Stars – Joe Don Baker, Gabriel Dell, John Marley, John Larch, Connny Van Dyke
Director – Phil Karlson
Released by Kino Studio Classics
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Phil Karlson had a reputation for making tough pictures. His crime films rocked a little harder than most. His Film Noirs were not about the lovely satin moonlight that fell at twilight but more about the crashing of garbage cans on concrete sidewalks because the garage truck guys came before sunrise again. He worked in a wide variety of films and TV including a Bowery Boys film. Framed was his last movie. He had a significant piece of the one before this, Walking Tall which became an incredible runaway hit that practically invented the southern crime and car chase genre. Joe Don Baker starred in Walking Tall and Karlson brought him back for this one. The cast is one of the neatest things about Framed. John Marley who played the studio boss who woke up with a horse’s head in his bed in The Godfather is on hand as a mob boss who runs the action in the prison that Baker winds up in. Gabriel Dell who was in seemingly dozens of Bowery Boys films plays a vicious hit man with a very cool sense of humor. Anyone who ever liked Gabe at all will love him in this one. John Larch is easily recognizable from his roles in Dirty Harry and dozens of TV appearances including The Twilight Zone. Larch worked with Karlson in his legendary Phenix City Story (1955). There is a nice air of familiarity amongst the cast. This is a rugged crime tale that feels nice and comfortable.
Baker plays a gambler who gets set up by the local crooked politicians. His little bag full of hard won cash is stolen and he is framed for the murder of a cop. When Conny Van Dyke his jazz singer girlfriend tries to hire detectives to help his case a couple of thugs come over and put the screws to her. Baker simmers in prison until he winds up playing card games for incarcerated mobster Marley. He and Gabe Dell play a cut throat game of cards for the kingpin. Once they all get out we have this home made network of ex cons to help Joe Don Baker get even with the people who set him up and abused his girl. Throughout the picture it seems that Joe Don Baker is either beating the hell out of someone, sitting in a hospital bed covered in bandages or just sweating with a barely contained fury. He’s like a tea kettle that boils over only to be returned to the fire to start it all over again. The first fight scene with him has two big guys going at it. Their punches and kicks really hurt. They take turns getting slammed into the concrete floor of a garage. Karlson does not use any music to support this. All we hear are the visceral grunts and painful moans of the two till one can no longer carry on.
While the film is absolutely engaging and filled with a fun cast it never achieves the necessary level of pent up rage that usually fuels these kind of films. The plot is paper thin. The corruption doesn’t get under your skin and make you want to scream out for justice. There is solid action but not quite enough behind it. After this film Joe Don Baker continued on with a successful career. For me though his role as Molly the enforcer in Charley Varrick was one of his best. Karlson on the other hand retired from the business in presumed comfort thanks to the Waling Tall proceeds. Framed may not work as well as we want it to but it still hits hard. Karlson is capable of better but it is still a must see for seventies crime fans.
Video – 1.85:1
Colors and black levels all look fine here. The materials used look to be in good shape. The colors have that particular texture that is so distinctive of many films shot in the seventies.
Audio – Digital track with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is easy to follow. We are treated to at least three pop jazz songs played by Conny Van Dyke and her band in the lounge. Some may bump the volume on these while other will reach for the fast forward.
Extras – Commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson., Trailer gallery.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Good