Oh Great and Terrifying Exploitation God-Head! Thou Grim Ruler of the Drive-In Heavens! I Beseech Thee, Overlord of the In-Car Speaker! Gate Keeper to the Endless Bucket of Popcorn! Benevolent Protector of the Fried Eggroll Wrapper With That Racist Stereotype Cartoon in Two Primary Colors! Oh, Anointed One of the Biker Flick, the Teen Sexploitation Romp, the Beach Party Musical, the Martial Arts HeadCruncher, the Dusk-Till-Dawn Cartoon Festival Scheduler, the Kinda Silly-But-Still-Horny Italian Horror Mess I Saw Last Year Only With a Different Title Then! Oh Guider of the Flipped Beer Bottle Caps That Litter the Car Lot Gravel as If They Were Diamonds! Oh Overseer of the Ignored Child Who Plays in the Crappy Playground in Front of the Screen Only to Trip on an Old Milwaukee Beer Can and Crease His Top Plate! Oh Divine Channeler of the Shaky, Trembling Teen Hand Groping For Under The Sweater When He Knows He Ain't Getting' Any! Oh Magic Weaver of the Stars That Shine So Beautifully Like a Crystal Carpet in the Night Sky Whenever the Movie Gets Dull!
Thank You! Oh Thank You for Revealing One of Your Wonders Again!
Aaaaaaaaaand...that would be Lynda Carter gettin' nekkid. M-G-M's indispensable Limited Edition Collection line of M.O.D. (manufactured on demand) discs has granted the wish of every teen boy who went to the drive-in in 1976 (or who later watched it every time Showtime ran it) by re-exposing the single most beautiful creature to ever grace the American drive-in screen topless: Marjoe Gortner, in the iconic actioner, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw. And Lynda Carter ain't too shabby, either. One of the last, great classics of the drive-in era, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw is perfection in exploitation fare, offering up potent doses of nudity and violence that wowed drunken audiences in their cars back in our Bicentennial Year. An original trailer accompanies this essential library title.
The American Southwest, 1975 B.C. (Before Carter). New Mexico State Fast Draw Champion Lyle Wheeler (Marjoe Gortner) has just won another regional contest, and he's looking for some action...which ain't exactly happening because his car just flatlined. Enter leather salesman Turner (James Gammon), with his sweet, sweet orange '70 Mustang "Grabber" with the Cobra 454 engine. While Turner prattles on like Warren Oates in Two-Lane Blacktop, Lyle helps himself to a permanent test drive of the 'Stang, and heads out into the desert. There, stopping off at a drive-in for a hamburger, he spies...a vision. An angelic apparition with the body of a Penthouse® centerfold. Carhop Bobbie Jo Baker (Lynda Carter). Sweet Jesus in the morning. Now, Bobbie Jo's spunky friend, Essie Beaumont (Belinda Balaski), tries to cozy up to the curly-haired car thief first, but after Lyle sees Bobbie Jo change out of her cowgirl uniform and into high-waisted bell-bottoms and a baby blue, barely laced halter vest (I'm passing out, dear reader...), he gathers up the eyeballs that fell out of his head and follows her home. Waiting outside her house, where Bobbie Jo spars with her tippling mother Hattie (Peggy Stewart), Lyle gets the ride of his life (you know what I mean...) when Bobbie unexpectedly hops in his car, looking for adventure and thrills. Soon, the couple is making love in the desert (you bastard, Gortner...), hooking up with Essie, and doing 'shrooms in a pond with a naked Indian (this movie has f*cking everything), where Lyle sees a vision of himself as an outlaw―very much like his hero, Billy the Kid. Once the threesome gangs up with Bobbie Jo's almost-as-hot sister, Pearl (Merrie Lynn Ross) and her trigger-happy psycho boyfriend Slick Callahan (Jesse Vint), the stage is set for a "new youth crime spree," AIP-style.
I'll have to keep this review short, because irrational, unfounded enthusiasm doesn't usually translate well on the page. Just up front: I don't think Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw is a "great" movie, nor certainly an "important" one, and I would imagine its exploitation elements play exceedingly tame―particularly in the skin and violence departments―next to today's efforts. However...it's smart about what it sets out to do, and seeing it again after about thirty years, it does take me back to a wonderful time in my life where I discovered a whole bunch of movies I probably shouldn't have seen (thank you older brothers who lied to my parents), in a place that's long, long gone now (that ramshackle drive-in out in the middle of nowhere disappeared decades ago...and that "middle of nowhere" is now "somewhere" with a Target® squatting on it). Nostalgia may be, as some suggest, a retrograde emotion, but its power is undeniable. As are Lynda Carter's breasts.
Now I write that knowing full well that Lynda Carter had, on numerous occasions during her heyday, made it quite clear that she didn't like men staring at her incredible body (when her million-selling poster put poor Farrah's to shame). I also write it knowing full well that my statement may enrage her when she reads this review, prompting her to join DVDTalk's Reader Forum for the opportunity of posting her indignation towards me, whereupon I beguile her with my deceptively simple (yet quite deadly) "aw shucks" charm, and we soon begin to casually date. Look, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw has a lot going for it outside of Lynda Carter's presence (and we're going to talk about that in a minute, I promise, just as soon as I'm done discussing her body). However, there's no getting around the fact that Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw's main claim to fame to this day is that it features the only film evidence of just how stacked Lynda Carter really is (you see? I wrote, "is." She doesn't stand a chance with me). Beautiful Lynda Carter, whether she likes it or not, is one of the sex symbol icons of the Seventies, and not too many of them ever got nude in a film. So when she stands in profile and slips on another halter top, or writhes uncomfortably under Marjoe Gortner's insistent ministrations (that's the best pun I ever wrote), her left breast exposed, it's big news for fans of '70s pop culture. And the DVD release of Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw is only going to perpetuate that appreciation. Like it or not.
