Little Laura and Big John

Certificate: 18
Running time: 95 mins
Director: Luke Moberly
Starring: Fabian Forte, Karen Black, Paul Gleason, Ivy Thayer
Genre: Drama/Crime
Format: DVD
Country: United States

A change of pace in the weekly Hixploitation deliverance as we leave the swamps of Louisiana behind and travel to Florida for a reworking on the story of Clyde Chestnut Barrow and Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and the only film directed by Luke Moberly.

Fabian Forte plays John to Karen Black’s Laura as lifelong friends, lovers and partners in crime as they strive to make a life for themselves by any means possible, much to the annoyance of the town Sheriff (Gleason).  The films narrative follows a rather loose history of Bonnie and Clyde, hitting the essential bases where necessary and taking creative license in the action and sexual set pieces, two of the Exploitation five-a-day.  

The use of Laura’s mother (Ivy Thayer) as a narrative device telling the story to the audience and therefore breaking the fourth wall (not the fourth wall!) is extremely awkward.  Her delivery is clumpy and forced and the “duties” that Moberly has given her to perform to make the scenes feel natural (hanging laundry, making dinner etc) actually serves to highlight just how artificial and wrong the whole device.  It’s distracting…very distracting.  The rest of the film is made up of the conventional shots and structure and is competently put together and in several scenes is actually so simple in their construction that they actually border on genius.  One such scene after John escapes from Raiford prison and leads the guards and hounds on cat and mouse chase through the forest landscape plays perfectly on the films low budget.

The rest of the film is situated in close quarters or on clearly staged swamp and brush land that doesn’t help to lend the film a constructed reality as you’re all too often award of the artificiality of the film. 

Fabian Forte (as John) is an ok piece of casting, he’s physically strong and classically handsome in the Warren Beatty mold of actor but he is, on occasion, rather wooden though there are moments of wonder that he does manage to create that will fascinate the audience.  Black’s look is certainly striking, her characterization and gesturality are both exceptionally strong yet there’s something ever so slightly crazy about her.  There’s something that lives inside the eyes which initially is unsettling but the further the story progresses the more it actually adds to the film and by the end of the film, when Laura is sitting on the floor of their motel room, is somewhere between heartbreaking and unnerving.  The weakest link in the performance stakes is surprisingly Paul Gleason (as the Sheriff).  He would grow to become The Breakfast Club’s ass hole Head Master but in Little Laura and Big John he’s awkward, clumsy and generally a distraction.

The soundtrack to the film is a mixed bag of excellence.  Whether it’s the iconic sound of Hixploitation (5 string banjo) or something that feels a little more urban and soulful it all works to craft a feeling of the era in which the film was made and is a genuine delight to listen to.  Even the two songs they have about Raiford and Jacksonville while the gang are in Raiford and Jacksonville feel like supercool travel videos.  What’s not to like there?  The visual motifs, with the exception of the use of Laura’s mother, are also great.  The sepia and black screens that showcase the newspaper headlines, the hunt for John & Laura and the bounty for their heads… “Dead or Alive!”

There are many problems with Little Laura and Big John yet no matter how much you’ll want to criticize it you’ll find it difficult, like bullying a small child.  The bottom line is that the film has a lot of heart which almost makes up for what it doesn’t have.


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