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Framed
(1975)

Director: Phil Karlson   
Cast:
Joe Don Baker, Conny Van Dyke, Gabriel Dell


As the years go by, all of us find that we abandon things and move onto new things that are usually bigger and better. I know that this has happened to me many times while growing up. For example, I loved my sandbox while growing up. I would spend hours constructing things in the sand; my favorite sandbox activity would be to build a village, construct a dam and a reservoir above the village, fill the reservoir with water and wait for the dam to burst, flooding the village. But eventually I tired of sandbox activities - I think it was about the time my dad brought home a BB gun to get rid of the magpies on the property. (My dad said I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted to, but never to shoot at a mockingbird because... oh wait, I mixed up my memories with the writings of Harper Lee.) When I became older, computers in the home started to become common, and I was thrilled when my family got an Apple II computer of our own. I spent countless hours on the computer, programming my own games for myself and for others. One of my crowing achievements was my game Mugger, a game where you went around a city mugging people and visiting prostitutes to regain your strength so you could mug some more. The most satisfying part of that game was when at one lunch hour at the computer lab at school, several computers at once had people on them playing my game. But eventually, after several years went by, I stopped using my Apple II. But I went on to PCs, and I have been enormously entertained by all I can use them for, from playing superior games to surfing on the Internet.

Speaking of being entertained, I have moved up several times over the years when it comes to being entertained in an audio/visual manner. Starting when I was small, I was enthralled simply by TV and its 12 channels (remember, no channel one, even back then) of wealth. This went on for several years, until the day that my parents bought a VCR. I was amazed by what this step up brought forth to me. You mean I can tape my favorite television shows when I am not around? You mean that not only can I watch movies whenever I want, but unedited movies that you can't see on regular commercial television channels? I was in heaven. This went on for several years as well. Then came DVD. Now I could not only get better looking and better sounding copies of movies, I could see them letterboxed. I freely moved up. But I must admit that I still have a soft spot for VCRs, and I haven't totally let them go from my life. Why? Well, I still depend on my VCR to record movies and television shows when I'm not around or when I'm asleep. Also, the vast majority of the movies in my collection are on VHS tapes. Another reason is that there are a bunch of commercially-released movies out there on VHS that have never been released on DVD and probably never will. And a quick search online or in used video stores will reveal you can now get most of these tapes dirt cheap. My neighborhood video store recently had a hard-to-beat VHS sale - three movies for just one dollar! I picked up plenty of obscure titles, like Who Killed Mary What's 'ername... Sakura Killers... Chu Chu And The Philly Flash... Robo Man... a gold mine of unknown movies!

When I got to the cash register with a whole pile of used videos in my arms, the cashier counted them and told me I was missing one video to get the full value of the deal. I went back and quickly searched the shelves for something my eyes didn't see the first time. After a few seconds, my eyes focused on Framed. I had seen the movie years ago, but that was on commercial television where it had been edited, plus I didn't remember too much about it. Also, I knew it had recently been released on DVD, but this fact hadn't really been publicized that much, so I thought that fans of Joe Don Baker (most of them probably fans from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 presentation of Mitchell) would appreciate knowing about the release and the film itself. The movie takes place mostly around Redneck County, Tennessee. Ron Lewis (Baker, Walking Tall) is a successful nightclub owner who is moving up in the world; not long after the movie has started, he has won a fortune gambling, and is preparing to move to Las Vegas with his girlfriend. Driving home that night, he is involved in an odd incident; an unknown person takes a shot at him and drives away. Ron get home and plans to report the incident, but is confronted by a sleazy cop who soon makes it clear he is going to kill him. In defense, Ron kills the cop. Ron is arrested, his winnings "disappear", and it's soon made clear that there's a force out there determined to put him away one way or another. Ron gives up his struggle to prove his innocence, makes a deal to plead guilty for a reduced sentence, and soon finds himself in prison.

