When Walking Tall made Joe Don Baker a star in the early seventies it made sense that he's team up with the director/writer-producer team of Phil Karlson and Mort Briskin. The results of their second effort? The criminally underrated revenge thriller, Framed, which played theaters in 1975. Joe Don Baker takes a lot of crap in certain circles, particularly since Final Justice and Mitchell were skewered on MST3K, but the fact of the matter is that in the early seventies he was one of the toughest men on the silver screen and this film only solidifies that status.
Baker plays a man named Ron Lewis, a sleazy gambler who runs a bar in Tennessee with his girlfriend, Susan (Conny Van Dyke). When Ron finds out about a big gambling tournament coming up, he hightails it out of town as quick as he can to get in on the action. Of course, Ron hits it big only to attacked by a gunman on the way home. Once he gets back to his pad, he enters the garage where a police officer is waiting for him in a rather threatening manner. When the cop won't leave him alone, Ron proceeds to beat the living crap out of the cop and bash his face into the concrete floor. The cops come to the house and find Ron unconscious and so they take him to the prison hospital and while on the way, the chief of police grabs Ron's back of gambling loot. Ron wakes up in the hospital and his lawyer tells him the best thing to do would be to strike a deal with the Distract Attorney's office but Ron insists that he was framed. After Susan is threatened, however, Ron agrees to play by their rules and off her goes to prison for a few years.
While rotting away in the slammer, Lewis gets into trouble for beating up a guard while in the shower (naked Joe Don Baker alert!) which earns him a fairly permanent bad vibe with the rest of the guards in the prison. Eventually he befriends a mobster named Sal Viccaronne (John Marley) who gets him to gamble for him. When Sal finally makes it out of prison, he tells Ron he'll get him out and shortly after makes good on his claim. Once out of jail, Ron decides it's time to get revenge but the cousin of the cop that Ron killed, has ideas of his own...
Okay, so there are a couple of typical B-movie quirks in Framed that might find you scratching your head a couple of times. There's a scene where, for no discernable reason, Susan gets crapped on by a bird (??) and during the card playing scene there are obvious stunt hands used to make Joe Don look like more of a cardsman than he must have been in real life. And did we really need a Joe Don Baker shower scene? But overall, Framed is a pretty solid revenge movie even if Ron wasn't ever actually technically framed in it. That said, the devil is in the details, right? Looking at the big picture we're left with a surprisingly tense picture that delivers a couple of intense scenes of shocking violence and off sets it with a few surprisingly effective dramatic moments.
While Ron is a sleaze ball who isn't entirely undeserving of what happens to him, Baker infuses him with some of that 'good ol' boy' charm that makes him a likeable actor in the first place. He's a little doughy looking and not the most emotive actor on the planet but he does make a good hard drinking redneck with a penchant for fisticuffs. His relationship with Conny Van Dyke is reasonably believable even if she's prettier than you'd expect a man of Ron's caliber to be able to land. Marley makes an interesting compatriot and is a fun, if stereotypical, prison character.
Briskin's script, based on the novel by Mike Misenheimer and Art Powers, is lean and Karlson's direction is tight. The film moves along at a good pace and turns out to contain a nice blend of action and intrigue as well as some solid character development. Karlson's films had a longstanding tradition of dealing with revenge so this one fits right in with his earlier films.
Framed arrives on DVD in a nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks to present the film in its original aspect ratio. While the transfer is interlaced and it seems unlikely that any serious restoration work was done during production, the image is strong and stable even if there is some minor color fading and a bit of print damage here and there. Black levels stay fairly strong and consistent and detail levels, while far from super revelatory, are alright for an older picture. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement at all. It would have been nice to see the picture quality cleaned up a little bit for the film's digital format debut but it doesn't look half bad here.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack on this DVD is about on par with the video in terms of quality. There is a little bit of hiss in the background during a couple of scenes but otherwise things are fine, if unremarkable. Dialogue is generally pretty easy to understand and any audible defects are minor. Levels are well balanced and the film's score sounds pretty decent as do most of the sound effects. Some of the action scenes could have had a bit more punch but aside from that, there's not really much to complain about here. This is a perfectly acceptable job.
Aside from some static menus and a chapter selection option, this release is completely barebones - there isn't even a trailer included.
A great, gritty seventies revenge thriller, Framed holds up really well. It's tense, exciting, violent and suspenseful and it hits all the right notes at all the right moments. Legend Films' DVD certainly could have been better but the anamorphic transfer is a plus and at least the film is presented in its original aspect ratio. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.