The Sugarland Express (1974)


Love on the run. Sort of literally.

Married couple Lou-Jean (Goldie Hawn) and Clovis Poplin (William Atherton) are also small-time crooks who pride themselves in small jobs, all so that they can take care of themselves, as well as well as their baby boy. However, they soon lose custody of him to the state of Texas and both vow to do whatever it takes to get him back. Lou-Jean gets Clovis out of jail, and the two steal their son from his foster home, in addition to taking a highway patrolman hostage. As they drive across Texas, with the police hot on their tail, they become something of media-darlings, where people sympathize and understand their position. By the same token, though, they’re also criminals and are perhaps treated as such.

“Don’t move a muscle, buddy. Except for when you’re driving. That’s okay.”

Sugarland Express was the first real movie that put Steven Spielberg on the map as it showed us everything that he’s great at. He can take a simple, relatively conventional story, put some heart, some fun, some intrigue, and some interest into it, to make it just an overall great piece of entertainment. It doesn’t have to be a deep-thinker and it sure as hell doesn’t have to challenge the status-quo – all it has to do is just provide a great source of thrills, chills and general fun for everyone who wants to go and see it.

And in a way, that’s ultimately proved to be one of Spielberg’s downfalls, according to those who care too much. Cause with Sugarland Express, as with most of his other films, Spielberg doesn’t always set out to really go as deep as he should with certain stories, but instead, be the one who makes mainstream movies that flirt with the idea of being something far more serious and deep, but ultimately, aren’t. For me, that’s fine, as nobody can do it better than Spielberg really.

“Give us some privacy?”

But of course, there are others who don’t appreciate that and I can kind of see why.

That doesn’t take away from Sugarland Express, however, as it always remains a compelling and rather exciting tale of love-on-the-run, with some interesting points to be made about love, the law, and of course, the media. But at the same time, not really; mostly, Spielberg is just happy to give us a simple story and turn it any which way he can. He’s also happy to keep the camera solely on Goldie Hawn, as she steals just about every single second of this movie as Lou-Jean, a smart, sassy, and rather brave individual who isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind and do what she wants. Hawn has made a career out of these sorts of roles, but she rarely ever was able to get as serious and as dark as she gets the chance here, and it’s a shame that she and Spielberg never worked together again.

Maybe another time? Who knows.

Consensus: While it’s early Spielberg and therefore, not as legendary as his later movies, the Sugarland Express is still a fun, well-acted, and thrilling piece of entertainment that shows us the clear promise Spielberg would offer.

7.5 / 10

Tailgating!

Photos Courtesy of: Universal Pictures

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