Rod Steiger and Robert Ryan are the heads of the backwoods feuding families: the Feathers – led by stoic patriarch Laban (Rod Steiger) – and the Gutshalls – who answer to the highly principled Pap (Robert Ryan) – in this variable drama.
The two sides have been brought to the brink of violence by a land dispute (one bought a piece of land that previously belonged to the other) and matters come to a head with a bizarre case of mistaken identity.
Hoping to create internal friction amongst the Feather siblings, Ludie Gutshall (Kiel Martin) mails a postcard to the Feather home indicating that a (non-existent) young woman named “Lolly Madonna” is scheduled to arrive in the region, with plans to marry one of the Gutshall boys.
The prank begins to turn ugly when Feather sons Thrush (Scott Wilson) and Hawk (Ed Lauter) kidnap a young woman named Roonie Gill (Season Hubley), who is passing through town en route to meet her fiancée, believing that she’s the “Lolly Madonna” they’ve heard about.
Despite Roonie’s vehement objections, the Feathers refuse to believe she’s not the intended bride of a Gutshall, so they try to leverage her as a hostage.
Somehow this scheme exacerbates the rivalry, triggering arson, rape (with tough guy Hawk wearing lingerie and makeup!), theft and eventually murder.
A strong supporting cast includes Jeff Bridges, Randy Quaid and Gary Busey, and director Richard C Sarafian (Vanishing Point) piles a lot of enthusiasm into the mayhem.
Unfortunately, the film’s mood swings make it only a superior example of Peckinpah-lite.
Later retitled Fire in the Meadow for its VHS release.
Sister E. Gutshall
Richard C Sarafian