MGM // 1976 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jake Ware (Retired) // June 15th, 2011
"They write ballads about girls like Bobbie Jo. The lovin' kind. Lovin' a man so strong, nothin' he does could ever be wrong."
There is a charm to the '70s exploitation and drive-in movie that is hard to ignore. While most of these films were not exactly what you'd call 'good', to the faithful they remain little treasures and reminders of a time when filmgoing was far more than a stale and forgettable trip to the local multiplex.
Bobbie Jo And The Outlaw sees gorgeous, bored small town gal with an appetite for adventure, Bobbie Jo (Wonder Woman's own Lynda Carter) fall for the charismatic if slightly creepy Lyle Wheeler (Marjoe Gortner, The Food Of The Gods), a spontaneous prankster and outlaw wannabe. After a brief romance, they hit the road in Lyle's stolen Mustang. Along the way they pick up Bobbie Jo's sister and her morally flexible man, and the foursome begin a criminal rampage taking banks on route and stealing just about anything else that ain't nailed down.
Cobbled together from a collection of ideas stolen from other, better films, Bobbie Jo And The Outlaw is fun, if slightly standard drive-in fare from the mid 1970s. It follows the formula pretty closely and piles car chases, violent shootouts and skin scenes one after the other ensuring that there are never more than a couple of minutes of quieter moments. The traditional Friday night drive-in audience used to be an unsettled one, milling about their cars, visiting the refreshment stand, or just mingling, and all the while the film was playing in the background. So the movies had to be simple enough that audiences could follow them when they weren't within earshot of the speakers, and action packed enough to keep folks interested even if they had missed the plot. Bobbie Jo And The Outlaw achieves all these aims pretty admirably. The action comes thick and fast, where most scenes seem to be the climax of some plan that our fun loving gang on the run had constructed while the camera wasn't looking. And whenever there is an opportunity, we get a car chase or a quick shootout. Even a trip to the supermarket is wrought with tension.
While our gang is generally good natured, they do bite, and have no trouble mowing down anyone standing in their way, be it by car or M16. Luckily, the pursuing police, and in particular the local sheriff, are a gang of trigger happy and violent blood hounds, so our sympathies never stray far from our likable outlaws.
The two leads were pretty inexperienced at the time of making Bobbie Jo And The Outlaw and it shows. After a series of television show appearances and his notable turn as an unbalanced solider in Earthquake, this was Gortner's first lead role. Carter had recently finished shooting the pilot for Wonder Woman, the television show which would make her a pop culture icon, but had little experience otherwise. Both have scenes where their lack of skill and range is obvious, but overall they make likable lead characters. The supporting cast does a reasonable job with an at times clunky script. Gene Drew stands out in particular as the hard as nails sheriff chasing our outlaw couple with relish, chewing tobacco and the scenery in equal measure.
Director Mark L. Lester spent most of his career crafting low budget B-movies, achieving career highlights with '80s exploitation classic Class Of 1984, and Schwarzenegger's body count extravaganza, Commando. As director of Bobbie Jo And The Outlaw, Lester shows a steady hand and a fluency in creating action set pieces on a very tight budget and with maximum impact. If there is a car to explode, he explodes it even if there is no discernible reason for it. Victims of gun shots lose large quantities of blood as their overloaded squibs detonate in an obvious steal from the Sam Peckinpah book of film making. And whenever there is an opportunity to have a car chase, Lester throws one in. New Mexico provides a stunning backdrop to the action, and Lester manages to wring out maximum production value out of every location.
Bobbie Jo And The Outlaw comes to DVD courtesy of MGM's MOD (manufacturing on demand) program. Buyers should be aware that this range comes on burned on demand DVD-Rs. I have read some distressing user reviews suggesting that the copies they ordered did not play on their DVD players, but I had no trouble at all with my copy. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very nice considering the film's age and the limited market for this release. Some of the shots look pretty rough, with scratches and soft focus, but the majority of the film has been cleaned up very nicely and the image is probably as crisp and bright as it's ever been. The rather flat audio track is less successful, but, if nothing else, it approximates pretty closely what a dive-in experience might have sounded like.
The sole extra on this DVD is a vintage trailer which has been cleaned up and looks pretty good. MGM did not bother inserting titled or searchable chapters, but offer instead the possibility of skipping through the film at 10 minute intervals.
I can't really see this release finding a wide audience amongst modern cinema lovers. As hard as Bobbie Jo And The Outlaw tries, it simply can not compete with a modern film. And those seeking out '70s classics of the 'outlaw lovers on the run from the man' variety should check out better entries in the genre like Bonnie And Clyde, The Getaway or Badlands.
Above comments aside, I can't really fault Bobbie Jo And The Outlaw. Sure, it's not a classic and its appeal might be restricted to a few genre fans, but what it sets out to do, it more or less achieves. It's not an elegant film, or an original one, and no one will mistake it for more than drive-in fodder. But its quick 89 minutes are packed with action and its cast is charming. There are better examples of this kind of film available, but Bobbie Jo And The Outlaw is a valued relic from a long gone era. Fans of '70s drive-in cinema and exploitation flicks should definitely check this title out. It's not the best of the era, but it hits all the required beats.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated R