Badlands

Released:  1973

Cast:  Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Ramon Bieri, Warren Oates

SUMMARY:  In 1959, Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) is a 15-year-old girl living in South Dakota with her widowed father (Warren Oates).  Holly’s mother died several years earlier, and her relationship with her father is difficult.  He has very defined ideas on what is appropriate and inappropriate for Holly to be doing.  Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) is a 25-year-old man living in the same town, who makes a living as a garbage collector.  Kit looks something like James Dean, which attracts Holly to him.  However, it is Kit who pursues Holly, stopping by her house every day to talk to her.  Holly knows that Kit is one of the things her father would not approve of, due to his age and occupation, but continues to see him on the sly.  However, her father eventually finds out, and shoots Holly’s dog as punishment.  When Kit finds out about this, he tries to talk to the man, but has no luck.  He then decides to leave town and take Holly with him.  While he is in the house packing her things, Holly’s father returns home and refuses to let his daughter leave with Kit.  Kit pulls a gun out of his pocket and shoots the man several times.  He then drenches the house with gasoline and set it on fire, leaving a fake suicide note behind in the hopes of fooling the police.  Kit and Holly then take off in Kit’s car and head for the Badlands in Montana.

Kit and Holly find a secluded spot where they build a treehouse and build a life for themselves.  Things seem to be going well, although Kit sometimes acts paranoid about someone coming for them.  He keeps the gun with him, and occasionally practices maneuvers by himself.  After some time, a group of bounty hunters finds the pair at their treehouse.  Kit shoots all three of them (which he rationalizes to Holly by saying that they weren’t honest lawmen), then he and Holly take off again.  They find an old friend of Kit’s, named Cato (Ramon Bieri), staying in an isolated cabin, and decide to stay with him for a while.  However, when Kit catches Cato trying to call for help, he shoots him in the stomach before helping him back into the house.  He and Holly are preparing to leave when two teenagers abruptly show up, looking for Cato.  Kit forces them into a storm cellar, locks it and fires two shots into it before fleeing again.  By this time, police are aware of the pair’s crime spree and are actively hunting them.  They learn that Kit plans to rob a bank in a particular town, but Kit outfoxes them by instead stopping at the house of a wealthy resident.  They stay at the house for several hours and stock up on food and supplies, before taking the man’s car and leaving (with the man and his maid still alive).  Kit now decides to drive across the border into Canada, where they can start new lives.  They drive for days, but eventually have to stop for gas.  This time, though, Holly refuses to leave again with Kit.  She is quickly captured by the police, while Kit takes off in the car.  When he realizes that he cannot shake the pursuing police, Kit gives himself up and basks in his notoriety.  In a voiceover Holly reveals that due to her age she was given probation, and later married the son of her defense attorney; Kit was tried and convicted of his crimes, and was executed.

MY TAKE:  Even without the notification from the TCM host at the start of this movie, I’m pretty sure that I would have figured out that this movie was based on the real-life story of Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who went on a notorious crime spree in 1958.  Apparently this wasn’t actually acknowledged when the film came out, but it’s pretty obvious.  In both cases, a significantly older man falls for a 15-year-old girl, then embarks on a crime spree after killing the girl’s family.  The involvement of the girl in both instances is also suspect, as she doesn’t seem to have been responsible for the crimes but also didn’t stop or report them.  The story is pretty straightforward, although I did find myself wondering what the hell Holly was thinking and doing while Kit kept killing everybody they met.  My best guess is that she was an impressionable young teenager who thought she was in love with an older guy who was taking care of her.  He probably replaced her father to a degree, and she didn’t question her father’s authority.  Also, there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of places for her to escape to, being in the middle of Montana in the 50s.  It’s still one of the least-populated states.  The ore important aspect of this movie is that it marked the big breaks of both Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek (who was actually 23 when the film was released).  Obviously, both went on to spectacular careers.  It was a particularly good move for Spacek, who also met her husband Jack Fisk on the set — he was the art director for the film.  They got married in 1974, and are still together.  Interestingly, both of Martin Sheen’s famous sons — Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen — actually appear in the movie, though they’re uncredited.  They’re the two boys shown playing under a streetlight.

RATING:  Okay.

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