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Bonnie's Kids
(1973)
 

Director: Arthur Marks              
Cast:
Tiffany Bolling, Steve Sandor, Robin Mattson


Often I wish that I was living in the '70s, if only to have the opportunity to see  all those great drive-in movies that came out during that decade at an actual drive-in. In fact, where there is a shopping mall a few steps from where I live, there used to be a bona fide drive-in that reportedly showed a good amount of sleaze. You can bet that if I had been living here back then at my present age, I'd be frequenting that drive-in on a regular basis. (Though I would still need to actually get around to buying a car, and retrain myself on how to drive, something I haven't done since I got my driver's license years ago - but that's another story.) On the other hand, had I then been given a glimpse of the future, where thanks to videotapes and DVD I would not only have more choice at any one time, but I could also watch at my leisure anything at any time I felt like it, I would have wished that I could be living in the '00s. (How do you pronounce that decade, by the way?) The grass always looks greener on the other side of the drive-in fence.

After thinking about it for a while, though, I come to the conclusion that the grass we are currently standing in is overall a much more attractive shade than in the past, because of all the wealth of movies we have at our disposal... though another thing to consider is that, thanks to idiots at Bonnie's kids!Lackluster video and other major chain video stores, those drive-in movies are becoming more scarce to find nowadays. And it's not quite the same watching B-grade exploitation alone or even with a few friends on a small screen than it is to watch with dozens of people around you on a big screen. That drive-in experience doesn't exist anymore. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have watched Bonnie's Kids in that environment... because even watching it alone on the small screen, it still managed to come across as prime grade exploitation. Despite the fact we've been desensitized by years of exploitation viewing, it's amazing just how incredibly sleazy, exploitive, and downright cruel (though a "fun" kind of cruel!) Bonnie's Kids comes across even today, especially since it actually doesn't have that much nudity, sex, or violence as other exploitation movies of the time. It must have knocked the socks off drive-in patrons at the time, so it's kind of curious why it's forgotten today. Not only is it a drive-in classic, it can also be considered important in American film history, for a reason I'll get into later.

The movie's attitude of squeezing in everything possible that would attract an audience starts even before you actually watch the movie - I'm sure the title of this movie was cashing in on the still-hot movie Bonnie And Clyde, since there is no real reason to refer to the particular "Bonnie" this movie is referring to, who is not only not Bonnie Parker, she is a woman who, when the movie starts, has been dead for two years. With that in mind, it's not surprising that when the movie actually does start, it does everything possible in the first few minutes to hook its audience into watching the entire thing. We first meet the younger of Bonnie's kids, the teenage Myra (Mattson) in her boyfriend's car. (Necking and petting!) A few feet away in her house is her stepfather Charly (Leo Gordon) with his poker buddies. (Gambling and drinking!) When Myra comes in and says hi to her stepfather's buddies, they subsequently make comments (unsubtle and lewd!) as to how Charly can possibly control himself in a home with two hot stepdaughters. (Lust!) That other daughter is the grown-up Ellie (Bolling), a waitress with a mini skirt (impossibly short!) who has to put up with comments (lewd and unsubtle!) from her customers.

After Myra takes a bath (teenage titties!), not knowing that some of her stepfather's departing buddies could see her through the window (voyeurism!), Myra puts on a small robe (incredible amount of leg!), phones her boyfriend and tells him things he really likes to hear. (Phone sex!) Her listening stepfather (drunk!)"Wow, you actually know Richard Gere?" is outraged by the slutty behavior of his youngest stepdaughter (anger!), and decides to teach her a lesson. He punches her in the stomach (child abuse!), rips open her robe (showing some skin!), and while kissing her (some "ewww"!) attempts to punish her his way. (Attempted rape and pseudo-incest!) At this time, Ellie comes home from work and interrupts them. Charly makes a suggestion that she join them (proposed ménage a trois!), reminding her that they used to have "fun" when she was little. (Child molestation! And more "ewww"!) Well, Ellie won't hear of it, so she suddenly whips out a shotgun (a gun!) and shoots two big moist holes into Charly. (Shooting! Murder in a pseudo-patricide vein! Blood!) And all of this happens before the opening credits!

It's inevitable that the subsequent portion of the movie is not subjected to this amount of exploitation bombardment - after all, they have to start telling a story sometime. But you can bet that whenever there is an opportunity to show some kind of low brow material or a cheap laugh, they'll seize the chance. This becomes obvious just seconds after the end of the opening credits sequence, where the girls swiped Charly's truck and drove cross-country to El Paso to see their rich mother's brother (played by Scott Brady). His first name is "Ben", and I think it's likely that he was given that name because of the fact the girls several times call him "Uncle Ben" (har har). Even more likely is the reason why he was given the last name "Seeman", because it sounds like.... well, I think you can guess. Anyway, with Ben involved in the fashion business (which gives the movie an excuse to show a model without her top the first time we see him and his employees at work), he not only invites the girls to stay with him at his fabulous mansion, he gives Ellie a modeling job, personally approving the provocative and semi-nude pictures of her after her first photography session. Meanwhile, the still youthful Myra is stuck in the mansion, though with a lonely and horny aunt at one end, and an absolute stud of a stable boy on the other, things at least aren't totally boring.

