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Burt Kennedy directed this workmanlike adaptation of Jim Thompson’s classic novel. It sure does take its sweet time getting going, but it does gather a modicum of steam as it reaches its inevitably downbeat conclusion. While Michael Winterbottom’s recent remake captured the essence of the novel better, Stacy Keach embodied the spirit of its protagonist, Lou Ford better than Casey Affleck did.

Lou Ford is a seemingly gregarious small town cop who is dating the local schoolmarm. Ford gets an assignment from the old coot who owns the town (the great Keenan Wynn) to quietly run a hussy (Susan Tyrrell) over the county line for making time with his son (Don Stroud). When Ford goes to do the job, the prostitute provokes him and sends him into a violent rage. The thing is, she kind of likes the negative attention, and she and Lou begin a love affair. Things eventually get a little too complicated for Lou and he hatches a coldblooded murder scheme to do away with her. Naturally, things don’t go exactly as planned and Lou has to murder more people to cover his tracks.

Keach and Tyrrell are excellent together. Unlike the remake, you have to wait a long time until her character is introduced. Once she is brought into the fold, the movie really kicks into gear. The duo also starred in the much better Fat City, and if you haven’t seen that one, I’d highly suggest you check it out.

This is a perfectly serviceable character study/noir drama. If I’d never read the novel, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more. It just seems that Kennedy and his screenwriters were much too shy to really delve into Ford’s ruthless character. They use a lot of flashbacks of his past traumas to let him (and the audience) off the hook in a futile effort to excuse and/or explain his diabolical actions. It was much more effective in the book (and the remake) where we slowly learn he's a sociopath without remorse.

The flashbacks that try to explain everything are pretty hokey. The use of irritating sound effects to signal a traumatic event is really annoying too. Kennedy films some of these sections in black and white to make it look like an old horror movie, which is a little too on the nose. Also, the scene with a doctor, played by John Carradine, is unnecessary as the character is only there to further spell out what we already know.

Whenever the plot focuses on the dynamic between Keach and Tyrrell, it works. The supporting cast is equally fine as they put in some strong performances. Their efforts keep you watching, even when the film falters.




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