Scorpion Releasing gives an HD upgrade to AIP's BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW, a vehicle for Marjoe Gortner that gave a pre-WONDER WOMAN Lynda Carter her feature debut.
When his car breaks down at a desert gas station, quick-draw Lyle Wheeler (Gortner, MAUSOLEUM) steals the orange Mustang of another unsuspecting customer. When a police car takes chase, he eludes it only to come up behind it and run it off the road. Cruising into a small town, he catches sight of carhop Bobbie Jo Baker (Carter, TV’s WONDER WOMAN), who initially rebuffs his flirting. After a confrontation with her alcoholic mother (Peggy Stewart, BEYOND EVIL) at home, Bobbie Jo jumps into Lyle’s stolen car and they head out into the desert for a romantic montage (set to Bobby Bare’s “City Lights”). Bobbie Jo (suddenly wearing an entirely different top from the previous scene) regales Lyle with a country song and tells him her idol is Linda Rondstadt and that she dreams of being a country star. He tells her that his idol is Billy the Kid. After an abrupt R-rated sex scene (cue TV-star toplessness), Lyle shows her how to shoot (in a possible nod to Gortner’s experience as a child preacher, he says aiming at a target is “just like praying”). Bobbie Jo’s carhop friend Essie (Belinda Balaski, THE HOWLING) joins up with them in a “threesome.” The two girls get a taste of Lyle’s lifestyle when he reveals his trick for winning a pinball game (that resulted in a scuffle with the “sore losers”). After partaking in some sacred mushrooms with a Native American guide, Lyle envisions himself as Billy the Kid and decides from then and there that he is an outlaw. When a cop pulls them over, Lyle leads him on a chase and reveals to the girls that the car is stolen.
Now on the run, Bobbie Jo suggests they get help from her stripper sister Pearl (Merrie Lynn Ross, SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS) and her boyfriend Slick (Jesse Vint, FORBIDDEN WORLD) in New Mexico. When Lyle gives Slick a ride to his “office,” he runs into more trouble when Slick tries to steal the payroll of a construction supply company and Lyle has to kill a security guard to save him. While Pearl is seeing to Slick’s leg wound at her apartment, they hear a radio broadcast mentioning the crime and Lyle’s car, so the five have to find an alternate means of escape. While Lyle follows in another stolen car, Bobbie Jo, Essie, Pearl, and Slick disguise themselves as Christian folk singers and travel in a stolen school bus as a diversionary tactic to get across a road block. While Lyle is trying to convince Bobbie Jo that they would be better off on their own instead of as a group, Pearl is resentful of how readily Slick follows Lyle’s orders. Essie – who has gone from a “third wheel” to a “fifth wheel” – is more and more convinced that giving up would be the right thing to do, especially when Sheriff Hicks (Gene Drew, TRUCK STOP WOMEN) threatens to hunt Lyle down. When Essie sneaks away from their motor home hideout in the middle of the night and calls the police, a shootout ensues and Essie is killed (not really a spoiler, since you kind of see the action-movie-cliché way in which it happens coming). After the other four escape and give her a proper burial, they change their cause from escaping to waging war against Hicks. Lyle trains the other three to shoot and they decide to rob a bank to bait the sheriff.
Directed by Mark L. Lester (CLASS OF 1984) and scripted by Vernon Zimmerman (FADE TO BLACK), BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW is an entertaining though forgettable piece of AIP drive-in filler with R-rated toplessness and some bloody squib bullet-hits. There seems to have been some post-production tinkering as Bobbie Jo’s top switches back and forth between scenes (the desert camping scenes seem to have been one extended sequence that was broken up in post-production by the pinball scene with Essie, which seemed to have been meant to follow the daytime scene of her meeting up with Bobbie Jo and Lyle at the pool hall) and the score relies heavily on the repeated use of the not-exactly-thematically-relevant Bobby Bare vocal. There are some other obvious holes: we never discover how they come upon their various hideouts, multiple getaway vehicles, and the extra firearms they acquire for the bank robbery (in fact, their shooting practice scene seems to precede the scene where they rob a gun shop). The bank heist should be a major set-piece but it flies by as fast as everything else. Editing may not be solely to blame, the script seems equally patched together with little setup of any of the major plot events. They say they’re going to rob a bank, and then they’re doing it. Although Hicks and his deputies are tipped off one time, they seem to just materialize outside of several of the gang’s hideouts for various shootouts. Fat sheriff Hicks is inconsistently written as alternately sadistic and incompetent (all he can do in the aftermath of the bank robbery is say “holy shit” repeatedly) as if the script is unsure whether it ultimately sides with the outlaws or not. The script finds a lazy way to cut the game of cat and mouse with the sheriff short by having a deputy find a map conveniently left behind that clues him into where they are going next.
