“We can make it. We can make it if we run,” whispers Ruth (Rooney Mara) in David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” which, after a limited release on Friday, begins its expansion this week. It’s a film we loved at Sundance, and one that in its gentle subversion of the “Lovers on the Run” subgenre—as the prequel comic makes clear, the events of ‘Saints’ mostly take place after the bank robbin’, outlawin’ part of the story is done—reminded us of all the other great (and not so great) films that have pitted a pair of lovers against the law.
It’s not hard to see why this type of film has exerted a continuous hold on our collective imagination, especially in the U.S. (many of the foreign films in the genre are direct nods to the legacy of their American counterparts). As a combination of road movie, gangster film and doomed romance, these movies can be the almost perfect encapsulation of cinematic Americana, all beaten skies and puppy love and car tires tearing up clouds of dust on their way to Burma Shave. There’s something maddeningly thrilling and romantic in the idea that it’s just the two of us against the world, and that if we can just make it over the next horizon there’ll be a place where you and me and this bag of money can live forever—the fantasy of stealing the American Dream and getting away with it.
Individualism, anti-authoritarianism, freedom, youth, wealth, and of course, undying, passionate true love; the genre touches on so many of these deep-rooted myths and urges that really, the surprise is not how many films there are in the category (and we could have stretched our list much, much further), but that there aren’t more. As for the thorny moral question of whether these films tend to glamorize or romanticize a life of crime? Hell yeah they do. In fact, much of the time the morally-mandated sticky ends that the outlaws come to only serve to make even more legendary their exploits—like many of the great icons of American cool, they die young.
So come with us on a wild, rambling journey through 25 lovers-on-the-lam movies. You may be bleeding out after the shootout at that last roadblock and the gas tank’s nearly empty, but it’s just another couple miles to the border, and we can make it if we run.
“Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)
“You’ve read the story of Jesse James / Of how he lived and died; / If you’re still in need / Of something to read, / Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.” What more can be said of the triumph that is Arthur Penn’s shot across Hollywood’s bow “Bonnie & Clyde”? First rejected, then roundly embraced by critics and audiences alike (it fizzled out initially only to thrive on re-release, eventually ending up with two Oscar wins from a total of ten nominations), Penn’s chronicle of the infamous doomed lovers is one for the ages. Warren Beatty maintains the air of effortless cool and yet finds vulnerability (especially of the sexual kind) in his portrayal of Clyde Barrow while Faye Dunaway brilliantly oscillates between calculating seductress and haunted, guileless little girl who both fears and expects a bloody denouement. Need we mention the unforgettable final scene, its bold cutting still shocking to this day? Penn surrounds our leads with a uniformly strong cast (among them Gene Hackman, Michael J. Pollard, and Estelle Parsons, who walked away with the lone acting Oscar bestowed on the film), and allows for moments of mournful beauty, in particular a much-lauded shot of Clyde chasing Bonnie in a vast field as a cloud passes overhead, shrouding the lovers. The film helped open the floodgates to a variety of lesser (and occasionally equally great) imitators and remains a landmark picture, notable for its violence but hardly defined by it. As Bonnie Parker herself wrote, “Some day they’ll go down together / And they’ll bury them side by side / To few it’ll be grief / To the law a relief / But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.” [A]
Admittedly dated, superficial, marred by an over-acting cast and too self-consciously over-stylized (Dominic Sena was then a music video director making his first feature film), “Kalifornia” is still a movie we have affection for despite its faults. Hell, in 1993, upon its release, some of us thought Sena was going to have a David Fincher-esque career trajectory, but the reality is this dark, chilling road-trip serial killer movie has little of the moral depth that Fincher would bring to “Seven” or later movies. But it did have one hell of an on-the-rise cast for its time, including none-of-them-yet bona fide stars Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes (“A River Runs Through It” would have been Pitt’s biggest film to that date). Maybe it’s the improbable, potentially silly premise: fresh off a magazine assignment about serial killers, a magazine writer (Duchovny) and his photographer girlfriend (Forbes) decide to expand the subject into a book and embark on a road trip from the East Coast to California to document infamous serial killer murder sites. Short on cash, the couple post a ride-share ad and it’s responded to by a white trash duo: