Two seventies drive-in films produced by Roger Corman for Fox (and not for his own production company), Fighting Made and Moving Violation are two awesome examples of the action films of the era. Plenty of violence, tough guys, chase scenes, tension and trashy dialogue make this a well paired double feature that ought to appeal to the exploitation movie fan in all of us. Here's a look...
Directed by Jonathan Demme in 1976, the film follows a man named Tom Hunter (Peter Fonda) who has left his life in the city to head back with his son to the farm that he grew up on in Arkansas where his brother and father still live. Tom arrives just in time to get involved in a mess involving a local development business run by the dastardly Pierce Crabtree (Philip Carey) who wants to get his hands on the elder Hunter's land to move forward with a strip mining operation. Tom's dad doesn't want to sell, so Crabtree and his cronies resort to some rather nasty tactics, even going so far as to get Senator Hingle (Noble Willingham) involved in the dispute.
Meanwhile, Tom is catching up with old friends and making time with pretty local lady Lorene (Lynn Lowery), all while trying to get under Crabtree's skin and get him to ease off on his old man. When the justice system looks like it's going to fail the Hunter family, Tom takes it upon himself to set things right and stop Crabtree from taking the family farm that now means so much to him.
The story of a man pushed to his breaking point, Fighting Mad does a great job of setting things up so that, once the time comes for Tom to unleash his righteous fury, we want nothing more than to see him come out swinging and take the bad guys down. We all know where it's going, and there aren't really a lot of surprise per se, but Demme's film does such a good job of backing Fonda's character a corner that we can't help but cheer him on once he starts pushing back. It's always more fun to cheer for the little guy, and this is one of those movies that makes it easy to like the hero and hard not to hate the villains.
Fonda's plenty charismatic in the role, looking the part and playing it well, handling himself just fine in the action scenes but also proving to be equally adept at the more dramatic requirements that the script throws his way - and of course, the obligatory 'Fonda rides a motorbike' scene is a highlight. His chemistry with Lowry won't set the screen on fire but they make a decent couple and her unusual beauty offers the film some interesting female screen presence. Willingham is a total snake in the role, so in that regard he's very good in the part.
If this one doesn't wind up winning a ton of points for originality it more than makes up for that with some intense action, some well played drama and even a bit of sex appeal. It's a bit derivative of other revenge/common man pushed too far type films, but it's just so damn fun that you probably won't care.
Charles S. Dubin's film, also released in 1976, follows a vagabond/wanderer type named Eddie (Stephen McHattie) who finds his way to a small American town, much like John Rambo, only to almost immediately wind up in trouble with the law. They drive him to the town limits, kick him out of the car, and tell him in no uncertain terms to never show his face on their turf again. Not one to bend for authority figures, Eddie does exactly what they told him not to do and heads back into town where he meets up with Cam Johnson (Kay Lenz) and after they share some ice cream they head to a random house that doesn't belong to them for a little romantic time in the pool. Unfortunately the house belongs to small town big wig H.L. Rockfield (Will Geer) who just so happens to be on the receiving end of an extortion scam courtesy of the same cop who just gave Eddie the boot - and of course, Eddie and Cam watch it all go down. Before you know it, the town sheriff has shot down the young cop in bold blood and Eddie and Cam are witnesses to murder. The sheriff sees them, figures he can blame them for the murder he just committed, and they're soon on the run.
Having no other choice but to clear their names, they soon meet up with a lawyer (Eddie Albert) who tries to help them out while the sheriff intends to keep his dirty deed a secret and aims to do whatever it takes to keep it away from the press. If this involves hunting down and killing Eddie and Cam, so be it - he's more than willing to try that option out, and so the chase is on.
While it obviously starts off a whole lot like First Blood the film then turns into a Hitchcock inspired 'wrongly accused, gotta clear my name' style thriller before then turning into an action-centric chase movie. That might sound a bit convoluted but Dubin manages to make it work thanks to an enjoyable lead performance from underrated tough guy McHattie (recently of Watchmen and the sorely underrated Pontypool). Kay Lenz doesn't add much to the film aside from some welcome eye candy, but McHattie makes the role his own and makes you wonder why he didn't become a bigger name in the action movie industry of the seventies and eighties. Eddie Albert's supporting performance as the lawyer is a scene stealer, and without wanting to go into too much detail for fear of spoiling things, his role is surprisingly the most enjoyable in the movie. The film moves at a great pace, feature some memorable set pieces and a fine score and throws in some oddball humor now and then to put entertainment first and foremost. Character development could have been handled better as we don't really get to know too much about our central heroes but aside from that, this one is easily enjoyed for the entertaining no-brainer that it is. Intelligent and sophisticated? No, not really but Moving Violation is, more importantly, a whole lot of fun.
Fighting Mad and Moving Violation both look very good in these new 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfers. While the pictures for both films are generally clean and clear, there's a nice coat of film grain present throughout, ensuring that these low budget seventies cheapies retain their vintage feel throughout. That said, there aren't any problems with heavy print damage, just some specks here and there. Detail and color reproduction looks good, though some scenes are a bit on the soft side, and while there's a little bit of dirt here and there, it's nothing to get too worked up about.
Audio options are provided in English language Dolby Digital Mono and both films sound just fine. Range is obviously limited by the original source materials used for this release but dialogue is clear and the tracks are both well balanced and free of any hiss or distortion.
Fighting Mad features a commentary track with director Jonathan Demme, producer Roger Corman, and stars Peter Fonda and Lynn Lowry that starts of really strong but sadly loses steam towards the end. Regardless, this is worth listening to if you want to learn more about the film. Demme, still in the early part of his career when this film was made, dishes some dirt on how it all came together while Fonda and Lowry discuss their respective roles and what it was like being in front of the camera. Corman talks about the ideas and concepts of the movie and the production aspect of it - but yeah, once we hit the hour mark, all four participants seem to lose interest and clam up.
Moving Violation also features a commentary track, this time with director Charles S. Dubin, producer Julie Corman, and star Stephen McHattie. Julie Corman dominates this track and you get the impression it's not because she wants to but because she has to. Dubin tends to overexplain things and point out the obvious rather than offer much in the way of insight into the movie while McHattie only periodically chimes in with anything of note. Corman, thankfully, has a pretty sharp memory and is able to talk about who did what and how it all came together but more input from the other two participants would certainly have been welcome.
Aside from that, look for trailers for Damnation Alley, Race With The Devil, Gordon's War, and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry as well as the standard menus and chapter stops and the cover art is reversible and features some alternate artwork on the flip side.
Two Corman produced Fox titles, Fighting Mad/Moving Violation, get a fine release from Shout! Factory. If the extras aren't as plentiful as some might have hoped, the movies look and sound very good. As to the films themselves? They hold up very well all these years later and for sheer entertainment value one, this set comes 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.