25 Films About Lovers On The Lam

Features
by The Playlist Staff
August 21, 2013 3:03 PM
6 Comments
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The Sadist” (1963)
A black and white exploitation film in the vein of Roger Corman, “The Sadist” is a brutal but pulpy, fun B-movie that’s loosely based on the Charles Starkweather murders that also spawned Terrence Malick’s “Badlands.” Directed by James Landis, more significantly it was the first U.S.-shot picture by estimable cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Steven Spielberg's "Sugarland Express," Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate," Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye," Brian De Palma's "Blow Out" to name just a few) and as you can guess, it looks fantastic; the dust and the blood given palpable texture even in black and white. Three unlucky high school teachers on their way to a baseball game are sidetracked along the way when their car breaks down. In an abandoned gas station/junkyard they have the misfortune to run into a delinquent psychopath (Arch Hall, Jr.) and his equally unhinged girlfriend (Judy Bradshaw). The “twist” on the genre this time is that the lovers on the run are the violent villains of the picture and the movie is entirely stationary, as opposed to the road trip blueprint most of these pictures follow. Essentially keeping the trio captive and then mercilessly abusing and torturing them while hiding out from the law that’s on their tail, “The Sadist,” is appropriately named. Arch Hall, Jr. as the young, handsome, James Dean-esque killer is deliciously good as the over-the-top psychotic lunatic who just couldn’t give a damn. And sure, a lot of it is a bit ridiculous and unintentionally funny now, it’s still a helluva entertaining B-movie. Recommended to watch with friends over beers with lots of whooping, hollering and yelling at the screen. [B]

Thieves Like Us” (1974)
Something must have been in the air. Malick’s “Badlands” arrived in the fall of ‘73, Robert Altman’s “Thieves Like Us” was released in February of 1974 and in April of that year, Steven Spielberg put out “The Sugarland Express.” All tales of doomed outlaws in love that couldn’t be more different than each other. Based on the Edward Anderson novel of the same name, (the same source material of which Nicholas Ray used for “They Live by Night”) Robert Altman’s iteration is the more faithful adaptation, but if it’s a contest of quality and engagement, Ray’s movie wins by a country mile. “Thieves Like Us” stars Keith Carradine as Bowie and Shelley Duvall as Keechie, two young lovers who meet when Bowie and his elder, Depression-era partners-in-crime are hiding out from the law. A trio that escaped from a Mississippi chain gang in the 1930s, Bowie, T-Dub (Bert Remsen) and Chicamaw (John Schuck) find their sensational exploits create undue attention and the group is forced to split up. However, laconically paced, one of the issues of Altman’s film is that the Bowie/Keechie romance doesn’t begin until an hour in and so the picture never really switches on until that point. Additionally, unlike its contemporaries, “Thieves Like Us,” is resolutely unglamorous and objective; Altman refuses to dramatize anything to the point of frustration. The movie then sinks or swims based on its performances and let’s just say Keith Carradine is far, far greater as an elder statesman in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” then he was as a plucky youth in ‘Thieves.’ While Shelley Duvall is always near-magical in Robert Altman films, their chemistry isn’t quite as alchemic as it needs to be, and, scarcely even showing a crime, the director chooses a more introspective and ponderous route that rarely illuminates. Unlike his revisionist take on the Western “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” ‘Thieves’ possesses few of those same lyrical and poetic qualities, and in an unpopular opinion we’d say it’s one of Altman’s most overrated ‘70s movies. [C+]

Where Danger Lives” (1950)
The classic paradigm for lovers on the run -- in the "Badlands," "True Romance," sense of the genre -- is two impossibly doomed, star crossed lovers, incurably in love with one another and on the lam, but other iterations also exist too. One of the more fascinating twists on the formula comes before the genre existed in its modern form is John Farrow's "Where Danger Lives" which depicts two lovers in a toxic lie of a relationship that only gets more acidic the deeper they get on their journey. Starring Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue (a Howard Hughes protegee in her film debut), and all too briefly, the always-deliciously good Claude Rains, this engaging film noir thriller centers on a handsome young doctor with a steady girlfriend (Maureen O'Sullivan) who falls in love with a beautiful suicidal patient seemingly in need of help. When she mysteriously disappears from the hospital the next morning, the concerned and smitten doctor (Mitchum) tracks the woman (Domergue) back to her home only to find out she is already married to a wealthy older gentleman (Rains). Despondent and angered with himself, the doctor attempts to leave, but is lured back by the screams of the woman. A violent altercation ensues and when the dust has settled, the doctor discovers that the older man has been accidentally killed. While the ethically sound doctor tries to call the police, the manipulative woman persuades the injured and confused doctor (who’s sustained a concussion) to run away lest they be charged with murder. And so begins a lovers on the run yarn that’s as compelling as they come, but even more absorbing for the fraught dynamics between the two and the doctor’s slow revelation that his partner is more than a little unhinged (in fact, she’s the classic cunning, deranged femme fatale). Expertly directed, suspenseful and taut, “Where Danger Lives” has all the ingredients of a classic film noir, but is admittedly marred by Domergue who isn’t much of an actor.  [B+]