the tobacco-chewin’ trailer park janitor Early Grace (Pitt) and his Lolita-like nymphet girlfriend Adele (Lewis). The catch is that Early’s basically been a serial murderer the whole time and along the trip that begins to dawn on the yuppie-ish couple who soon begin to fear for their lives. So it’s lovers on the run (Early breaks parole to leave in the first place), who leave a trail of bodies along the way (unbeknownst to the hosts of the trip), and then turn on their friends. It might be difficult to suspend one’s disbelief to this unlikely set up, but we’ll say this: Pitt, while scene-chewing the whole time with tic-laden mannerisms, is a great mix of darkly comic and truly terrifying. Likewise, Juliette Lewis is superb as the innocent, babydoll-ish Adele who would rather turn a blind eye than acknowledge the fucked-up moral compass of her companion. Scored by Carter Burwell (who composed a great majority of films by the Coen Brothers) and shot by Bojan Bazelli (Abel Ferrara‘s “King of New York,” Gore Verbinski‘s “The Ring“), the atmospheric mood of dread is pretty top-notch. However Sena’s problem is that his movie is all cool attitude and brooding affection, flaunting the badass morally bankrupt characters and providing little psychological texture underneath it all. But for a generation that has championed style-over-substance “vulgar auteurists” we’re somewhat surprised this thriller hasn’t received a second look in recent years. [B]
“Gun Crazy” (1950)
One of the frequent accusations leveled at this subgenre of film is that the two-people-against-the-world narrative runs the risk of glamorizing or romanticizing the central couple, even though they’re criminals, often murderous ones. And judging by this absolutely scorching, brilliant offering from underrated stylist Joseph H. Lewis, it’s a debate that spans more than half a century, even back into the Hayes Code era, as there can be no doubt that, as sticky their end and as morally tortured, weak and manipulated as both are, Laurie (Peggy Cummins) and Bart (John Dall), the gun-toting, bank-robbing, wildly in love duo here, are just unbelievably fucking cool. Loosely inspired by the real-life Bonnie and Clyde (Laurie occasionally sports that classic beret-and-mac look), the story follows the troubled, gun-obsessed but non-violent Bart from a prologue set during his childhood, just before he’s sent to reform school, to him meeting and falling in with carnival sharpshooter Laurie, as her promise to “try really hard to be good” comes to naught and they sink further into a life of armed robbery and narrow escapes. Dall gives a terrifically sympathetic and conflicted performance as the decent man who sacrifices his decency to be a big guy in the eyes of the woman he loves, but, as her top billing and the film’s original title (“Deadly is the Female”) suggests, this is Cummins’ film, despite Bart’s greater screen time and better-drawn background. Baby-faced, blessed with a talent for marksmanship and troubled by none of Bart’s squeamishness about killing, what stops Laurie from simply being the most fatale of shrewish femmes is the genuineness of her love for Bart and her remarkable self-awareness. The film itself is pretty much a masterpiece, a career high for Lewis, who has a retrospective reputation for managing to hone and craft even the schlockiest of B-movies that came his way into films of astonishing style and even formal experimentation (take the oddly compelling robbery scene which is filmed from the back seat of the car as Laurie drives and she and Bart bicker gently and naturalistically about how to get there, where to park, how heavy the traffic is, etc.) By the poetic end, there’s no doubt where Lewis’, and our, sympathies lie — not with the world outside, the dead bodies that litter their trail or the family and friends betrayed by their conversion to criminality, but with Laurie and Bart and the private world they create in which, as Bart sums up, only they “are real. Everything else is a nightmare.” [A-]
“Drugstore Cowboy” (1989)
Gus Van Sant’s breakthrough indie classic isn’t quite a by-the-letter lovers-on-the-run film, and much more a drug-addiction story about redemption and self-discovery via Matt Dillon‘s lead character Bob Hughes. That said, it does fulfill the basic requirements of the genre enough that we decided to include it. Dillon plays the leader of a misfit troupe of drug addicts who rob pharmacies to support their habits. His team includes his superstitious girlfriend Dianne (Kelly Lynch) and a pair of young lovers played by James Le Gros and Heather Graham. Together the quartet travels across the Pacific Northwest pilfering narcotics from unsuspecting drug stores all the while trying to avoid Gentry (James Remar), a detective who is hot on their trail. High on the hog, tragedy strikes and Bob decides to go straight which is effectively a different movie from the familiar paradigm, but only enriches what came before it and gives the film an emotional and spiritual weight that it likely wouldn’t have possessed otherwise. At their worst, lovers-on-the-lam movies can glorify the romantic violence of couples above the law and deliver nothing else; at their most basic they can be truly shallow if the romance doesn’t feel true, heartbreaking and utterly crushing. Van Sant uses the model as a vibrant launching pad for something deeper, more textured and ultimately far more memorable than most. [A-]
“Zabriskie Point” (1970)
Michelangelo Antonioni’s infamous folly is legendary. Here we have the maestro of Italian cinema who had made five stone-cold cinema classics in a row—his modern alienation tetralogy (“L’Avventura,” “La Notte,” “Eclipse,” Red Desert“) and of course, his enigmatic swinging London murder mystery masterpiece “Blow Up.” Having conquered the U.K. with the aforementioned seminal ‘60s picture, Antonioni set his sights on America. His first and only U.S. film, “Zabriskie Point” examines the restless youth of the Vietnam-era counter culture, but with few-to-no transformative results. Writers on the screenplay included Sam Shepard, regular collaborator Tonino Guerra and Bernado Bertolluci’s wife Clare Peplo, but even as written by committee, the script was perhaps the least of the movie’s problems (though the dialogue is tone-deaf). High on the list of issues were the two unknown and inexperienced leads Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin, whose film credits before and after are basically negligible. Featuring Rod Taylor and G. D. Spradlin in supporting roles (Harrison Ford also has an uncredited part as one of the student demonstrators), “Zabriskie Point” is rebel-without-a-cause-y with a documentary style (at least at first). When a police officer is killed in a student protest, Frechette (who may or may not be responsible), goes on the lam, steals a plane and eventually crosses paths with Halprin’s disaffected character. The two of them eventually (randomly) fall in love and spend time fucking in Death Valley to songs by Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope, The Rolling Stones, John Fahey, etc. While the dreamy desert sequences shot by Alfio Contini are beautiful to look at, there’s not a lot more to endorse about this sluggish and aimless movie. A critical and commercial failure upon release, there have been several attempts over the years to reassess the movie as a misunderstood classic and while it’s not as horrible as it’s sometimes made out to be, we’re thankful (even as major Antonioni-ites) that revisionist history never took. [C]
“The Sadist” (1963)
A black and white exploitation film in the vein of Roger Corman, “The Sadist” is a brutal but pulpy, fun B-movie that’s loosely based on the Charles Starkweather murders that also spawned Terrence Malick’s “Badlands.” Directed by James Landis, more significantly it was the first U.S.-shot picture by estimable cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Steven Spielberg‘s “Sugarland Express,” Michael Cimino‘s “Heaven’s Gate,” Robert Altman‘s “The Long Goodbye,” Brian De Palma‘s “Blow Out” to name just a few) and as you can guess, it looks fantastic; the dust and the blood given palpable texture even in black and white. Three unlucky high school teachers on their way to a baseball game are sidetracked along the way when their car breaks down. In an abandoned gas station/junkyard they have the misfortune to run into a delinquent psychopath (Arch Hall, Jr.) and his equally unhinged girlfriend (Judy Bradshaw). The “twist” on the genre this time is that the lovers on the run are the violent villains of the picture and the movie is entirely stationary, as opposed to the road trip blueprint most of these pictures follow. Essentially keeping the trio captive and then mercilessly abusing and torturing them while hiding out from the law that’s on their tail, “The Sadist,” is appropriately named. Arch Hall, Jr. as the young, handsome, James Dean-esque killer is deliciously good as the over-the-top psychotic lunatic who just couldn’t give a damn. And sure, a lot of it is a bit ridiculous and unintentionally funny now, it’s still a helluva entertaining B-movie. Recommended to watch with friends over beers with lots of whooping, hollering and yelling at the screen. [B]
“Thieves Like Us” (1974)
Something must have been in the air. Malick’s “Badlands” arrived in the fall of ‘73, Robert Altman’s “Thieves Like Us” was released in February of 1974 and in April of that year, Steven Spielberg put out “The Sugarland Express.” All tales of doomed outlaws in love that couldn’t be more different than each other. Based on the Edward Anderson novel of the same name, (the same source material of which Nicholas Ray used for “They Live by Night”) Robert Altman’s iteration is the more faithful adaptation, but if it’s a contest of quality and engagement, Ray’s movie wins by a country mile. “Thieves Like Us” stars Keith Carradine as Bowie and Shelley Duvall as Keechie, two young lovers who meet when Bowie and his elder, Depression-era partners-in-crime are hiding out from the law. A trio that escaped from a Mississippi chain gang in the 1930s, Bowie, T-Dub (Bert Remsen) and Chicamaw (John Schuck) find their sensational exploits create undue attention and the group is forced to split up. However, laconically paced, one of the issues of Altman’s film is that the Bowie/Keechie romance doesn’t begin until an hour in and so the picture never really switches on until that point. Additionally, unlike its contemporaries, “Thieves Like Us,” is resolutely unglamorous and objective; Altman refuses to dramatize anything to the point of frustration. The movie then sinks or swims based on its performances and let’s just say Keith Carradine is far, far greater as an elder statesman in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” then he was as a plucky youth in ‘Thieves.’ While Shelley Duvall is always near-magical in Robert Altman films, their chemistry isn’t quite as alchemic as it needs to be, and, scarcely even showing a crime, the director chooses a more introspective and ponderous route that rarely illuminates. Unlike his revisionist take on the Western “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” ‘Thieves’ possesses few of those same lyrical and poetic qualities, and in an unpopular opinion we’d say it’s one of Altman’s most overrated ‘70s movies. [C+]
“Where Danger Lives” (1950)
The classic paradigm for lovers on the run — in the “Badlands,” “True Romance,” sense of the genre — is two impossibly doomed, star crossed lovers, incurably in love with one another and on the lam, but other iterations also exist too. One of the more fascinating twists on the formula comes before the genre existed in its modern form is John Farrow‘s “Where Danger Lives” which depicts two lovers in a toxic lie of a relationship that only gets more acidic the deeper they get on their journey. Starring Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue (a Howard Hughes protegee in her film debut), and all too briefly, the always-deliciously good Claude Rains, this engaging film noir thriller centers on a handsome young doctor with a steady girlfriend (Maureen O’Sullivan) who falls in love with a beautiful suicidal patient seemingly in need of help. When she mysteriously disappears from the hospital the next morning, the concerned and smitten doctor (Mitchum) tracks the woman (Domergue) back to her home only to find out she is already married to a wealthy older gentleman (Rains). Despondent and angered with himself, the doctor attempts to leave, but is lured back by the screams of the woman. A violent altercation ensues and when the dust has settled, the doctor discovers that the older man has been accidentally killed. While the ethically sound doctor tries to call the police, the manipulative woman persuades the injured and confused doctor (who’s sustained a concussion) to run away lest they be charged with murder. And so begins a lovers on the run yarn that’s as compelling as they come, but even more absorbing for the fraught dynamics between the two and the doctor’s slow revelation that his partner is more than a little unhinged (in fact, she’s the classic cunning, deranged femme fatale). Expertly directed, suspenseful and taut, “Where Danger Lives” has all the ingredients of a classic film noir, but is admittedly marred by Domergue who isn’t much of an actor. [B+]
“One False Move” (1992)
Director Carl Franklin has had a decent career (see “Devil In A Blue Dress” starring Denzel Washington), but giving the crackling nature and vociferous critical acclaim response to his 1992 film on-the-road noir thriller “One False Move” (Gene Siskel listed it as his favorite film of 1992; Roger Ebert was also a big fan), you might have expected more from the filmmaker. Coming off forgettable straight-to-video directorial work in the late 1980s Roger Corman world, “One False Move,” an edgy tale of drugs, violence and sexual relationships, feels more like a directorial debut and one can sense that Franklin was trying to make the most of this first real shot. Co-written by one of its stars, Billy Bob Thornton, “One False Move” centers on three ruthless L.A. drug dealers, two of whom are lovers, on the lam after brutally murdering and double-crossing the men they had intended to do business with. Thornton plays Ray, the mastermind of the trio, Cynda Williams plays his neurotic girlfriend Fantasia and Michael Beach takes on the role of the quiet and brainy, but totally psychotic companion. In the wake of their crime, the trio head to a rural Arkansas town to hide out assuming the ignorant locals won’t give them much guff. But the L.A.P.D. is tracking them and they alert the in-over-his-head, rube local sheriff played by Bill Paxton who’s excited about doing “real police work.” What ensues is an intense, kinetic and bloody showdown between the three killers and the inexperienced cop who rises to the occasion despite his disadvantages. And the long, nail-biting prelude that leads into the final head-on-collision conclusion is as nerve-wrackingly suspenseful and tense as any sequence we can remember. [B+]
“They Live By Night” (1948)
