Kino Lorber and Paramount Pictures have released on Blu-ray FRAMED, the 1975 drive-in revenge epic written and directed (respectively) by Mort Briskin and Phil Karlson, the same team behind the monster exploitation hit, WALKING TALL, with their same star, Joe Don Baker, headlining again. Not nearly as successful or memorable as the trio’s above-mentioned 1973 fictionalized ode to Sheriff Bufford Pusser, FRAMED is still a mindlessly enjoyable, gamey bit of Southern-fried noir-meets-The Count of Monte Cristo, with an agreeably tacky set of cheap exploitation jollies offsetting the hackneyed plot and crude direction. Extras for this sharp (yet still scratchy) 1920x1080p HD 1.85:1 widescreen transfer include a rather hysterical, overwrought commentary track from a couple of film historians, and a trailer gallery.
Tennessee bar owner/gambler Ron Lewis (Joe Don Baker, WALKING TALL, THE PACK), has a line on a big Dallas poker game—some New York turkeys are coming down South for a pluckin’—and he’s all in, much to the distress of his girlfriend, Susan Barrett (Conny Van Dyke, HELL’S ANGELS ‘69, W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS), the featured singer at Ron’s Starlite club. She wants him to settle down and quit gambling, a difficult proposition when he comes back from the Dallas game with a gym bag full of cabbage. Too bad he didn’t listen. Driving home with the loot, he’s shot at on a lonely stretch of road by a mysterious assailant. In his townhouse’s garage, Ron is next accosted by beefy, murderous Deputy Haskins (Roy Jenson, HARPER, CHINATOWN), who somehow already knows all about the shooting. In self-defense, Ron beats Haskins to death, but the fix is already in against the gambler. Ron’s lawyer, Andrew Ney (Joshua Bryant, ENTER THE DEVIL, TRAPPED BENEATH THE SEA), is in cahoots with Sheriff Morello (Warren J. Kemmerling, THE DARK, GODZILLA 1985), to force Ron to plead guilty to cop killing (for laughs, the Sheriff stole Ron’s money at the scene of the beating, too). Susan’s no help, either, when Ron implores her to hire a private detective: thugs Frank (Paul Mantee, ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, DAY OF THE ANIMALS) and Dewey (Hunter von Leer, THE STONE KILLER, HALLOWEEN II) rape and beat Susan, so she’s staying out of it. Ron winds up pulling a dime, minimum, at the big house, but newfound friends Sal Viccarrone (John Marley, THE GODFATHER, THE CAR), a big deal mob boss, and his gambling henchman Vince (Gabriel Dell, BOWERY BOMBSHELL, EARTHQUAKE), take a shine to the big galoot gambler, and settle him down into prison routine. After five years, Sal’s leaving, and he gives Ron a going away gift: parole, bought and paid for. Now, Ron’s ready for murderous, unhinged revenge, paying back 2 for 1 to those who crossed him, with the corruption going all the way up to State Senator Tatum (Walter Brooke, DADDY’S GONE A-HUNTING, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA).
Growing up in the 1970s, I didn’t know anyone that hadn’t seen the iconic WALKING TALL...but I don’t remember too many of my friends talking about their parents ponying up money at the drive-in to see its unrelated follow-up, FRAMED (my old man took me to see it...without telling my ma). To be sure, way more ticket buyers showed up for WT’s official sequel in ‘75, PART TWO: WALKING TALL...the one Karlson, Briskin, and Baker all passed on (it’s interesting that the underperforming FRAMED proved to be both Briskin’s and Karlson’s last big screen effort). Tough and mean—and yet often as flabby in the midsection as some of its good ‘ol boy cast—FRAMED remains fairly anonymous to fans of 1970s action movies, despite a small, cult reputation for somehow being an unhinged showcase of sadism. Certainly nasty and rough at times, and enhanced by a generally sleazy atmosphere of cheapjack violence and amoral titillation, FRAMED still isn’t that off-the-hook, as its few overzealous champions (like the guy on the commentary track...) would have you think. DIRTY HARRY’s violence is just as unnerving (Andy Robinson flipping in the air from one of those .44 slugs, or getting shived in the leg, or his face beaten to a repulsive mash), DEATH WISH’s rape scene is stomach-turning (FRAMED cuts tastefully away from its one rape, while the other filmed one—committed by the hero!--was eliminated from final prints). FRAMED’s celebrated fight between Baker and Jenson is sweet...but Arthur Penn’s pulping of Brando nine years earlier in THE CHASE is just as bloody and visceral (and staged and choreographed a damned sight more believably, too). And while I absolutely enjoyed Paul Mantee’s gooey remnant of a blown-off ear almost dripping onto that hot manifold, it’s no more outrageous or disgusting than old Brucie chomping down on a squealing Quint in 1975’s biggest mainstream gore fest, JAWS.
