Joe (1970, dir. John G. Avildsen)
Olive Films Blu-ray $29.95, DVD $24.95
107 min. / color / 1.85:1 / Cannon Films

Wow! I was a pre-teen when this movie was released but I remember a certain amount of controversy surrounding its “normal people striking back against hippies” theme, and the year it came out, four students were murdered by the National Guard at Kent State and a bunch of protestors in New York City were beaten up by construction workers sick of long-haired un-American types. Until this fine Blu-ray from Olive Films, though, I’d never seen the film – but I figured it was a mainstream movie, what being written by the guy (Norman Wexler) who gave us Saturday Night Fever, and the director (Avildsen) who gave us Rocky. Turns out it’s a Cannon Film exploitation picture, and a great one, told from the POV of the “bad guys” instead of the young rebels for once. This is a terrific discovery.

When young Susan Sarandon (in her film debut) overdoses and ends up in the hospital, furious father Dennis Patrick hunts down her worthless boyfriend and, um, shows him what he thinks of him. Having a few stiff belts in a neighborhood bar to calm down, he blurts out a confession to the racist, loud-mouthed factory worker on the next stool, and what follows is, to say the least, an odd friendship between a rich Madison Avenue type and, well, a racist, loud-mouthed factory worker and their wives. Eventually, Susan checks herself out of the hospital and disappears, and in searching for her, our two unlikely best buds get caught up in the counter-culture world, and that’s not going to turn out well for the hippies.

Million-dollar Dialog:

“You ever get the feeling that everything you do your whole life is one big crock of shit?”

The star of our show is Joe, played by Peter Boyle in a career-making role; think of Archie Bunker without the warmth (if Archie ever had any). He berates his wife, thinks little of anybody who isn’t a middle-aged white guy working in the construction business, and keeps an awful lot of guns in his rec room. His opening barroom rant is one for the ages.

Shot on a low budget (Avildsen was the cinematographer, too) on location and in a quick four weeks, Joe touched a nerve with the country and raked in millions – both the left and the squares could see it and find heroes or martyrs in it. The Olive Films Blu-ray looks and sounds great given the film’s low-budget origins, and includes a ridiculous British trailer that puts forth the film as one of the “laugh-riots” of the year (huh?). There is a lot of humor in Joe, but it’s the dark kind.

This is a great film and the Olive Films release is one of the highlights of the year so far.