• Joe

    Released by: Olive Films
    Released on: April 24th, 2018.
    Director: John G. Avildsen
    Cast: Audrey Caire, Dennis Patrick, Patrick McDermott, Peter Boyle, Susan Sarandon
    Year: 1970
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    As far as definitive counterculture themed films of the 60’s and early 70’s go, John G. Alvidsen’s JOE from 1970 might very well be the most unjustly overlooked. The ROCKY and KARATE KID director became synonymous with a kind of uplifting and almost family friendly fare in his career, but JOE is a far darker animal than those films.

    Ad exec Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick) is a tight assed sort. He’s got a stressful job, a bloodless but rocky marriage and a daughter named Melissa (Susan Sarandon in her film debut) who’s a drug addict shacked up with a slime ball drug dealer. When his daughter overdoses and winds up in the hospital, Bill goes to the drug dealer’s pad to pick up his daughter’s things. The dealer, Frank, (played by Patrick McDermott in a wonderfully malevolent turn) is there. The two men argue, then struggle. Frank's vicious taunts, centered around Bill’s manhood (naturally), drive the older man into a rage that results in him beating the druggie to death. Bill flees in a horrified daze and ends up wandering the mean streets of early 70’s NYC. Taking refuge in a bar, he sits next to an interesting stranger. Joe Curran (Peter Boyle in a career best performance), is a motor-mouthed working class iron worker bigot who’s three favorite things are hurling racial epithets, espousing a hatred of junkies and dissertations on the failings of modern youth. Drunk, Bill inadvertently lets slip what he’s done and Joe, being surprisingly crafty, figures out a way to take advantage of the situation. But it isn’t money he’s after. He wants the friendship of the man he admires for killing a junkie.

    On a mechanical plot level, JOE is highly contrived and relies on a lot of credibility straining coincidences. Boyle doesn’t pop up until 20 minutes into the film, and until that point it sometimes feels like the script is just a dot connecting exercise to bring these two men together. But once that happens, JOE really takes off. And when Bill’s daughter runs away and her distraught father enlists the help of Joe to find her, the film becomes truly explosive.

    After meeting in the bar, Joe inserts himself into Bill’s life rather aggressively. The two men go to bars together, hang out at Joe’s place and even have a couples night dinner at Joe’s home where Bill’s classist wife does an amazing job of pretending to like the kind of working class folks she’s arranged her entire life around avoiding contact with. These scenes function as weird bits of comic relief that help sugarcoat the central ugliness that JOE is really dealing with.

    In today’s generally politically correct culture, the kind of unabashed bigotry and racism that Boyle’s character espouses would be either handled in a more circumspect manner or made into a one dimensional schtick that made everyone comfortable. Joe calls black people “niggers” without a seconds hesitation. He's the ultimate right wing snowflake forever melting under the heat of societies acceptance of criticism of the president, coddling of miscreant drug addled youth and refusal to keep the USA white, Christian and welfare recipient free. Of course the irony is that Joe is a proud union member who’s the beneficiary of protectionist policies not devoid of socialist tinges. He’s also an unapologetic firearms aficionado who loves showing off his “well balanced gun collection.”

    When Joe and his pal Bill go undercover into the crash pad and free love world of NYC’s urban decay 1969 nightmare is when JOE the film really finds its true heart of darkness. While interacting with a generation that confuses Bill and repulses Joe, the two men each succumb to their basest natures. Joe is a raging hypocrite content to have sex with young women and smoke pot while really hating and fearing them and Bill remains hopelessly square but quite happy to abandon any notion of upper class propriety if it involves sex with a cute young thing. Of course the neat twist is that the counterculture kids are slime too. Wrapped up in their own sanctimonious and morally dubious notion of “sticking it to the man” they are mostly just thieving grifters and cynics with no notion of personal honor or integrity. The women are often deluded naifs. The men hedonistic sociopaths.

    After the hippies rip Bill and Joe off and flee to the commune upstate where the daughter is hiding JOE becomes a harrowing experience. Boyle is no longer the occasionally amusing Archie Bunker stereotype that can make bigotry almost palatable. He’s the kind of psychopathic creep that brutally slaps around a girl he just had sex with to get information. And Bill goes right along. When Joe convinces him to go upstate and get the daughter and bring some guns along “just in case,” the civilized ad exec has become the classic gutless enabler who even seems to take some sadistic pleasure in his friend’s viciousness. The film ends in the kind of crushing nihilism that was so expertly evoked in 60’s films like EASY RIDER and THE GREAT SILENCE.


    Olive’s 1.85:1 framed MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer is a decent utilitarian affair. This doesn’t have the look of a recent master but it also appears that the original elements were in good shape. Olive's lack of use of any sharpening tools or other digital trickery helps to make the film's appearance natural and organic as well. A newer scan might have expanded the color palette a bit, but in this case that’s not an important aspect of the film. JOE has the dark and gritty look of classic early NYC cinema. This is MEAN STREETS territory where even the upper class bar Bill drags Joe to looks like it has a layer of grime under the rack of hoity toity martini glasses. The transfer perfectly captures that NYC now long gone of seedy working class bars, filthy back alleys and profusely stacked curbside garbage bags. Fine detail - when visible - is good. Flesh tones natural. Could it look better? Yes. Does it look very nice? Indeed.

    The audio is an unusually good for the period English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that it sounds like some work was done on. This is a clean track with no distortion and better than average range. Ambient sound is good and dialog clear. The mix has no serious shortcomings. English subtitles are provided as well.

    Extras? Nothing but a trailer.

    The Final Word:

    While I wouldn’t call JOE a masterpiece - too much clunky exposition and some stilted dialog take care of that - I would argue that it’s aged better than EASY RIDER in many ways. The culture clash feels a little more organic. And the two central performances by the rightly lauded Boyle and the unjustly overlooked Patrick (who shows he had a hell of a lot more to offer than his slimy lawyer on “Dallas”) feel more like real people than the generational totems of EASY RIDER. There’s also something disturbing and fascinating watching this almost 50 year old film through the MAGA prism of 2018 America. It appears the political divide and its attendant bad actors have never really left us. In fact, they may have gotten worse.

    The tragedy here is the complete lack of extras. This is the kind of film that truly cries out for them. But as it stands this remains VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I'm going to check this one out. Sounds like a worthwhile watch.
    1. Keeth's Avatar
      Keeth -
      I've seen JOE once on Turner Classic Movies & those screenshots look a lot better than what I remember (not a lot of color, kinda washed out).