Director John G Avildsen’s violent “bigot-versus-counterculture” parable is very much a product of its conservative times, but its implausibility is tempered by strong performances.
Peter Boyle became a star after playing the title character, Joe Curran – a right-wing, blue-collar loud-mouth racist in a hard-hat who forms a strange relationship with wealthy executive Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick) after the latter kills his wayward daughter’s drug-pusher boyfriend.
Bill and Joe go to the East Village to find Bill’s daughter, Melissa (Susan Sarandon in her film debut) and wind up in the middle of a hippie orgy, balling all the hippie chicks while the hippie cats steal their wallets and their stash (which Bill had stolen from the pusher he killed).
When Bill and Joe find out they have been ripped off they beat up the naked hippie chicks, who spill their guts and give the men directions to their commune in the country.
So Bill and Joe drive to Joe’s house where they pick up a couple of rifles and head on up to the commune. Then they kill all the hippies. Unfortunately, one of the hippies they kill is Bill’s daughter.
Shot on location in Greenwich Village with almost documentary-like precision, it’s a creepy look at man’s baser instincts – though it’s amazing this scary slice of nostalgia was considered an accurate portrayal of 1970s youth – especially since it suggests that all hippie chicks are untrustworthy nymphos.
John G Avildsen