While there are lovers on the lam films that preceded “They Live By Night,” the genre we know and love can largely be said to begin here. Nicholas Ray’s 1948 debut film is not only a startlingly poignant and incandescent thriller, the highly influential film noir created the benchmark prototype that most lovers-on-the-run pictures would closely follow subsequently. A huge source of inspiration for the Cahier Du Cinema crowd, the movie inspired “Pierrot le Fou,” “Breathless,” “Bonnie & Clyde” and countless others, Ray’s film was based on the true-life Bonnie & Clyde events, but the picture was actually an adaptation of Edward Anderson’s little-known novel “Thieves Like Us” (Altman would do the same, see above). “This boy…and this girl…were never properly introduced to the world we live in,” the title cards read and soon begins a classic doomed love story of young outlaws trying to outrun the consequences of their actions. The premise is simple, three bank robbers escape from prison, and the youngest and most naive, Bowie (Farley Granger) soon finds refuge in the arms of a compassionate girl (Cathy O’Donnell) who is sympathetic to his plight (Bowie’s been wrongly convicted of murder). Trying to get married and go straight, the young couple even dream of hiring a lawyer to prove Bowie’s innocence. Meanwhile his partners in crime try and coerce him into one more job, but even when he refuses the law is not far behind. One of the more romantic and empathetic view of outlaws on the run, there’s no questions about morality here; Ray casts these two lovers as hopelessly naive innocents doomed by circumstance whom you can and will totally root for. Stylish, sensual and anxious, “They Live By Night” is terrifically tense and filled with crushing emotional anguish. It’s a remarkably assured directorial debut from Ray but it also has two great actors at the helm, especially Granger whose quivering guileless criminal evinces a tragic melancholic beauty that encapsulates the movie perfectly. [A]
Arguably the “lovers on the run” movie to which all others are compared, Terrence Malick’s debut feature, loosely based on the real life homicidal exploits of serial killer Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate is a singular tour de force of American filmmaking, led by two peerless performances by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Sheen is a low-rent loser who charms an underage small-town girl, first into killing her father (Warren Oates) and then accompanying him on a murder spree. (The movie, like the actual case, allows you to decide what level of involvement she actually had.) Malick’s trademark dreaminess is in its infancy here, but it does much to emphasize the fairytale nature of the pair’s dark adventure: they travel through the countryside and hide out in an enchanted forest, with him as the knight tasked with slaying the dragons and her as the helpless princess. Lovers sometimes run in the movies because their love is misunderstood or they’re wanted by the authorities; both are true here. There’s a kind of willful ignorance that has to be employed, since she is an underage girl and he is one of cinema’s most enduring, compelling idiots, all swagger and denim and slicked-back hair. You can feel the influence of “Badlands” in so many subsequent movies in this genre, that it might almost seem like it’s more important for the films it spawned and inspired. But then you go back to the original and find it just as compelling and engaging and brilliantly fresh as ever. [A]
“You Only Live Once” (1937)
Only the second of great Austrian director Fritz Lang’s U.S. pictures (the first being “Fury,” which also starred Sylvia Sidney, as would his next, “You and Me”) “You Only Live Once” is a beautifully shot and crisply acted tragedy in which a smart, beautiful and all-round beloved young woman, Joan (Sidney) falls, with undying and unquestioning loyalty, for petty criminal Eddie (Henry Fonda). Joan’s idealism and decency are revealed as insufficient to save her ex-con husband from the prejudices of a judgmental society and eventually she too, hardens against the outside world, choosing to be with him, on the wrong side of the law, over everything else—job, family, respectability and even, eventually, their baby. Fonda and Sidney are both superb in their roles, with Fonda bringing some of his trademark ambiguity to the character of Eddie, making him a sympathetic but also deeply flawed man whose predicament can’t simply be chalked up to the failings of an uncaring society, while Sidney really sells Joan’s devolution from perky, indefatigable, upstanding member of society to monomaniacal, uncomplaining Girl Friday to a desperate, hopeless, newly minted murderer. The story follows Eddie’s release from prison for attempted robbery, after the constant petitioning of Joan and her boss (who is in love with her), but after Joan and Eddie marry it’s revealed how difficult leading an ordinary life will be for an ex-con, and he is soon back in prison, this time on a much more serious charge. Lang’s skill is on view in every frame of this doomed lovers tale, particularly in a bravura, impressionistic robbery sequence which is shot so cleverly that its ambiguities remain intact until later in the film, and in the very modern-feeling performances he draws from his fine actors—you’d have to be a little made of stone for Joan’s final insistence that she’d do it all again not to move you. It certainly makes us curious for the 100-minute cut which was trimmed to the current 85 due to excessive violence—what remains is a classic already, but we’d be happy to get another 15 minutes of Lang’s distinctive visual flair. [B+/A-]