Despite her TV success, Carter is justifiably second-billed since this is Gortner’s show. A former child preacher (his given name is a combination of “Mary” and “Joseph”); Gortner grew disillusioned and decided to try his hand at acting. He gives a laid-back, charismatic lead performance as a dreamer still playing cowboys and Indians (well, cowboys and sheriffs, since the only Native American character here is treated respectfully). Gortner followed up this film with another AIP appearance as the protagonist of Bert I. Gordon’s THE FOOD OF THE GODS. Among the four principals, Carter is the least impressive. Her performance is composed more of striking facial expressions of joy, pleasure, grief, and fear than actual emotions. Her last scene is particularly unimpressive. Balaski shows some skin here, but she was sexier and less whiny as the focus of one of THE HOWLING’s extended suspense sequences. Vint is likable as the bumbling but loyal (and faithful, even though he calls all women “Pussy Willow,” which was supposedly his special nickname for Pearl) Slick. As the bad Bailey sister, Ross give the more interesting performance, but she gets less chance than Carter to show off (both look pretty badass with machine guns). Drew’s performance as the unlikable sheriff is a caricature at best. Peggy Stewart had previously headed a gang of cattle rustlers in ALIAS BILLY THE KID (1947). Producer Chuck Russell (HELL NIGHT) has a small role as one of Hicks’ deputies and James Gammon (SILVER BULLET) – who died last year – has an amusing cameo before the opening credits; but PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE's Gerrit Graham provides the most entertaining cameo as hippie Magic Ray. Barry DeVorzen’s (LOOKER) score is comprised mainly of funky country-tinged chase music while the cinematography of Stanley Wright and TV cameraman Gil Hubbs favors the warmer tones of the desert sun and campfires. Art director Michel Levesque (SUPERVIXENS) had previously helmed his own fatalistic desert-bound film in WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS.
In 2011, MGM released BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW on manufactured-on-demand DVD-R in a progressive, anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. The image was clean and largely free of damage (the graininess of the night exteriors seems to be part of the cinematography). Scorpion's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a brand new HD master that reveals a wealth of detail in the desert vistas, the brickwork of the Indian ruins, and variegations of blue in the sky backgrounds (in which a rainbow pointed out by Ross in her interview is more evident in the background of Essie's funeral scene). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track gives a full-bodied representation of the music and action sound effects while one or two lines still sound buried in the mix (a fault of the sound recording or mixing).
While the theatrical trailer was the sole extra on the MGM DVD-R, Scorpion has provided some satisfying extra starting off with an audio commentary by director Lester who describes the film as part of a trilogy of Americana with his earlier films TRUCK STOP WOMEN and STEEL ARENA (on which he learned to shoot car crashes). He recalls how Gortner's agent wanted more money than he could offer and that his back-up actor was Sylvester Stallone. He speaks warmly of the cast members – including boxer Virgil Frye (QUEEN OF BLOOD) who he brought in for a cameo meant for Dennis Hopper (who was apparently on something and did not show up until two days after the scene had been shot ) – although he does refute born-again Carter's charges that she was coerced to do nude scenes. He looks back on the film, the period it was shot, and 35mm filmmaking in general as part of a bygone period and is very proud of the finished product. Lester also appears in a video interview (11:55) in which he covers much of the same ground while highlighting his other credits and discussing how he came to know the various cast members (including girlfriend Ross). Ross also appears in an interview (16:34) in which she recalls that she wanted to become a producer and was able to secure all of the funding from a single source: Thunderbird Record producer Steve Brodie who had just sold his company. She also discusses her chemistry with her fellow cast members – she appeared in the pilot for WONDER WOMAN with Carter and convinced her that she should take the role in BOBBIE JO as it offered a definite starring part while the pilot had a chance of not getting picked up – and giving her all as producer. Actress Balaski (11:20) recalls that she, Ross, Carter, and Stewart were all in the same acting workshop, and that she was intimidated to be sharing the screen with Carter's Miss America so she adopted a quirkier look and mannerisms for her character. She also reveals that she had studied Gortner in MARJOE for her role in Jack Arnold's BLACK EYE, a theatrical feature that started out as a pilot for a Fred Williamson series (Arnold's casting director daughter Susan was responsible for Balaski being cast in THE HOWLING and PIRANHA). The theatrical trailer (1:51) is also included. (Eric Cotenas)
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