Crazy Mama (Jonathan Demme / U.S., 1975):

The dust-specked prologue reveals Steinbeck as the pilgrimageís foundation, the Everly Brothers ("All I Have to Do Is Dream") herald a procession of watercolor-hued Depression icons over the credits. Then suddenly it's 1958 California, the whirlwind of kitsch (Cloris Leachman in a low-cut, tiger-striped number and stretch pants, Ann Southern sloshing every line with a purr, Jim Backus in fez and polyester) already in progress, everybody saltando. Elsewhere, the baby of the clan (Linda Purl) ping-pongs between the earnest surfer (Donny Most) who knocked her up and a sexy greaser (Bryan Englund) until they end up together in bed, no big deal. Jonathan Demme is funny like that, he crams three generations of female hell-raisers ("true desperados") into a black convertible and shoots their trip from Long Beach to Jerusalem, Arkansas, like a salty burlesque of Cormanís Ma Parker cheapies. Along for the ride is an affably slumming cowboy sheriff (Stuart Whitman) and a retirement-home fugitive (Merie Earle) who takes up smoking cigars ("Whatís the point of being an outlaw if you look like an in-law?"). Banks are their targets, or would be if Leachmanís flustered gangland matriarch didnít halt everything mid-robbery to tend to the clerk crying in the corner. Patriotic homilies exclaimed before slot-machines, the neon-lit crosses and canned organ chimes of wedding chapels, the ancient rocky desert that gives way to teepee-shaped bungalows amid palm trees: The lay of the land, Godís country and all that "hummingbird doo-doo." Demmeís fond and furious upending of Eisenhower-era home and family mores, America on the cusp of the restless '60s told from the vantage point of a '70s drive-in quickie, and pure exhilaration. Tobacco Road and The Sugarland Express pave the mercurial road, which finds its magnificent completion in Something Wild; Lichtenstein's famous dollar bill figures in the closing freeze-frame, a transfigured punchline. With Sally Kirkland, Clint Kimbrough, Dick Miller, Carmen Argenziano, Harry Northup, and Tisha Sterling.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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