I’ve been going back and watching some of the early films of Steven Spielberg (which reminds me, I should put up a review of Duel at some stage). The Sugarland Express was the very first film Spielberg ever directed for the big screen. Based on a true incident that took place in 1969, it stars Goldie Hawn as Lou Jean, a 25-year-old woman with an imprisoned husband and a two-year-old who has just been taken off her by welfare.
Her husband only has four months to go till parole, but she persuades him that they need to escape that very day and make their way to Sugarland to get their baby back. As if prison escape wasn’t reckless enough, they very soon end up hijacking a police vehicle and kidnapping a police officer. This sets up a huge statewide manhunt, with hundreds of police cars following the two lovebirds in bizarre caravan across the state of Texas.
Spielberg doesn’t put a foot wrong as a director – he absolutely nails the atmosphere of Texas, from the big hats to the Southern dialect to the obsession with guns. The car chase sequences (reminding me a lot of the action in Duel) are nicely choreagraphed – not the quickly edited stuff that I often yawn through in action films today. And as the scale of the case grows, Spielberg gives the film an increasingly epic feel.
What I wasn’t clear coming in, though, was how it would all pan out. The look of the film from the trailer and the opening of the film is a sort of humorous Texan romp, with liberal doses of quirkiness and humour. But it soon becomes apparent that, likeable as our two not-too-bright escapees are, kidnapping a policeman is a serious thing, and that however this thing pans out – the consequences could be very grave.
It also marks the first film collaboration between composer John Williams and Spielberg, so you might be interested in it from that angle.
I won’t say any more, because if you get bored one night, there are a lot worse ways to spend an evening than watching this film.
4 out of 5.