Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw

Despite many tries, Hollywood has not been able to get a new Wonder Woman project off the ground. There has been talk of a movie for years…Sandra Bullock was once rumored to star, so was Megan Fox, but there’s been nothing. Last fall the pilot for a new Wonder Woman TV show was rejected by NBC. Perhaps one reason these projects have had trouble is that it’s awful hard to follow Lynda Carter. Carter starred as the legendary Amazon in the series that ran from 1975-79. Say what you will about the cheeziness of 70’s TV, but Carter was great in that role! She will always be associated with the red, white, and blue heroine. Though she is mostly known for her television work, Carter did star in a young-crooks-on-the-run film early in her career…1976’s “Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw.”

The film begins by introducing us to Lyle Wheeler (Marjoe Gortner), a guy who competes in quick draw competitions and sports a Harpo Marx hairstyle. He fancies himself an outlaw, and starts his journey toward that goal by stealing a salesman’s Mustang while stopped at a gas station. A short time later, he pulls into a drive-in burger stand and catches sight of gorgeous young car hop Bobbie Jo (Lynda Carter). The two hit it off and embark on a whirlwind romance full of driving around, shooting cans, and having sex in the desert. Soon, Bobbie Jo’s friend Essie (Belinda Balaski) is tagging along too and the group finds more weird things to do…like, say, eating psychedelic mushrooms while skinny dipping with an old indian.

When the trio ends up in a chase with the cops, they make for a strip club where Bobbie Jo’s sister Pearle (Merrie Lynn Ross) dances. She’s hooked up with the club’s owner, Slick (Jesse Vint). Slick is a bad dude. When he gets Lyle to drive him somewhere on a late night errand, it turns out that Slick is pulling off a robbery…and Lyle ends up killing a guard in the process. So, the gang take it on the lam.

Unfortunately, Essie doesn’t have the stomach for life as an outlaw. She calls the cops, who corner the other four in a trailer. But somehow the gang escapes…and poor Essie gets blasted in the gut. The other four bury her in the desert and while standing at her makeshift grave, Lyle tells the others how they are going to start robbing banks.

Now, Lyle’s approach to bank robbing is not exactly finessed. It involves driving a truck through the front window of the bank, tying a chain around the safe, and dragging it out and down the road as they make their escape. How they get the darn thing open and where they 86 the empty safe is not shared with us. Now robbing the banks is one thing, but these guys have a knack for shooting bystanders in dramatic fashion. Slick, especially, seems to have a lust for blood…even slitting the throat of a deputy who tries to arrest Lyle and Slick while in a barber shop. All this just adds fuel to the fire for Sheriff Hicks (Gene Drew), who chases the gang across the southwest…and well out of his jurisdiction.

“Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw” comes to us courtesy of American International Pictures…the the fact that some aspects bear more than a resemblance to successful films like “Badlands” and “Bonnie and Clyde” is not a coincidence. Many also think that this film came as a response to “Smokey and the Bandit,” with it’s obsessed sheriff character chasing the characters across the state. Actually, this movie came out several months before the Burt Reynolds classic.

As the film begins, it seems like Lyle and Bobbie Jo are going to be presented as likeable characters who, for some reason, have chosen a life a crime. Bobbie Jo aspires to be a country singer, Lyle competes in western-style quick draw competitions…but this is quickly thrown out the window. Lyle becomes bloodthirsty…a scene where he guns down a fellow quick draw expert at a gas station is particularly disturbing. And Bobbie Jo doesn’t seem to be bothered by any of this.

Being so used to Lynda Carter as a television star, it’s surprising to see her in a film like this. I mean, here’s Wonder Woman not even batting an eye at the fact that she just blew a hole the size of a Belgian waffle in some innocent bystander. I think the character of Bobbie Jo may have worked better had she been at least somewhat conflicted about all the nastiness that Lyle is dragging her into. Being so used to her TV persona also makes for a big surprise when Carter sheds her clothes in the film. She guest starred on “The Muppet Show” after all.

It is clear throughout the film that Carter was still getting used to acting on camera, but she does manage to be a welcome presence on screen. Marjoe Gortner, as Lyle, is kind of hit-or-miss. At times his performance is not half bad and at other times, well, saying it is over-the-top would be an understatement…the scene where he’s tripping out on those mushrooms is a notable example.

The film is not terrible, but it is full of unpleasant characters. That sparkle in Miss Carter’s eye may make it a little easier to endure the ugliness of the other characters, but giving them a few likable qualities would’ve been a good idea too. Of course, the reason many people seek out this film has nothing to do with the sparkle in Miss Carter’s eye.

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