It's around here that the movie takes a curious turn. With a title like Bonnie's Kids, and that both sisters are close to each other, you expect them to spend the rest of the movie more or less together. But that's not what happens. Instead, the movie more or less divides itself into two stories. The first story is when Ellie is asked by her uncle to go out of town to pick up an important package for him, and while waiting for it to arrive, meets a private detective (Sandor) also hired by her uncle to assist in the delivery. "It's so much more comfortable to sleep on a guy who hasn't shaved his back"When they discover that the package contains several hundred thousand dollars, they decide to take off with it, and spend the rest of the movie making their escape from her uncle's goons. Almost all of the remainder of the movie is in fact focused on Ellie and the detective - so much so, that you start to realize that there is no real reason for Myra to be in this movie - at least for a narrative purpose. She only seems to be there so that the movie can occasionally cut back to her going-ons and inject some kind of sleaze when there hasn't been any with Ellie and the detective for a while. And I must admit that there is quite a bit of sleaze that gets mined with, one such thing being the revelation that the girls' aunt is a lesbian with a penchant for jail bait, which Myra isn't thrilled to learn - for the most part. Speaking of which, the aunt's eventual departure from the movie is laced simultaneously with such perverse cruelty, as well as an intended perverse kind of amusement, that your jaw will drop - though you won't know if it is from being appalled or amused.

As I mentioned before, Bonnie's Kids does have a cruel streak within it, though this cruelness does manage to have some entertainment value, such as the actions of Ellie and the detective (as well as the goons pursuing them) resulting in innocent civilians getting killed in various ways. Actually, it's more palatable that it sounds, since almost everyone in the movie that gets killed, even the bit players, is seen as somewhat deserving of any bad luck that comes to them. This may have been because both of the kids, as well as the private detective, start to lose our sympathy in the last third of the movie. In other words, make everyone else look scummy so that our leads will not only look better, but we'll forget that their characters have considerably changed from when we first saw them. When we first meet the detective, he is a dumb Barney Fife-like guy, but in the last third of the movie he becomes quite hard-edged. It's also a mystery why Ellie, a strong and smart woman, even hooks up with the guy in the first place, because in the beginning of the movie she was rejecting guys that were like him. Myra also makes a big transformation as the movie progresses, and in the end she makes an action that is so unlike her (even for her changed character) that it'll make your jaw drop again.

I don't blame the actors for the jarring transformation their characters go into - they were obviously just doing what writer/director Arthur Marks told then to do. In fact, they deserve extra praise because no matter what kind of frame in mind their Alex Rocco calls the French embassy to find out what they call Whoppers in their countrycharacters happen to be in at one time, they are very convincing. It's quite surprising to see Sandor transform into a hard-edged brute after thinking for so long that this is an actor suited for light comedy. Bolling does occasionally stumble a little (mostly with long-winded speeches), but otherwise she is a good choice to play a strong independent woman - kind of strange that her acting career started to fizzle out not long after this movie. And future soap opera actress Robin Mattson convincingly switches from slutty to selfish when the situation demands it. She is not the only future star to be found here - future Cagney And Lacey star Sharon Gless can be found in a bit role, and though you might not know his name, you'll immediately recognize Alex Rocco when he first appears. Paired up with former football player Timothy Brown, they are the two hitmen sent after Ellie. What's really interesting about them is that looking at their profession, dark suits, and Brown's hairstyle, you would swear all of this influenced Quentin Tarantino in the design of his hitmen duo in Pulp Fiction - there's even a scene where Rocco and Brown have breakfast at a coffee shop. Considering that Tarantino boned up on B movies when working at a video store, the likelihood he saw this movie increases.

Though that little nugget is interesting by itself, I'm sure that the deciding factor that's going on in your mind right now is with the question, "Yeah yeah - but does this movie have enough exploitation material in it?" Hell yeah! Sure, the characters might be uneven, and the storylines may be considerable stretched out (the movie runs 105 minutes - quite long for a drive-in movie), but boy, you sure won't get bored. Whether it's Brown setting out to blow away a woman but pausing for a considerable amount of time to watch her wash her body in the shower, or when Myra tearfully starts blabbing to her aunt about all the disgusting things her stepfather did to her (and not stopping despite her aunt blurting in after a while that she doesn't have to describe any more of this), it's utterly amazing just how much potentially offensive material there is to be found here. How I miss there being a drive-in after watching Bonnie's Kids! It'll take me several trips to the video store to change my frame of mind.

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See also: Joy Ride To Nowhere, Special Delivery, The Third Society

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