Saturday, November 18, 2017

#2,464. Lolly Madonna XXX (1973)


Directed By: Richard C. Sarafian

Starring: Rod Steiger, Robert Ryan, Jeff Bridges




Tag line: "A simple prank... a game...nobody won"

Trivia: The movie was filmed in rural Union County, Tennessee









Here’s an interesting discovery: Lolly-Madonna XXX (aka Fire in the Meadow), a film directed by Richard C. Sarafian (Vanishing Point) that features one hell of a cast. Rod Steiger and Robert Ryan portray the patriarchs of two feuding clans, and among the actors playing their sons are Jeff Bridges, Scott Wilson, Gary Busey, Ed Lauter and Randy Quaid. In addition, this 1973 movie marked the big-screen debut of actress Season Hubley (Vice Squad), who, along with her male compatriots, does her part to make Lolly-Madonna XXX an unforgettable motion picture experience. 

A minor squabble between two families over a tract of land, which Pap Gutshall (Ryan) bought at an auction despite the claims made by his neighbor, Laben Feather (Steiger), that it belongs to him, intensifies when a couple of the Feather boys, Thrush (Wilson) and Hawk (Lauter), drive out to the bus stop and kidnap a woman they believe to be “Lolly Madonna”, the alleged fiance of Ludie Gutshall (Kiel Martin). 

What the Feathers don’t know is that “Lolly Madonna” doesn’t even exist; she was invented by the Gutshalls in an attempt to lure the Feathers away from their moonshine still (which is where they’re holding several pigs they swiped from Pap Gutshall). While the Feather sons were out fetching Lolly Madonna, the Gutshall boys, Ludie, Villum (Paul Koslo) and Zeb (Busey), retrieved one of the pigs and, as a bonus, took some time out to bust up the Feather’s beloved still. 

The girl the Feathers actually kidnapped is Roonie Gill (Hubley), a young woman on her way to the big city to start a new life. Yet despite Roonie’s assertions that she’s not Lolly Madonna, Laben Feather refuses to believe her, and decides to hold her for ransom, hoping he can force Pap Gutshall to return his tract of land. During her stay at the Feather homestead, Roonie meets Labem’s wife Chickie (Katherine Squire), his other sons Skylar (Timothy Scott) and Finch (Quaid), and the Feather’s youngest boy, Zach (Bridges), a widower who takes it upon himself to watch over the family’s “guest”. 

As the days drag on, Zach and Roonie begin to develop feelings for one another, but with the tensions mounting between the Feathers and the Gutshalls, both families realize that this little dispute of theirs won’t end until blood has been spilled. 

Lolly-Madonna XXX doesn’t waste any time; the feud between the Feathers and the Gutshalls is already underway when the movie begins. Early on, it seems as if the two clans are just trying to get under each other’s skin, with Ludie and Zeb Gutshall breaking up the Feather’s moonshine still as they attempt to steal back the pigs. But with emotions running high on both sides, we know it won’t be long before the disagreement escalates, and when it does, people will surely start to die. Based on a novel by Sue Grafton (who also penned the screenplay), Lolly-Madonna XXX doesn’t shy away from the violence inherent in its story, which takes the occasional detour into some very dark areas. 

That said, Lolly-Madonna XXX does have its quieter moments as well; though she’s being held against her will, Roonie falls in love with Zack, who we discover had been married before (his wife Lyda Jo, portrayed in flashbacks by Kathy Watts, was killed in a tragic accident, one that caused a rift to develop between Laben and his oldest son Thrush). There’s even a bit of tenderness that immediately follows one of the film’s most disturbing scenes: Pap Gutshall’s wife Elspeth (Tresa Hughes) does her best to comfort the couple’s only daughter (Joan Goodfellow) after she’s been raped by two of the Feather boys. 

By the time the feud turns violent, we know both families intimately, and we’re as horrified as Roonie is when the bullets start to fly. Each and every member of this film’s cast is in top form, and all are given ample screen time to flesh out their characters as best they can. 

Shot on-location in Tennessee, Lolly-Madonna XXX is a gorgeous motion picture; cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop does a fine job capturing the area’s natural beauty. But it’s the performances turned in by its all-star cast, coupled with Sue Grafton’s searing script, which will stay with you long after this movie is over.







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