Now that I've spent a paragraph discussing 26 seconds of the movie, let's wrap this review up, shall we? Specifics aside, I always feel protective towards Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw because it's one of the last "true" AIP releases that looks like the company's heyday product. This is low-budget drive-in fare, pure and simple, and nothing at all like the later big-budget failures AIP produced and released like Meteor and The Island of Dr. Moreau in an effort to stay relevant (I guess you can't blame them, what with their bread-and-butter exhibition venues―grindhouses and drive-ins―dropping like flies in the early-to-mid '70s). Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw has no big name stars (or even low-level stars), no big special effects, no overriding professional gloss or sheen. It's rough and clunky most of the time, with a crude energy that comes from knocking out a flick to satisfy a limited budget and shooting schedule as much as any potential audience.
One of my favorite exploitation directors, Mark L. Lester (Truck Stop Women, Stunts, Roller Boogie, Class of 84, Firestarter), and screenwriter Vernon Zimmerman (the bizarre Fade to Black), certainly borrow much from other "beautiful people on the run" actioners like The Getaway and especially Bonnie and Clyde, right down to the formation of Lyle's gang (the addition of Slick and Pearl is the same dynamic as Hackman's and Parson's characters, while Essie essentially fills the same role as Pollard's: creepy little fifth wheel-turned-squealer). But they do so without slavishly aping those superior drive-in flicks, incorporating (and spoofing) the Western gunslinger motifs that litter the picture for a good little twist.
When Lyle, the quick draw artist who idolizes Billy the Kid "because he didn't take sh*t from anyone," steals a car before the title credits, he might as well be a gunslinger stealing a new horse when his own steed pulls up lame. Lester parodies the clichéd duel at high noon next when he has Lyle and his opponent square off in a Western town attraction, firing blanks at each other (Zimmerman mirrors this fake duel at the end of the film with another Western convention: one professional gunfighter squaring off against another for the sake of upping their rep...only this time, it proves deadly). Lyle's sense of old-fashioned honor and justice is alluded to early (killing is okay when it's either you or the cops in a fair fight)―at the beginning of the film, Lyle stops to make the cop who was chasing him is okay―and then thoroughly debunked when Slick slits a cop's throat for nothing, and freaks out Lyle. By the end of the film, when Lyle guns down the gas station attendant in a lethal re-imagining of the opening fake duel, his illusions about Billy the Kid are gone, and his actions are now more in line with the real murderous Billy. That's smart scripting and direction for a t*ts and ass exploiter meant for the ozone theaters.
Even better, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw is non-stop action. From the minute Lyle steals the Mustang, until he makes love to Bobbie Jo, until he whips the pinball shark with his car antenna (see? I told you it had everything), this movie moves, from one solid action set-up to the next, with exposition kept to a minimum. For a 1976 drive-in actioner, the violence is considerable and welcome, and unsentimentally presented (except for the sick, sick joke towards the end when the Sheriff zaps an innocent "threesome" in a sleazy motel, thinking they're Lyle and Bobbie Jo). Something is always happening in Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw, with Lester and Zimmerman introducing quirky little scenes and dialogue exchanges all the time to keep your interest (the beautiful location shooting around Albuquerque and Santa Rosa, New Mexico by cinematographer Stanley Wright keeps our attention, too). Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw may be designed for cheap thrills, but it doesn't treat the audience cheaply; it delivers the goods with a (relatively) straight face, and more importantly, it keeps those goods coming, scene after scene. Because that's what we want in a picture like this: action.
Former revivalist preacher Marjoe Gortner (Earthquake, The Food of the Gods), a competent actor who never got out from under the industry perception that he was a "personality" masquerading as an actor, is just fine here, attaining a calm, measured focus that shifts smoothly into violent anger whenever called for. Jesse Vint, co-star of Macon County Line, one of the greatest drive-in classics ever made, hits every note right as the charming-yet-psychotic Slick. Merrie Lynn Ross (whom I believe was married to Lester at the time?) looks real good next to Carter (her little swimming ensemble is a white bra and panties with...is that an image of a pitchfork on the crotch? Can't tell...but I hope so). And noted exploitation star Belinda Balaski (TV's Locusts, The Food of the Gods, Cannonball!, Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) walks off with the acting honors here as she goes full frontal topless against a more demure Carter (no small feat of self-confidence), creating an intriguing little fifth wheel character who gets spectacularly shotgun-blasted for her stupid treachery (now that's an exit created to make the audience remember you). As for Carter, what else can you say? She's lovely to look at in every shot, and she has an earnest appeal (aided, ironically, by her lack of craft) that fits her character well. Too bad she only gets to turn really nasty at the end when, completely unreformed at the death of her lover Lyle, she screams that the sheriff is a bastard and hawks one back and spits right in his face. Bullseye! Why couldn't director Lester have transformed her into that kind of spitting-mad hellcat gangster moll a lot sooner in the picture? Because Carter's good when she's that bad.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.