How to connect Old and New Hollywood? Do it like Dillinger, says Godard (Prénom Carmen), play it like a movie, and there's John Milius' ripping debut. The robber (Warren Oates) is Douglas Fairbanks in his own mind, the showman who wants to be remembered is introduced bursting through the grilled widescreen that is the bank teller's window: "These few dollars you lose here are going to buy you stories to tell your children and grandchildren." Ritzy combustion dilated from Penn and Peckinpah is the tone, a sharp cut during an early chase registers a passerby ran over before the getaway car takes a turn into a hail of police bullets. The dance interrupted at the Arizona fiesta is taken up by the "super gang" in the Indiana spree ("Red River Valley" is the aching leitmotif), the hood's opposite number is the FBI bulldog (Ben Johnson) who has self-mythologizing rituals of his own—to a rescue drawn verbatim from Seven Samurai, he adds leather gloves and a vengeful cigar. Bandits and coppers, brawling for that sweet newsreel spot. "I'm already a murderer, so I might as well be famous." Bloody reds plus a hundred shades of Dust Bowl lighting for Milius, the wistful and the anarchic continuously mixed: A Malick pastoral is upended as Baby Face Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss) dashes through it in pajamas, his expiring spasm is on the Tommy-gun's trigger. Elsewhere, Pretty Boy Floyd (Steve Kanaly) courtly turns down a matron's Bible before a fusillade while Homer Van Meter's luckless escape accommodates Harry Dean Stanton's ornery comedy of frustration. It all builds toward the fateful theater in Chicago, just the house of life and death for a barnstorming Movie Brat. (The reunion of Johnson and Cloris Leachman is no accident, this is Milius' Last Picture Show and no mistake.) J. Edgar Hoover's disapproval of the film is worn proudly at the close. With Michelle Phillips, Geoffrey Lewis, John P. Ryan, and Frank McRae.
--- Fernando F. Croce