And what a debut!
Long time visitors may have guessed that I'm a scholar of the 70's action movie. I mean I'm really a scholar; I wrote a paper on them in undergrad, when I toyed with the idea of being a film studies major. However, I can't claim to have been much of a scholar if I hadn't seen Sugarland Express up 'til now. I was truly missing out.
Sugarland was Universal's attempt to cash in on the anti-hero chase movie craze of the early 70's. Like another favorite of mine, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, the main character is a skinny blonde who's as dumb as she is cute. But in Sugarland, the anti-heroes are more loveable than usual. You don't have to sympathize with them in spite of their badness, because they aren't really all that bad.
Goldie plays the wife of a small time crook who has just four months left on his sentence for petty crimes. Their kid just got taken away from her and given to a foster home. Goldie breaks her man out of jail and they take off on a comic journey across southeastern Texas to get thier little boy back. Along for the ride is a kidnapped Texas highway patrolman with a slight case of Stockholm syndrome.
The name Sugarland Express is meant to be ironic, because the pursuit is anything but an express. It's more like a 1970s version of OJ's "slow speed chase," complete with cheering throngs of roadside fans. Goldie's character insists on stopping to pee, or to get some fried chicken, or to pick up some trading stamps.
From the first reel on, you can tell that this is not your ordinary Goldie Hawn vehicle. She puts on a pretty convincing Texas drawl (to my Californian ears at least). And her character is grittier than the previous three hippie-chick roles she played. Consequently, It just might be her best performance. She still shows off her comic skills, but thanks to Spielberg's direction and the Barwood/Robbins script (Corvette Summer, Close Encounters) we get to see much more of her considerable dramatic range. With Sugarland, Goldie Hawn gave notice that she was indeed a star.
Goldie's husband is played by William Atherton, better known to me as the slimy reporter from Die Hard, and the meddling EPA dude from Ghostbusters. He does a nice job in Sugarland and it's a shame he became so typecast in his later work.
Although Spielberg had already made Duel as a made-for-TV film in 1971, he really showed the maturity of his talent in Sugarland. It's no wonder that Universal let him do Jaws the very next year. Their faith in the 29 year old director paid off. Say what you want about Munich ― I'm disappointed in that choice too ― but the guy has always known how to put together a great movie. To say that Sugarland Express is underrated is to underrate the word underrated. I gave it five stars (loved it), and I think you'd enjoy it too.