One False Move” (1992)
Director Carl Franklin has had a decent career (see "Devil In A Blue Dress" starring Denzel Washington), but giving the crackling nature and vociferous critical acclaim response to his 1992 film on-the-road noir thriller “One False Move” (Gene Siskel listed it as his favorite film of 1992; Roger Ebert was also a big fan), you might have expected more from the filmmaker. Coming off forgettable straight-to-video directorial work in the late 1980s Roger Corman world, “One False Move,” an edgy tale of drugs, violence and sexual relationships, feels more like a directorial debut and one can sense that Franklin was trying to make the most of this first real shot. Co-written by one of its stars, Billy Bob Thornton, “One False Move” centers on three ruthless L.A. drug dealers, two of whom are lovers, on the lam after brutally murdering and double-crossing the men they had intended to do business with. Thornton plays Ray, the mastermind of the trio, Cynda Williams plays his neurotic girlfriend Fantasia and Michael Beach takes on the role of the quiet and brainy, but totally psychotic companion. In the wake of their crime, the trio head to a rural Arkansas town to hide out assuming the ignorant locals won’t give them much guff. But the L.A.P.D. is tracking them and they alert the in-over-his-head, rube local sheriff played by Bill Paxton who’s excited about doing “real police work.” What ensues is an intense, kinetic and bloody showdown between the three killers and the inexperienced cop who rises to the occasion despite his disadvantages. And the long, nail-biting prelude that leads into the final head-on-collision conclusion is as nerve-wrackingly suspenseful and tense as any sequence we can remember. [B+]

They Live By Night” (1948)
While there are lovers on the lam films that preceded “They Live By Night," the genre we know and love can largely be said to begin here. Nicholas Ray’s 1948 debut film is not only a startlingly poignant and incandescent thriller, the highly influential film noir created the benchmark prototype that most lovers-on-the-run pictures would closely follow subsequently. A huge source of inspiration for the Cahier Du Cinema crowd, the movie inspired “Pierrot le Fou,” “Breathless,” “Bonnie & Clyde” and countless others, Ray’s film was based on the true-life Bonnie & Clyde events, but the picture was actually an adaptation of Edward Anderson’s little-known novel “Thieves Like Us” (Altman would do the same, see above). "This boy...and this girl...were never properly introduced to the world we live in," the title cards read and soon begins a classic doomed love story of young outlaws trying to outrun the consequences of their actions. The premise is simple, three bank robbers escape from prison, and the youngest and most naive, Bowie (Farley Granger) soon finds refuge in the arms of a compassionate girl (Cathy O'Donnell) who is sympathetic to his plight (Bowie’s been wrongly convicted of murder). Trying to get married and go straight, the young couple even dream of hiring a lawyer to prove Bowie’s innocence. Meanwhile his partners in crime try and coerce him into one more job, but even when he refuses the law is not far behind.  One of the more romantic and empathetic view of outlaws on the run, there’s no questions about morality here; Ray casts these two lovers as hopelessly naive innocents doomed by circumstance whom you can and will totally root for. Stylish, sensual and anxious, “They Live By Night” is terrifically tense and filled with crushing emotional anguish. It’s a remarkably assured directorial debut from Ray but it also has two great actors at the helm, especially Granger whose quivering guileless criminal evinces a tragic melancholic beauty that encapsulates the movie perfectly. [A]

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6 Comments

  • weetiger3 | August 24, 2013 7:42 PMReply

    I'd be hard=pressed to pick a favorite. Omissions notwithstanding, this is a terrific list with some great films on it, some of which I haven't seen or thought about in ages; some, like "Sun Don't Shine", I've been very curious about. I just realized I do not own "Something Wild" and something must be done about that...STAT!

  • Videodrome | August 23, 2013 1:25 PMReply

    This list obviously misses: Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958) directed by Louis Malle. Terrific soundtrack from Miles Davis and Jeanne Moreau is stunning, like, always.

  • oogle monster | August 21, 2013 7:59 PMReply

    Unlike Paul, I just want to say thanks for yet another great list. Whether we agree or disagree, I think it's super cool you guys continue to make these lists. Can't wait for the next one!

  • Paul | August 21, 2013 4:04 PMReply

    There are times when the Playlist shows such stupidity as to want to sign off of them forever. Thieves like Us a C+ with a dismissive paragraph. Fuck you guys for a good month.

  • Jepa | August 21, 2013 6:22 PM

    LOL

  • wes | August 21, 2013 6:02 PM

    see you tomorrow, Paul.

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