Home Movies by Decade Movies - 1970s Sugarland Express, The (1974)

Sugarland Express, The (1974)

This film cost $9 million and was supposed to have been shot in nine weeks. Director Steven Spielberg (on his first feature film) took sixteen.

Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn) is a fugitive mother who is chased by almost every cop in Texas when she tries to keep her baby boy who’s been farmed out to a foster family while the parents did time for some petty thefts.

Lou Jean convinces her passive husband, Clovis (William Atherton), to jump prison and drive to Sugarland, Texas, in the hope of reclaiming their child. They take straight-laced Officer Slide (Michael Sacks) hostage along the way.

Ben Johnson is superb as Captain Tanner, the police chief who is proud of never having killed a person in 18 years and avoids white knight heroics while suggesting both the dignity and the grubbiness of his work.

It’s a true story (based on events which happened in 1969) but, regrettably, little of the real-life drama made it into the film.


The film’s comic centre is the overused sight of a growing caravan of police cars following the fugitives, held at arm’s distance by the duo’s guile, charm and occasional threats of violence to hostage Slide.

Some scenes show the couple’s mushrooming status as local media celebrities, others unpleasantly mock redneck culture, while the best show the affection building among the couple, Tanner and Slide.

There are some beautiful shots of the sun streaking the sky, but there’s precious little feeling for the actual baby, the crux of the plot.

Lou Jean Poplin
Goldie Hawn
Captain Tanner
Ben Johnson
Officer Slide
Michael Sacks
Clovis Poplin
William Atherton
Gregory Walcott
Officer Ernie Jessup
Steve Kanaly
Mrs Looby
Louise Latham
Baby Langston
Harrison Zanuck
Mr Alvin T. Nocker
A.L. Camp
Mrs Nocker
Jessie Lee Fulton
Russ Berry
Dean Smith
Ted Grossman
Bill Thurman

Steven Spielberg