Made in 1973 by director James Frawley (a prolific TV director who also helmed The Muppet Movie in 1979), Kid Blue stars Dennis Hooper as a young man named Bickford Waner. The story follows him as he leaves the relative comfort of Fort Worth and heads out to a rural town called Dime Box where he tries to get by working whatever odd jobs come his way. It's not a glamorous life but he winds up making fast friends with a guy named Reese Ford (Warren Oates) and his pretty wife Molly (Lee Purcell). Eventually he bumps into the town sheriff, 'Mean John' Simpson (Ben Johnson) and makes friends with the own preacher, Bob (Peter Boyle), a strange man who seems more interested in building a flying machine of some sort than in preaching the Gospel.
Somewhat predictably (you can see it coming, but then you're probably supposed to), Molly takes a liking to Bickford and she winds up having her way with him. This obviously complicates things, but not the extent that the arrival of his ex-girlfriend Janet (Janice Rule) does. See, Janet knows the truth about Bickford's past, that he's not just a simple Texan trying to make ends meet but is in fact a former train robber better known under the name ‘Kid Blue.' When word gets out that Bickford and Molly were carrying on behind the back of his only real friend, he decides that the straight and narrow path isn't the one he's best suited for and so he decides to return to his roots and start planning a robbery.
Given the caliber of talent appearing in front of the camera here, it's surprising that Kid Blue isn't a better known or more talked about film than it is but after you watch it, you sort of understand why. It's an odd movie that probably drew in an audience looking for a traditional western that would have likely been taken aback by the film's satirical nature and left leaning political vibe. There's some unexpected and thinly veiled homoeroticism between Reese and Bickford (at one point Oates asks Hopper to share a bath with him) and the movie makes some barbed jabs at the onset of capitalism sweeping into Dime Box during the era in which all of this plays out. So yeah, it's not a typical good guys versus bad guys cowboy movie, but would you expect it to be with a long haired Hooper running around in front of the camera in the seventies?
The film is disjointed in pacing and tone, but that doesn't ruin it. Unsure if it wants to be a full on comedy or an action packed western it bounces back and forth between the two genres but not always so gently. Some of those jumps can throw you a bit, and there are slower, more dramatic stretches sort of crammed into the movie as well. These can occasionally seem out of place or even at odds with the rest of the film, which does definitely get to be both funny and exciting before it's all over and done with. It is, however, quite nicely shot on location in Texas and it always looks good.
Not surprising, however, is the fact that the main draw here is the cast. Hopper is great here, playing his surprisingly naïve former crook with plenty of enthusiasm and that manic energy that made him so much fun to watch, without ever going completely over the top. It's interesting to see him as the youth of the early seventies, as a metaphor for social change, particularly when he goes up against Ben Johnson, obviously an older man and an authority figure. We also get some fantastic scenes between Hopper and Oates that will resonate with you once the film has finished. There's warmth and humor here but plenty of tension as well and seeing these two in the only movie that they ever made together is a treat to be sure. Supporting efforts from the always eccentric and fun to watch Peter Boyle, the sexy and alluring Janice Rule and tiny but interesting appearances from character actors Ralph Waite and Clifton James round out the cast nicely.The DVD:
Kid Blue arrives on DVD framed at 1.33.1 fullframe and it looks wrong, particularly when you consider that the opening and closing credits are in the proper 2.35.1 widescreen aspect ratio (albeit non-anamorphic). Despite some noticeable print damage that pops up throughout the film sporadically, the transfer is clean enough but it's obviously been taken from an older master and as such, detail isn't great. Portions of the film look a bit on the gritty side, and the colors look hot and sometimes a bit washed out. There are no obvious compression artifacts to note and black levels are okay but this is an outdated and disappointing interlaced transfer.Sound:
The English language Dolby Digital Mono track on this disc is pretty solid. No alternate language options or subtitles of any kind are provided. There's decent range in the mix and the dialogue is, thankfully, always easy to understand. The levels are properly balanced here and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion.Extras:
The only extra on the disc is a trailer. Outside of that? Just a static menu that offers chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Kid Blue isn't a perfect movie but it is an interesting and entertaining one. This is one where the cast really make it, there are a lot of great people doing their thing in front of the camera and that helps a lot, but the story is interesting. A solid mix of action, comedy and drama this is one that'll appeal mainly to fans of oddball seventies pictures but if you fall into that category, the movie itself comes recommended. Unfortunately the transfer on this disc is lousy, so for that reason we're dropping our rating down to ‘rent it.'