by RICHARD WINTERS
Extremely odd Bette Davis vehicle made in her later years when her career had crested and she was forced to be less choosy about her projects. The story has to do with a lonely widow named Bunny O’Hare (Davis) who becomes homeless after losing her home to foreclosure. She meets a man named Bill Gruenwald (Ernest Borgnine) who is an escaped bank robber. Together they dress up as hippies and rob banks throughout the state of New Mexico in order to survive.
Despite everything I thought Davis was exceptional. Usually she plays cold, manipulative characters, but here she gives a perfect, touching performance as a nice old lady. She is terrific in every scene that she is in and the only bright spot in what is otherwise a misfire. Borgnine though seems wasted and thrown in only as a stock character.
The story really has nowhere to go. The intention was to make the film a mixture of social satire and slapstick, but it fails on either end. The novelty wears off quickly and it soon becomes derivative. Initially their ploy to rob the banks seemed clever as Bill releases a bird into the bank, which causes such a distraction that they are able to rob it without detection, but it becomes tiring when it gets played out again and again. The police are portrayed as being universally bumbling and making it seem like a six year old could rob a bank and easily get away with it. I also did not like the banjo music being played as they are trying to get away from the cops as it seems too similar to the much better film Bonnie and Clyde; in fact, the original title for this movie was going to be “Bunny and Claude.”
The casting of Jack Cassidy as Lieutenant Greely, the policeman who becomes obsessed with capturing them, should’ve worked. He was very adept at playing cold, cunning, slightly offbeat characters as evidenced by his Emmy Award-winning performances on the old Columbo TV show as well as the cult TV series He and She. He was the husband of actress Shirley Jones and the father of Shaun and David Cassidy. His career was unfortunately cut short when he died in a fire in 1976 after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. His unique talent here is stifled because the character is portrayed as being unrealistically dimwitted and saps any possible energy from the scenes that he is in.
Joan Delaney makes a terrific addition as his female counterpart R.J. Hart. She is young, attractive, and hip. She plays off of Greely’s old, regimented ways quite well and it is a shame that, with the exception of a very brief appearance in the 1991 comedy Scenes From a Mall, this ended up being her last film.
The New Mexico landscape is nice, but I got the feeling that the location shooting had not been scouted out sufficiently. The police station just didn’t look authentic at all. It seemed like scenes were shot in any building that they were able to attain a permit to film. The lighting consists of one bright spotlight put on the subject while the sides of the frame and the background are dark and shadowy. Sometimes, in a good movie, this is done for artistic effect, but here I felt it was more because that was all they could afford. This one is for Bette Davis completists only.
Well known character actors John Astin and Reva Rose appear as Bunny’s two grown children, but are essentially wasted. The then-acting governor of New Mexico, David Cargo, plays one of the state troopers. Larry Linville, who would later become famous as Major Frank Burns on the classic TV series M*A*S*H, can be seen very briefly at the end but has no lines of dialogue.
My Rating: 2 out of 10 stars