After several years in prison, Ron is released, and the one thing that's on his mind - and has been on his mind for years - is to take a long shower with soap, since the shower we saw him take in prison not long after he arrived there obviously didn't do his sweaty appearance any good. Just kidding - of course, Ron is out for revenge. As you probably guessed by that shower gag that I just wrote, there are things about Joe Don Baker that makes him at first thought an unlikely heroic figure in an action movie such as this. He does not appear to be an attractive figure in the scenes when he's paired up with his girlfriend, scenes which are meant to show this hero's tender side. He needs a haircut. He could stand to lose a few pounds. And while his character claims to be thirty-five years old not long after he's released from those years in prison, his physical appearance makes him look to be at least ten years older than that age. So Baker enters this movie with what could be considered several strikes against him. But despite these things that you might think would hold him back, Baker manages to be an effective hero. Sure, all those things I just mention make him rough around the edges, but I found this more believable than the slick and polished heroes you often find in action movies. He's clearly not perfect... but then again, neither are most of us. He's more like the guy you see walking down the street. As a result, there is some doubt in the back of your mind as to if he will survive his ordeal to clear his name, and that's what makes a lot of the movie so compelling.

Another reason why Baker makes an effective action hero in this movie is the sheer feeling of brute force and rage he brings to a lot of scenes. When his character in the prison cafeteria rams a tray of food into the face of a guard, there's no doubt you will be walloped by his character's incredible anger. Later on, when he's out of prison, whenever he has to defend himself or is getting any part of his sweet revenge, you will believe his animal power. Baker not only brings this animal power to those scenes, he's careful not to go too far. Yes, his character commits a number of brutal acts, but the way Baker plays these scenes never once removes any sympathy for his character. I have no doubt that audiences will be rooting for Baker despite of all the pools of blood and dead bodies he leaves behind. Baker is not the only one who gives an effective performance in the movie. As the mobster locked up in the same prison who offers Baker a hand in his plans of revenge, John Marley (The Godfather) comes across as a sympathetic guy despite his crimes, and it's a bit of a shame that he doesn't get more screen time. Gabriel Dell (from the Bowery Boys series), another con who gives Baker a hand out of prison, proves to be a worthy sidekick. Brock Peters (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), as an honest cop (and seemingly about the only non-corrupt person in power in the area!), is likable, but just why his character has chosen to put his neck on the line by keeping offering Baker's character advice and help is never once answered during the one hundred and six minute running time.

That is not the only question that come up during the course of the movie as a result of the screenplay. There are several other unexplained things in Framed. For example, take the part of the movie when the in-custody Baker asks his girlfriend to hire private detectives to find evidence that will clear him. She doesn't, and as a result Baker thinks she has betrayed him. (Actually, she had been threatened by the bad guys to not help him or else.) When Baker is sentenced and sent to prison, he refuses to see her when she comes to visit him. After several years pass and Baker is released, she meets him at the bus station. How does he react to seeing her? He goes home with her like nothing happened. The screenplay contains some other kind of flaws as well; sharp-eyed viewers will notice that Baker's character does very little to investigate who was responsible for putting him behind bars until the movie passes the two-thirds-over point. But it's not only a credit to Baker's animal-like power that the movie still works, but also to Phil Karlson's direction. The movie may take its time in dishing out revenge, but Karlson never makes the wait boring. And when the movie does reach the time for revenge, let me assure you that it gets nasty! Blood spills, guns are fired next to ears, and even animals get killed. All the action scenes in Framed will get your blood pumping hard, like the early scene when Baker fights the dirty cop. This scene is absolutely bloody and brutal, and you'll feel just as exhausted and beaten up as the participants when it ends. The remaining action scenes (mostly coming in the last third of the movie) deliver the goods as well, and are worth the wait to get to. If you like a good revenge movie, Framed will give you everything you want from one.

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See also: Breaking Point, Felon, Outlaw Force

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