Reviews

James Frawley

USA, 1973

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 22 April 2013

Source Amazon Instant Video

Categories Acid Westerns

Kid Blue, a seventies obscurity that has never been released on a physical home video format, certainly fits into the acid Western tradition. It stars counterculture icon Dennis Hopper as Bickford Waner — alias Kid Blue – a bandit who attempts to go straight after the failed train heist that opens the film. With Hopper as the lead and the director’s chair occupied by James Frawley, who had previously worked on The Monkees TV series and would helm the first Muppet Movie at decade’s end, perhaps it’s unsurprising that Kid Blue is a bit of a trip, a revisionist Western with a gleefully absurd bent. Unhurried and maybe even a little aimless, it’s a film best appreciated by movie fans that — with or without illicit substances — prefer the journey to the destination.

Much of the film chronicles Bickford’s attempts to fit in after he takes up residence in a dusty little town called Dime Box, where the sheriff is almost always after him about something. Worse still, almost all of the legitimate jobs that Bickford attempts to hold down are humiliating, miserable, or both. This leads to some spirited, if a bit ham-fisted, antiestablishment setpieces, including Bickford’s memorable departure from his gig sweeping hair and polishing shoes at a barbershop. It would be easy to chuckle at the film’s damn-the-man earnestness now, but given its early seventies release date, and the inevitable specter of the Vietnam War (There is an instance where the Kid is told to join the army.), I couldn’t quite laugh it off. Instead I found myself rather liking this meandering, strange little picture and its endearingly punky interrogation of the romanticized Old West and its macho mythos.

Indeed, the film has an appealingly pervasive fondness for mischief: a desire to tweak all that is conservative and conformist. A subplot finds Bickford’s friend Reese, played by Warren Oates, making less than subtle romantic overtures toward Bickford (including some pointed references to the close male friendships of the ancient Greeks, and eventually an invitation to Bickford to join him in the bath), and while this is primarily played for laughs — and viewers today are thankfully less likely to find Reese’s implied sexuality funny in itself — it helps that Oates digs deep and finds the heart of his character, lending surprising pathos to the part. One also senses that Frawley and company are getting a kick out of almost mentioning what was still widely considered unmentionable.

And it’s hard not to find some place in one’s heart for a movie that defiantly picks at consumerism and Manifest Destiny the way this one does. It presents us with Dime Box’s pride and joy, The Great American Ceramics Novelty Company, a factory that churns out ashtray after tacky ashtray because, we are told, the citizens of this fast-growing nation need products to buy. At one point, some cheap-looking Christmas ashtrays sail down a conveyor belt as workers plant a flag in each ceramic Santa Claus’ hand, alternating between the Confederate flag and the stars and stripes, indifferent to politics as long as people are buying. Elsewhere, the town preacher, played by a charismatic and engaging Peter Boyle, meets with two of Dime Box’s Native American denizens, Old Coyote and Mendoza, to discuss the possible benefits of baptism. In a nicely stinging moment, Mendoza asks if becoming children of God will mean getting their land back.

Bits like that, not to mention the enjoyably out-there segments involving Boyle’s Preacher Bob tinkering with a part-bicycle, part-plane contraption called the “aerocycle,” make Kid Blue worth a look. Preacher Bob’s aerocycle doesn’t fly long when it finally does take off, but there’s something sweet and dreamy about its few moments in the air. Bob’s invention is a bit half-baked, but also kind of neat. The same goes for Frawley’s overlooked film.

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