Wednesday, July 09, 2008

DVD: Framed (1975)

In 1973, director Phil Karlson, writer Mort Briskin, and star Joe Don Baker had a surprise hit with Walking Tall, the saga of hard-hitting Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser. Two years later they reunited to make the new-to-DVD Framed, in which every character including the lead is, to use the movie’s term of choice, a shitbird.

Baker plays a small-town Southern gambler with big-time connections. After scoring in a card game he ends up in a bizarre confrontation with a deputy sheriff and kills him in self-defense. He’s railroaded into jail, where the efforts of an exiled Mob kingpin (The Godfather’s John Marley) lead to his parole. Baker heads back home to bust heads and figure out who set him up. But mainly to bust heads.

Describe Framed in one word? Mean. The fight that sends Baker to prison is long, sloppy and brutal, with the chaos and opportunism of real life. Everyone’s out for themselves, including our nominal hero. At times the movie’s vision of crime as a hierarchical, corporate enterprise makes it play like a hillbilly Point Blank. But Framed has no time for style or nuance. Not when there are faces to punch and balls to kick.

The first twenty minutes of the movie are a little hard to take. Some of the performances are ... how can I put this? ... lousy, and it occasionally sounds like the audio equipment was in a port-a-potty just out of frame. But things improve once the pros come in and hit their marks, like Marley, Brock Peters as the only honest deputy in town, and ex-Dead End Kid Gabriel Dell as a sarcastic hit man. And the plot takes several unexpected turns. Framed is crude, and crudely effective. If it’s down and dirty you want, look no further.

I reviewed Phil Karlson’s career in film noir here.