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  Steelyard Blues The Anti-Somewhere League
Year: 1973
Director: Alan Myerson
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda, Peter Boyle, John Savage, Garry Goodrow, Howard Hesseman, Mel Stewart, Morgan Upton, Jessica Myerson, Beans Morocco, Nancy Fish, Roger Bowen, Lynette Bernay, Richard Schaal, Edward Greenberg, Larry Hankin, Bruce Mackey
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jesse Veldini (Donald Sutherland) has always had an appetite for destruction which he has channelled into a career as a demolition derby driver, though to supplement his income he has taken to petty theft which has landed him in jail three times now. This is especially embarrassing to his brother Frank (Howard Hesseman) who is running for political office: they are like chalk and cheese, this pair, and Frank is apt to see to it that Jesse's time inside is limited, having that authority as part of the law, so he does not draw too much publicity away from his own ambitions. Now banned from driving in the derbies, Jesse is given employment and expected to knuckle down and get on with it...

However, this was one of those counterculture movies made by big studios, or at least distributed by them, that happened along in the wake of the genre's blockbuster Easy Rider, though that was neither the first of them nor, as you see here, the last word. Steelyard Blues had a familiar cast for 1973, none more so than the troublemaking couple of Sutherland and Jane Fonda, who played the prostitute Iris, casual girlfriend of Jesse, who had made a name for themselves by protesting the American war in Vietnam, and also a lot of enemies among Middle America. Sutherland was able to ride this wave in a selection of cult movies with strong followings throughout this decade, but Fonda's reputation was forever sullied for many.

Surely not helping for mainstream acceptance was this; Fonda would attempt to curry favour for her antics in Vietnam by starring the sympathetic to the veterans Coming Home a few years later, but the early part of the seventies was taken up with business that thumbed its nose at the conservatives, and here was no exception. The film assembled a raggle-taggle gang of dropouts, with Peter Boyle as the cliché comedy mentally ill person who has just broken out of the hospital he actually admitted himself to, and therefore had no reason to escape down the knotted sheets out of the window as he does. Although this attitude to Boyle's Eagle can be cringeworthy, it was testament to the actor's skill that he wrested a number of laughs out of his material.

Material which had such a loose, improvisational quality that it often came across as if the cast were going to start wandering off, forgetting they were making a film and airily amusing themselves instead of catering to whatever audience might still be watching. For that reason it was all too easy to zone out during Steelyard Blues, as if nothing truly mattered except the country rock soundtrack, not so much rebellious and sticking it to The Man and more ignoring all concerns of society, going your own way instead. This was directed by Scotsman emigré Alan Myerson, who after what too many regarded as an inauspicious debut was relegated to countless hours of series television, often in the comedy style, but nevertheless there are those who have caught up with his first effort over the years and felt the need to champion it.

They may be overrating what was far from a serious statement and more a piece of era-capturing fluff, but there were pleasures to be garnered. Boyle especially was enjoying himself, decked out in a series of costumes (where was Eagle supposed to get these from?) and bringing out his famed Marlon Brando impersonation that would get wider exposure on Saturday Night Live alongside John Belushi for the celebrated Duelling Brandos sketch, but Sutherland was also well-suited to the anti-establishment tone, playing a goof but a studied one, typical of an actor who always exhibited a slightly cruel streak, seen here when Jesse deliberately upsets applecarts in his desire to follow the beat of his own drum. Fonda fared less well, she was never the most convincing of counterculture rebels and that comes across here, though she was game for being the gang's sole female representative. A young John Savage was part of it too, as was Garry Goodrow who owns the steelyard where the seaplane they're restoring resides. Would it surprise you that this ended in an explosion? No, it wouldn't.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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