Friday, May 24, 2013

THE DION BROTHERS (aka THE GRAVY TRAIN)
(1974) - Jack Starrett


The Dion Brothers (aka The Gravy Train) is one of those flicks I've long been hoping for a retro-house revival of or, failing that, a poorly transferred DVD. I've read about it here and there over the years as one of those lost '70s classics frequently name-checked by interesting directors (Tarantino, David Gordon Green and others). The prevailing wisdom: It was a buried treasure, an anarchic crime caper chock-full of great character actors (Stacy Keach, Frederic Forrest, Margot Kidder, Barry Primus). Something along the lines of The Brink's Job or Freebie and the Bean.

That's probably true. I say "probably" because it was hard to tell through chunky, muddy pixels of the YouTube bootleg I finally broke down and viewed, realizing that a revival was not coming my way anytime soon. My enjoyment was compromised, but even the weak stream and miserable Encore Channel copy couldn't keep The Dion Brothers' manic exuberance in check. This is a fun movie, a tried and true "romp."

Keach and Forrest play blue collar West Virginia peckerwood brothers, each of whom has just quit their jobs to pursue a life of crime. Keach works in a canned bean factory, has dreams of opening a seafood restaurant called the Blue Grotto. Forrest is a coal miner, an ace with a stick of dynamite, and mostly along for the ride. The robbery they become embroiled in with a group of Northern petty criminals is nothing special (your basic armored car seizure), but their inane banter and fumbling, misguided attempts to get all their money afterwards is frequently priceless and, I'm guessing, frequently the result of improv. The surprisingly violent end shootout taking place all within a building as it's being demolished is reason alone to give this sucker a decent transfer.

As for the Malick contribution? As far as I could tell, it seemed buried deep beneath all that rubble. Other than the Brothers being unconscionable Southern Folk, it felt in no way related to the typical Malick film. It's closest cousin might be Badlands. According to IMDB, Malick was originally supposed to direct this until the reins were taken away. It probably wouldn't have been as fun of a film had he directed, but I'm sure it would have looked prettier and, considering his current resurgence, a hell of a lot easier to find.

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