In 1969, a woman got her husband to escape from prison, and they kidnapped a Texas state trooper. They drove for half a day before dying in a shootout in Bryan, Texas. In the Spielberg version, events take a day and a half, and no one dies. The woman is Goldie Hawn, still trying to prove - dammit! - that she's a real actress; apparently some folks just weren't taking her Oscar seriously. Husband William Atherton (who now makes a living playing idiots and assholes in movies like Ghostbusters and Die Hard) is none too bright, and is easily manipulated by whatever Hawn wants. Specifically, she wants to see their baby, Langston (a role filled by the then 3-year old Harrison Zanuck, son of producer Richard D. Zanuck, who now works at James Cameron's FX company Digital Domain), who was removed from her custody while both she and Atherton were in jail. Michael Sacks, who never had anything really resembling a career, is the trooper sucked into the journey, and Ben Johnson, the famous Western character actor and the World's Champion Steer Roper in 1953, makes a rare non-Western appearance as the courtly police captain managing the case.
Although kidnapping isn't an inherently funny premise, Spielberg draws his humor from the number of people who get interested in the case. It's a slow day for law enforcement when Sacks is kidnapped, and although Johnson initially starts out with 6 cars for backup, as word gets round the state, 100s of cars and officers show up to join in the fun. Spielberg enjoys showing off the absurdly long line of cars and the difficulties that result. Also mocked are the citizens who begin to see Hawn as a folk hero for just wanting to see her lil' baby. Indeed, the matter takes on abortion overtones as various folks defend Hawn's right to decide what's right for her child.
The film is nicely paced, and the laughs are leisurely and in good fun. Spielberg has an especially good time with local militia reservists who decide to have themselves a fun time by trying to blast Hawn and Sacks out of a used car lot, property damage be damned. Above all, this is a technique exercise for Spielberg, who frames perfectly and pulls off some amazing moves; the rare opportunity of seeing this widescreen work on the big screen isn't to be missed until a DVD comes out. The cast is up to the demands placed on them, except for the suddenly serious ending, where Hawn goes unpleasantly hysterical. Spielberg also assembles much of his creative team of the 70s for the first time: this is his first movie with John Williams composing and Lazslo Kovacs as cinematographer, and Verna Fields, who later edited Jaws, co-edited with Edward Abroms, who'd edited the Spielberg TV movie Savage. A good time is to be had by all, and the film nails rural Texas, c. 1974, quite nicely.
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