Framed (1975) dir. Phil Karlson
Starring: Joe Don Baker, Gabriel Dell, John Marley, Brock Peters, John Larch and Connie Van Dyke
Guest Review By Greg Klymkiw
In contemporary cinema, when all or some of the properties that normally characterize the genre (or, if one prefers, movement) of film noir are present in the work, pains always appear to be taken by those who write their analyses of said pictures to use phrases such as “noir-influenced”, “noir-like” or “contemporary noir”. Seldom will you see anyone daring to refer to “Sin City” or its ilk as film noir, but will, rather utilize one (or variations of) the former descriptive phrases.
During the 1970s, a number of pictures burst on the scene that – aside from their contemporary settings and dates of production – bear considerable traces of those properties usually attributed to film noir. Arthur Penn’s “Night Moves,” Francis Coppola’s “The Conversation”, Michael Ritchie’s “Prime Cut”, Peter Yates’s “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown”, Sam Peckinpah’s “Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia” and numerous others could all be characterized as film noir – especially with their emphasis on such properties as: hard-boiled heroes, the power of the past and its unyielding influence upon the present, the unique and stylized visuals (even those emphasizing visual “realism” have style to burn with their harsh lighting and mega-grain), post-war and/or wartime disillusionment and, amongst others, an overwhelmingly hopeless sense of time lost (and/or wasted).
One picture from the 70s that could also fit the noir tradition permeating that oh-so-rich-and-groovy decade of dissent is one that has largely been forgotten. Since it was neither a hit, nor critically regarded in its year of release, Phil Karlson’s grim, violent crime melodrama “Framed” is a movie that’s long overdue for discovery, or, if you will, re-discovery.
Produced and written by Karlson’s creative partner Mort Briskin (they previously delivered one of the hugest box office hits of the 70s, “Walking Tall”), the world of “Framed” resembles a cross between Jules Dassin’s “Brute Force” and virtually every other revenge-tinged noir fantasy one can think of including Karlson’s 50s noir classics like “Kansas City Confidential” and the “Phoenix City Story”. In fact, “Framed” comes close to being a remake of “Kansas City Confidential” (elements of which also appeared in “Walking Tall”), but where it definitely departs is in the permissiveness of the 70s and the levels of wince-inducing violence it ladles on like so many heapin’ helpin’ globs o’ grits into the bowls of hungry Tennessee rednecks patronizing the greasy spoons of the Old South.
And indeed, Tennessee is where “Framed” was shot and is, in fact, set (not unlike the Karlson-Briskin Buford Pusser shit-kicker “Walking Tall”). While this down-home haven for rednecks seems, if I may, “a might” incongruous for a film noir thriller, it’s actually in keeping with the sordid backdrops of numerous noir classics – many of which are set against the small mindedness of middle America. Not all noir was in the big cities – the sleepy suburbs, seedy tank towns and just plain wide-open spaces – could all provide ample atmosphere for any number of these dark crime classics.
Not that “Framed” qualifies as a classic, mind you. In fact, it’s definitely one star rating below the aforementioned 70s noir from the likes of Coppola, Peckinpah, and Penn et al, but it’s damned solid and delivers the goods one expects from a workmanlike kick-butt kind of director like Phil Karlson.
“Framed” recounts the gripping saga of Ron Lewis (Joe Don Baker) a beefy, semi-amiable (albeit semi-smarmy) gambler and club owner who arrives home with a satchel-full of cash he’s just won in Vegas. His lover and partner in the club, platinum ice-queen country singer Susan Barrett (frosty, sexy Connie Van Dyke) begs him to stop gambling and quit while he’s ahead. If he did, there’d be no movie. Instead, beefy-boy takes his satchel and enters a high-stakes poker game and cleans up even bigger.
On his way home, someone tries shooting at him and when he pulls into his garage a redneck deputy harasses him. A brutal fight ensues (with eye-gouging – yeah!) and the lawman dies, whilst our hero, a mangled heap o’ beef, slips into a coma. Ron wakes up to find that he needs to plea-bargain his way out of a sticky situation wherein he faces life imprisonment for murder. He also discovers that his money has been stolen and that he’s been set-up big-time. (Granted, he DID actually kill the redneck lawman, but it was in self-defense.) Ron’s ice queen is roughed-up and raped by some bad guys and soon, our hero is sent up the river to a maximum-security prison.
Luckily, once he’s firmly ensconced in the Big House, he hooks up with a friendly hitman (former Bowery Boy – I kid you not – Gabriel Dell) and an equally amiable mob boss (John Marley – the producer in “The Godfather” who wakes up to find a horse’s head in his bed). Time passes with relative ease, and soon, our beefy hero – with a little help from his new prison pals – is on the loose and on a rampage o’ sweet, sweet revenge.
Loaded with violence and plenty of dark, seedy characters and locales (and a few welcome dollops of humour), “Framed” is a nasty, fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining crime picture. Joe Don Baker is a suitably fleshy hero and Gabriel Dell a perfect smart-ass sidekick. What’s especially cool about the movie is just how amoral a world ALL the characters move in and frankly, how their shades of grey don’t actually confuse things, but work beautifully with the noir trappings of the story and style.
“Framed”, by the way, is a picture I had not seen since I saw it on a big screen as a teenager. I even remember seeing it with my ex-cop Dad. We both loved it and I always had fond memories of it. Alas, it was one of those movies that I wanted to see again, but it had been out of circulation for so long that I suspected I might never see it.
Now, thanks to Legend Films, “Framed” is finally available. While it is yet another barebones DVD release from Legend and one can lament the lack of extra features, it’s becoming plainly clear that this is a company with more taste and savvy than the studio it is leasing product from.
“Framed” is the second Paramount Picture I have seen on DVD (the first being the magnificent “Mandingo”) to come from Legend. I can hardly wait to see more. Some of the more interesting titles Paramount made in the 70s are finally getting their due – thanks, of course, not to Paramount, but to Legend.
Interestingly enough, I recall seeing “Framed” on the same picture-palace screen I eventually saw “Mandingo” on.
Do wonders never cease?
No, they don’t. “Framed” also features a nude shower scene with Joe Don Baker.
Get thee to a video store, damn you!