Thomasine & Bushrod (1974) / Western-Action

MPAA Rated: PG for violence (I'd rate it R)
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Max Julien, Vonetta McGee, George Murdock, Glynn Turman, Juanita Moore, John Fluellen, Jackson D. Kane
Director:
Gordon Parks Jr.
Screenplay: Max Julien
Review published July 10, 2004

Part Bonnie and Clyde, part Robin Hood, Thomasine & Bushrod is leading man Max Julien's (The Mack, Psych-Out) blaxploitation Western exploration.  While it may pose for some interesting social and political commentary, especially for people who study blaxploitation films, there's just no getting around the fact that this film is bad on almost every conceivable level -- and I don't mean "bad" in the good way either. 

The fictional story takes place in New Mexico in the year 1911, where a lady bounty hunter (Vonetta McGee, The Eiger Sanction) teams up with a crafty horse-breaker (Julien) in love and in a series of bank robberies which make them folk heroes in the area.  They make their way throughout the Southwest in a variety of stolen cars, with a tenacious sheriff (Murdock, Star Trek V) hot on their trails the entire way.  They share their wealth with the poor of the land, while basking in the glory of their own notoriety.

Thomasine & Bushrod was directed by Gordon Parks Jr., who directed one of the finest of the blaxploitation genre flicks with 1972's Superfly, as well as the cult classic, but generally awful, Three the Hard Way.  At no time during the film do you ever get a sense that this isn't just a bunch of actors playing dress-up, playing in the past with a definitive 1970s sensibility, instead of giving an authentic account of what it might have been like for two African-American bank robbers in the early 20th Century.  Even the style of the clothing is modern in its retro look, with pimped out gear and driving the finest rides, a staple of Black cinema in the Seventies. 

Julien's heart and mind were in the right place in attempting to do something different, and in fact, this is cited as the first true Black Western (Incorrectly -- Sidney Poitier's Buck and the Preacher came out in 1972, to name one previous).  With the exception of Vonetta McGee, most of the acting is lackluster at best, and in particular, comic relief player Glynn Turman's (Cooley High, Gremlins) obviously fake Jamaican accent as the duo's friend, Jomo.  It doesn't help that the dialogue is skimpy, and occasionally anachronistic, playing to the knowing contemporary audience looking for the same old story set in a period piece.

Parks' direction is uninspired, and in fact, only the montage sequence utilizing a series of photographs and headlines is done with any flair.  This is a very padded movie, with several musical interludes interspersed between bits of drama, most of which do little to push it's meager plot along.  Many of the interludes are misguidedly nostalgic, such as a very long scene shot in slow motion where Thomasine and Julien thwap themselves with the clothing they are washing in a river.  Is this an action-Western or a mood piece?  It's whatever it wants to be from scene to scene, and the tone of the film suffers greatly.

Thomasine & Bushrod was never really given a proper release back in 1974, and has been largely ignored since, never really given a proper video release either, although underground copies do exist.  The rarity of it has caused the film to gain a cult status among collectors, although given the outright failure of this film in the storytelling department, its status among some is completely unwarranted.  The same goes for its cheeseball soundtrack.  As much as it tries to emulate it, it's no Bonnie and Clyde.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo