Judge Jake Ware was surprisingly unphased by his recent speed camera infraction.
If I had Doc Brown's DeLorean I would most definitely be making regular trips to the 1970s drive-in, taking in exploitation classics like Fighting Mad or Moving Violation. In fact, anything with the name Corman featuring on the poster would do just fine.
When the local land developer and strip mining mogul starts to lean heavy on the local farmers and ranchers, he crosses some lines that good folks like Peter Fonda and his family can not turn a blind eye to. The two play tit for tat, and work their way to a final, violent showdown.
Fighting Mad is your typical story of good versus evil. There are no grays or complex character studies in this production; the good guys are all fun lovin' and decent, while the bad guys are just plain rotten. It's a straightforward fight between right and wrong. Fighting Mad was created for the drive-in and that means that the action comes thick and fast, that there are plenty of car chases and crashes, and that there is the occasional bit of skin, no doubt for those viewers not on a date.
The central theme, while simply put, is a common concern of the modern industrialized world. It's a riff on the big corporation bullying the small, independent workingman, using backroom bribes and open-air intimidation to get its way. Traditional ways of living in harmony with the land are challenged by the exploitative mining of resources, an issue that is as topical now as ever. Fighting Mad simplifies this struggle by having the corporation represented by a single man. So, instead of having to fight a faceless entity or a boardroom full of shareholders and executives, Peter Fonda can focus his energy on just one ethically challenged bad guy and his posse.
Say what you will about the modest nature of this production, but several examples of real quality shine through in Fighting Mad. The first thing that struck me was just how good the acting is. The whole cast delivers, but Peter Fonda, John Doucette and Lynn Lowry in particular make sympathetic and very believable leads. Scott Glenn also makes a brief and welcome appearance in one of his earlier roles. Despite its plot driven B-movie roots, Fighting Mad features several moving moments, especially between Fonda and young Gino Franco who played his son. The dialogue is on the nose, but not badly written. And future Oscar winner Jonathan Demme's direction is nimble and elegant. There are moments in the film that are really striking and it takes a few seconds to realize it is because Demme used a camera trick or an editing flourish that was not essential to the story telling, but was included nonetheless.
The transfer is fairly basic. While it's a big step up from the VHS copy of Fighting Mad that I was reared on, it's not perfect. I'd liken it to the early DVD transfers that did the rounds in the mid to late 1990s. The grain is pretty heavy, there are occasional scratches and the blacks begin to disintegrate during the night scenes. The audio, likewise, is basic and flat. The best that I can say about the 2.0 stereo track is that it creates an authentic drive-in atmosphere.
Included as extras on this film are 2 trailers which look battered and bruised, but give a pretty good indication of film promotion in the '70s. There is also a TV spot. The centerpiece of the disc, however, is a very nice commentary that brings all the film's principal crew together. Roger Corman, Jonathan Demme, Peter Fonda and Lynn Lowry reminisce about the making of the film. Demme is by far the chattiest and most eloquent of the four, keeping the atmosphere light while offering plenty of informative tidbits. For instance, he recalls the origins of Fighting Mad being Corman's telephone call to him commenting on the success of "redneck revenge pictures" like Walking Tall and Billy Jack, and asking for a similar script.
No one will mistake Fighting Mad for a lost masterpiece. It's an exploitation flick that keeps plot and characterization simple enough to follow for the inebriated and the otherwise occupied. However, the direction of Jonathan Demme lifts the film on many occasions from its genre's minimum requirements and delivers a film that is just darn good fun. Beer and pizza suggested, but not required.
Moving Violation is not as successful as Fighting Mad, but it's a lot of fun. A typical drive-in movie, it layers a collection of car chases and crashes around the thinnest and corniest of plots. But this was never meant to be an award winner; it was meant to give the drive-in crowd a hoot of a time. And, when consumed with some cheap booze and fast food, it should do just that.
The tone of Moving Violation is mostly humorous, ala Smokey And The Bandit, but with some pretty severe violence and a couple of tonal shifts toward the end of the film that feel just bizarre given what preceded them. This is a hallmark of '70s cinema and something that we just don't see enough of in modern films.
The acting in Moving Violation is excellent considering the scope of the film. The recently very much in vogue Stephen McHattie and wonderful Key Lenz make a charming couple of central characters and it's easy to root for them. Veteran Eddie Albert is excellent in his brief appearance while Lonny Chapman offers some delightfully abusive villainy.
The transfer here is not pristine, but it is about as good as you could hope for. The picture is clear and fairly crisp and looks far better than any '70s exploitation film has a right to look. There is the occasional scratch and at times the image is soft, but overall I was impressed. The 2.0 stereo track is flat and uninspired, but discernible and adequate for the most part.
Extras come in the shape of a few trailers, all of them in various states of disrepair, giving you an even clearer idea of just how fine the transfer of this film is. Like Fighting Mad, Moving Violation is blessed with a commentary, although it's a mixed bag. Producer Julie Corman, Roger's wife, and Stephen McHattie sat in on the film and their session was intercut with the director Charles S. Dubin's commentary which was recorded separately. Julie Corman is informative and pleasant. Dubin is on the dry side, but very informative too. Stephen McHattie sounded asleep and bored, and contributed very little. Roger Corman is credited as also appearing on this commentary, although I did not hear him.
This DVD package also includes four trailers for other films that would have been doing the drive-in rounds around the same time. All of them are in a pretty shabby state, but they are wonderful extras and give a pretty good flavor of film marketing of that era. For those wondering where the Machete trailer got its ideas from, check out the trailer here for Gordon's War.
The drive-in used to be much more than just a movie going experience, it was an event. You'd go to the drive-in to hang out, to have a few beers, to meet up with friends, and to cruise the cute guys and gals. There was normally a double or triple feature on, enough to take care of a whole Friday or Saturday night. And of those 2 or 3 films, you'd be lucky if just one of them was any good. The rest were normally the warm up acts, the films that played while you did your socializing and drinking, and made trips to the concession stand. The Fighting Mad and Moving Violation double feature is a pretty good representation of just such a double feature. I'd let Moving Violation roll first as it's good humored and a lot of fun, and if you miss some of it, you'll still get the drift of the film. The slightly edgier and better realized Fighting Mad deserves your full attention.
Fighting Mad and Moving Violation are both not guilty and released to raise some more hell.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice, Fighting Mad
Perp Profile, Fighting Mad
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Fighting Mad
Scales of Justice, Moving Violation
Perp Profile, Moving Violation
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Moving Violation
Review content copyright © 2011 Jake Ware; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.