Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bonnie's Kids

Every director who made an exploitation movie during the 1970s believes his work influenced Quentin Tarantino, but Arthur Marks, the screenwriter and director of BONNIE’S KIDS, has a strong case. From the tough, confident female protagonists to the bantering salt-and-pepper hitman team played by Alex Rocco (FREEBIE AND THE BEAN) and Timothy Brown (Spearchucker Jones in the first season of M*A*S*H) to its nihilistic conclusion, Marks’ film bears a strong resemblance to Tarantino’s notable filmography. It’s also a very good crime meller with solid performances and a hard-nosed plot centered around two gorgeous young women.

The titular kids are 24-year-old Ellie (THE CANDY SNATCHERS’ Tiffany Bolling, whose PLAYBOY layout was played up in the film’s marketing) and 15-year-old Myra (Robin Mattson, still a major soap star four decades later). Both live with their mean, drunken widowed stepfather Charlie (veteran screen heavy Leo Gordon) in a small town where they drive the men crazy by wearing their skirts too high and undressing in front of open windows. Before the opening credits have rolled, Ellie has popped a couple of shotgun blasts in Charlie’s chest while he’s attempting to rape Myra, and the sisters are on their way to El Lay to look up their rich uncle Ben Seeman (Scott Brady).

Although they haven’t seen Ben in years, he offers to put them up at his spacious ranch, where trampy Myra puts the make on both studly stable boy Harry (Nicholas Cortland) and Ben’s horny young wife Diana (Lenore Stevens). Meanwhile, Ellie, running an errand for Uncle Ben, and dim-bulb private eye Larry Evans (Steve Sandor) become the targets of Ben’s intrepid hitmen Eddie (Rocco) and Digger (Brown).

The violence and sex quotients are relatively low (although both Bolling and Mattson appear topless), but the sleaze factor runs high with barely a likable character in the entire film. The men are perverted, mercenary, and brutal; the women selfish, manipulative, and pathetic. Marks’ crafty screenplay creates many colorful characters living outside the plot, like a small town sheriff (former Lone Ranger John Hart) and a tacky traveling gun salesman (THE MUSIC MAN’s Max Showalter), while also providing the stars, such as Sandor’s affable P.I., who gets smarter as the film moves along, with interesting pieces of business to sink their teeth into.

The cast handles the grimy dialogue and plot twists just fine, and Marks’ clean direction, Carson Whitsett’s driving score, and suitably cheesy locations (mainly around Palm Springs) ensure a steady pace. A young, longhaired Sharon Gless (CAGNEY & LACEY) makes her film debut as a coffee shop waitress (she was Marks’ secretary at the time). Marks’ General Film Corporation gave BONNIE’S KIDS a February 1973 release, where its strong story and detailed character work likely surprised drive-in audiences.

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