Thursday, November 25, 2021

Badlands (1973) Film Soleil Tailfin Neo Noir

"Once upon a time there were land yachts cruising the high plains of South Dakota"

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick (To the Wonder, The Tree of Life, The New World, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven). 

Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto, Stevan Larner, and Brian Probyn. Music by George Aliceson Tipton, including pieces by Carl Orff (Musia Poetica, Gassenhauer) Love Is Strange sung by Mickey & Sylvia, Theme "Migration" by by James Taylor, Nat King Cole and others.

The film stars Martin Sheen as Kit Carruthers, Sissy Spacek as Holly Sargis, Warren Oates as Father, Ramon Bieri as Cato. With Alan Vint as Deputy, Gary Littlejohn as Sheriff, John Carter as Rich Man, Bryan Montgomery as Boy, Gail Threlkeld as Girl, Charley Fitzpatrick as Clerk, Howard Ragsdale as Boss, John Womack, Jr. as Trooper, Dona Baldwin as Maid, and Ben Bravo as Gas Station Attendant.

Sissy Spacek as Holly Sargis

Martin Sheen as Kit Carruthers

Warren Oates as Father

 Ramon Bieri as Cato

The film is loosely based on a wild-ass crazy murder rampage carried out by Charlie Starkweather and his gal pal Caril Ann Fugate in Nebraska and Wyoming in 1958. By the time they were caught their tally was eleven people killed in cold blood. You an also add in two dogs killed by Starkweather. 

Caril Ann Fugate and Charlie Starkweather

Now in Badlands, Holly the fictional version of Caril, has her dog shot by her father, as a punishment for her disobeying his order for her to not continuing to see Kit. Its sort of a literary trick to deaden the audience a bit to both horrific murder of her father by Kit, and then her matter of fact "the awh shoot, shit happens," response to Daddy bleeding out on the floor of the parlor. Hey, He killed her dog after all. A Dog Killer. Another affect is to make the audience more inclined to buy into her child like innocent raconteuring of the events. 

It strikes me as a bit false because in most rural families pets are the whole family's pets they got the roam of the yard and house and are companions and you are not going to kill a family pet, as a punishment. Its just a bit bizarre. Over the top. If Malick hadn't written the dog killing into the script and Holly reacts the way she does, she'd come off more as screwy in the head, what's considered now an "intellectual disability." Making Kit kill a dog killer clouds things a bit. 

Kit is portrayed as an egomaniac. A outlaw on the run. He's a legend aborning in his own mind. He builds a rock cairn monument at the place of his final surrender to the authorities, and earlier grabs a souvenir stone to mark the spot he and Holly first got laid. Holly was underwhelmed, apparently indicating that Kit just got his rocks off in a slam bam thankyou mam way. Is that all there is? Cute.

In the real Starkweather murder spree Caril's dad didn't kill her dog. In fact Starkweather was the dog killer and we don't know how Caril felt about that, and of course Malick wouldn't make Kit a dog killer, that would have probably not sit too well with audiences and the bottom line. 

Anyway its interesting to contemplate.

So, Malick moves the story North to South Dakota. Kit is a twenty five year old ex Korean War vet unlike Starkweather. Like Starkweather, Kit is a garbage man when he first meets his gal accomplice.

However, in the Starkweather story Charlie eighteen at the time meets Caril who was thirteen through her older sister Barbara. Raging hormones! Caril was probably playing Charlie's skin flute, and they were regularly playing hide the sausage too. Egomaniac Charlie was "on top of the world Ma!"

Malick makes Kit and Holly's meeting fate, which plays into the whole American fairy tale about (what Oliver Stone would call) "Natural Born Killers" in his take on Tarantino's script also inspired by the Starkweather story. Tony Scott would film a third take from the same Tarantino script which changes the dynamics and motives quite a bit.

Kit and fourteen year old Holly hit it off. They like what each other sees. Holly thinks he looks like teen heartthrob James Dean. Kit thinks she's hot in her short shorts. Short shorts were big in 1958. 

Short Shorts

They carry on their relationship mostly after school. Kit is either meeting her under the the high school grandstands for quickie make out sessions or he's picking her up in his 1951 Mercury Coupe to take her down to the river for some heavy petting on a blanket. 

