Directed By: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Peter Boyle, Dennis Patrick, Susan Sarandon
Tag line: "Keep America Beautiful"
Trivia: Reaction to this film disturbed actor Peter Boyle for years. He refused the lead role in The French Connection and other roles that glamorized violence after people cheered his role in this project
Joe, a 1970 film directed by John G Avildsen, is an unflinching look at American society in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, taking shots at both the hippie movement and the conservative right that criticized them.
When his daughter, Melissa (Susan Sarandon) ends up in the hospital after an overdose, advertising executive Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick) takes matters into his own hands, and, in a fit of rage, kills her drug-dealing boyfriend, Frank (Patrick McDermott). Shaken by the murder he’s committed, Compton walks into a neighborhood bar to get a drink and ends up telling factory worker Joe Curran (Peter Boyle) that he just killed a “hippie”. At first, Joe doesn’t believe him, but when he hears about Frank’s murder on the news a few days later, he seeks out Compton… to offer him his congratulations! As it turns out, Joe can’t stand the younger generation, and admires Compton for having the guts to take one of them out. Fearing his new pal might eventually try to blackmail him, Compton buddies up to Joe, and the two become fast friends. So, when Melissa, who’s learned the truth about Frank death, leaves the hospital and disappears, Compton knows he can rely on Joe to help track her down.
In some ways, Joe feels like a right-wing attack on the love generation. For one, Melissa’s boyfriend, Frank, is portrayed as a real scumbag, a drug dealer who puts her life in serious jeopardy, and even though it’s a tough scene to watch [Compton repeatedly bashes Frank’s head into a wall], we believe Frank got what was coming to him. On top of this, the film also tackles the era’s sexual promiscuity, as well as its rampant drug abuse, but, to be fair, Joe doesn’t exactly paint Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” in a good light, either. Joe, played superbly by Peter Boyle, is both a racist and a male chauvinist, and definitely more than a little rough around the edges; the night the Comptons pay him and his wife a visit, Joe raises a few eyebrows when he innocently pats Compton’s wife, Joan (Audrey Caire), on the ass. Still, despite his numerous shortcomings, we kinda pity Joe, whose anger we believe stems from his fear that the “American Dream” is slowly slipping through his fingers.
But all that ends the moment Joe turns his harsh words into actions. Without going into spoilers, let me say the final scene of this movie will hit you like a ton of bricks, and all at once, you’ll regret the fact you ever felt sorry for Joe Cullen.