FRAMED’s tiny cult also makes the auteur case for it being some kind of otherworldly-genius take on all-encompassing societal corruption—both legal and moral—that was a specialty of director Phil Karlson. FRAMED does render a spoiled, rotted, pervasive noirish view of corruption within the legal and political systems...but again, it’s not exactly earthshaking in terms of either originality or presentation. Using the auteur test on Karlson is dangerous (just like it is with any director who’s consistently inconsistent), because you can get away with thematically and visually linking up a few genuine works of art like KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL and 99 RIVER STREET, before you’re forced to cherry-pick good points in less-successful outings like THE BROTHERS RICO, HELL TO ETERNITY, and HORNETS’ NEST...or stuck flicking peanuts out of enjoyable sh*t like THE YOUNG DOCTORS, KID GALAHAD, RAMPAGE, THE SILENCERS, THE WRECKING CREW, or BEN. If Karlson liked to make movies about guys getting caught up in the wheels of a corrupt society, great—but that dedication to looking at the same theme in movie after movie doesn’t give an automatic “pass” to a title that, in the end, isn’t very good.
It’s best to just watch FRAMED for the “laffy trash” it is, as my 15-year-old daughter labeled it after fits of giggles during much of its cartoonishly overplayed mayhem. Otherwise, you’re going to see the cheap pasteboard and glue that’s holding it together. How else can you take scenes like Van Dyke getting shat upon by a bird, in the movie’s opener, before scripter Briskin actually has her state, “This is a bad omen!” (later on, she also helpfully lets us know through “Verbal Symbolism for the Cinema 101” that everyone has sunk to an “animal level.” Didn’t catch that—thanks). The long, relatively pointless (at least in terms of actually solving the McGuffin mystery of who’s framing Baker) prison sequence is straight out of those wonderfully fake bonhomie Warner Bros. prison flicks of the 1930s, right down to the Hemingway-esque bromance between competent cons (Dell’s improbably cultured hit man Vince just knows that Baker’s a fellow elite among the scum), and that instantaneous, phony bullsh*t father/son dynamic between a big city mafia boss and a redneck gambler (“Fast fingers, no mouth—he’s my kind of people!” Marley observes of Baker, like a proud-as-punch pappa tickled pink that his son finally made good). When Karlson has a straight-faced Baker asking a cockroach (!) no less to teach him how to survive...well, Bogie and Raft and Cagney must have been cracking up somewhere.
Once Baker’s out of prison, FRAMED grinds to a halt as Briskin and Karlson clumsily work out the mechanics of Baker’s revenge investigation (seriously: if Sal’s the kind of “connected” friend that can buy a cop killer a parole after only five years in the joint...he can’t make a phone call to find out about this vast corruption that’s been set in motion against Baker?). Thankfully, FRAMED’s last reel is a doosey, as the hilariously sick Looney Tunes violence is finally cranked up (when Baker zaps Mantee with a spark plug wire—it’s so poorly played by a flippity-floppity Mantee, you can’t help but laugh—it reminded me of that LT cartoon with the parrot playing “radio” with an electric cord in his ears, lighting up his chest with a neon “Eat at Joe’s”). That train crash is a wow because the stunt man looks like he was genuinely barbecued (hey—that’s what they get paid for), while the outlandishly improbable finale delivers one yok after another, from Baker and Dell covering up a knifed Doberman with a huge, obvious tarp (that’ll fool everyone), to Karlson’s lazy, clumsy blocking of the office siege, to another dog viciously attacking its corrupt owner (um...trained watchdogs don’t do that), to Dell’s humorously melodramatic demise, with a “Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Rico?” gangster kiss-off line that sums up FRAMED’s perverted laughs in its entirety: “It can’t end this way?!”
FRAMED’s 1920x1080p HD 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks strong in terms of color values (a little washed out, but I’m betting that was the original look), fine image detail (not bad—I could see some of the stitching on Baker’s leisure suits), and blacks (solid) and grain (fairly tight). However, I was surprised at the amount of white speckling and scratches in the original materials used here. The English DTS-HD Master 2.0 audio track is loud enough, alright, but a few problematic areas in the dialogue must come from the original on-the-fly recording. Otherwise...it’s okay, with little hiss and (mostly) clean dialogue. Extras include a commentary track with Howard S. Berger, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson. It’s a wildly entertaining track (for all the wrong reasons), with Berger a passionate enthusiast for the movie and Karlson. Hey, I liked playing the same game in “film school” that Berger’s engaging in here. It was fun to stretch your wits and vocab to elevate a piece of crap just because you could—but eventually, you realize the stuff you’re writing would make the guy you’re writing about keel over dead with derisive laughter. Highlights include Berger seeing a homosexual context in a scene where absolutely none is present (if you don’t see it either, then you didn’t “put it together”, according to Berger), as well as describing a car crash in phallic terms (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, dude). A trailer gallery for MR. MAJESTYK, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, GATOR, and BUSTING rounds out the extras. (Paul Mavis)
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