That Mercury has big bench seats too. They eventually do the deed but its indicated that Kit isn't much of a lover. 

Holly Sargis:  Did it go the way it's supposed to?

Kit Carruthers: Yeah.

Holly Sargis: Is that all there is to it?

Kit Carruthers: Yeah.

Holly Sargis:  Gosh, what was everybody talkin' about?

Kit Carruthers: Don't ask me.

Holly Sargis: Well, I'm glad it's over. For a while I was afraid I might die before it happened. Had a wreck or some deal like that.

Holly's narration comments.

Holly Sargis [narrating}: At this moment, I didn't feel shame or fear, but just kind of blah, like when you're sitting there and all the water's run out of the bathtub.

Hollys father shoots Hollys dog as a punishment for her disobedience. He throws it's carcass in the river.

Later  Kit goes out to a billboard painting job to visit Holly's father to talk to him about his daughter, Hollys father gives Kit an ultimatum. He wants him to stay the hell away from Holly. 

Father: [to Kit] What do you think'll happen to her if she stuck with you, Kit? A guy like you? I don't want you hanging anymore. I don't wanna see you again. Understand?

He enrolls Holly in an after school music lesson for clarinet lessons. After Kit gets fired from his job he decides to run away with Holly. 

It goes Noirsville when Kit breaks into Hollys house while her father is on his way to pick her up from her music lesson. He goes up to her bed room and  packs all her clothes and stuff into a suitcase. 

When Holly and her Dad get home there is a confrontation and Kit shoots him down dead. 

 Holly Sargis [narrating}: Kit shot muh daddy 'cos he had to.

To hide the dirty deed Kit torches the house late at night. He sets up a record player with a suicide recording he made to throw off the authorities. They head West for Montana.

Kit Carruthers: [recording a message as if for posterity] My girl Holly and I decided to kill ourselves. The same way I did her Daddy. Big decision, you know. Uh, the reasons are obvious. I don't have time to go into right now. But, one thing though, he was provoking me when I popped him. Well that's what it was like. Pop. I'm sorry. I mean, nobody's coming out of this thing happy. Especially not us. I can't deny we've had fun though. Listen to your parents and teachers. They got a line on most things, so don't treat em like enemies. There's always an outside chance you can learn something. Try to keep an open mind. Try to understand the viewpoints of others. Consider the minority opinion. But try to get along with the majority of opinion once it's accepted. Of course Holly and I have had fun, even if it has been rushed. And uh, so far a good sign, hadn't got caught. Excuse the grammar.

Unfortunately the record player set up too close to the house also burns.

They take off speeding across the high plains in the Merc throwing up contrails of dust on dirt backroads heading ever westward. There is some excellent cinematography on these road sequences.

Mercury Blues

The hole up in a temporary sanctuary along river in a cottonwood bottom. There they camp and build a treehouse with a defensive network of traps and pits, and live a fairy tale idyll of adventure. Eventually they are spotted and after Kit shoots three bounty hunters in the back who tried to attack the camp they go on the run again.


The rest of the story follows loosely the Starkweather killing spree. One major departure is at the rich mans mansion, where Kit and Holly swap out the Merc for a 1959 Caddy. Kit spares them, while Charlie Starkweather kills them also.

All the performances are spot on. The only false note was the dog shooting as mentioned earlier. Another screw up is a line of narration by Holly who states at one point at night they could see the lights of Cheyenne and the oil refineries of Missoula. Well she means Billings. Missoula has no refineries and is also on the other side of the continental divide.

The town sequences have a Hopper-esque appearance, with a lot of the interiors having that classic Neo Noir clashing color pallet, of puke yellows, entrail greens, carnal reds, dingy whites, and dead body blues. The later road sequences evoke Bad Day At Black Rock, and other desert set Noir.

The changes made by Malick create more sympathy for Holly. Kit is just off his rocker in an amiable sort of way. If Malick had stuck truer to the Starkweather spree Kit and Holly would have come off more like the unsympathetic Mickey and Mallory Knox in Natural Born Killers. Beautiful to watch with some excellent and unforgettable pedal to the metal car chases. 8.5/10 

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