“True Romance” (1993)
One of the late Tony Scott’s best offerings, the Tarantino-scripted “True Romance” is no doubt influenced and inspired by many of the films in our round-up. Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) crosses paths with call girl Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) on his birthday, promptly falls in love and liberates her from vicious drug dealer Drexl Spivey (a memorable Gary Oldman), coming away blood-stained, but with a suitcase full of coke. Their journey henceforth is more memorable for its asides than the actual relationship between the two leads, despite some solid chemistry. Scott’s usual bombastic stylistics don’t overshadow the dialogue and two scenes stand out—Clarence’s face time with Drexel and an instant classic of an exchange between Clarence’s father Clifford (Dennis Hopper) and Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken), on the trail of the two love birds to recover the drug money. Slater and Arquette are likable enough, but their coupling is not especially memorable – a perpetual honeymoon interrupted by grizzly violence. Tarantino doesn’t so much skimp on character development as he follows the blueprint laid out by similar films—even Hans Zimmer‘s excellent score is a direct homage to “Badlands”—with the exception of writing Clarence as a pop culture enthusiast par excellence. In a (thankfully) alternate universe, it’s not hard to imagine Tarantino playing that role — it is essentially a love letter/fantasy to film geeks worldwide. It’s fizzy, heady fun that neither tries for nor achieves anything else, and if nothing else leaves us with a couple of truly cherishable moments, including the ending: only in a Tarantino script could the three little words that buzz around someone’s head as they watch their beloved get perforated be…”You’re. So. Cool.” [B]
“The Fast and the Furious” (1955)
Yep, before there was Vin, Paul Walker, and even The Rock, there was the 1955 original: “The Fast & The Furious.” But no, the testosterone-fueled series we know and apparently love, doesn’t have anything to do with the original, other than appropriating its name (evidently MGM didn’t ask Universal to change it to “Vin Diesel’s The Fast & The Furious”). Co-directed by Edward Sampson and the movie’s star John Ireland (John Ford‘s “My Darling Clementine” and Howard Hawks‘ “Red River” to name a few, ), the movie was a Roger Corman production—evidently the notoriously thrifty Corman let Ireland co-direct as a way to lower his starring fee. And it really has his fingerprints all over it: he co-wrote, got behind the camera for the first time to shoot second unit and even did some of the stunt driving. It’s a typically efficient premise that wastes no time and kicks its story off in its first five minutes: a prison jailbird commandeers a young woman’s hot rod and they’re off to Mexico! The upper-class broad in distress is Dorothy Malone who cineastes will remember from her Academy Award-winning supporting role in Douglas Sirk‘s “Written On The Wind.” As Ireland’s hostage, Malone’s scrappy character frets and proves to be a difficult kidnappee (and this being a Corman film she gets slapped around for being a pain too), but eventually all the danger, passion, cops on their tail and excitement leads to the two of them falling in love. Furthering the attraction are their not-so-opposite-after-all circumstances: he’s outside the law (though he swears he’s innocent) and she’s an outsider on the race car circuit that won’t let her race (hence the reason she owns the sweet Jaguar that Ireland jacks in the beginning). Shot in nine days, “The Fast And The Furious” is far from a classic, but at a scant 73-minutes, it’s a pretty entertaining little B-movie. Extra Lovers-On-The-Run credit: “The Chase” starring Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson borrowed its premise wholesale in 1994 [B-]
“The Sugarland Express” (1974)
Steven Spielberg’s theatrical feature debut is based, very loosely, on a true story, but despite the uncharacteristically downbeat ending, you can already see the evolution of the filmmaker Spielberg would become—for better (technical prowess) and worse (sentimentality). Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn) breaks her husband Clovis (William Atherton) out of low-security prison with the shortsighted idea that they can steal their baby son away from his foster parents and be a “real, ordinary family.” Early on they take a young police officer hostage on their journey, which attracts a disproportionate mount of police attention (a caravan of squad cars 100-strong), media celebrity, and local-hero status. While the real story featured no jailbreak and reportedly the visiting-the-child aspect was an afterthought, Spielberg and his screenwriters (who won the Cannes Best Screenplay award, surprisingly) are unambiguous in their intentions for us to sympathize with the cinematic equivalent from the get-go, making Lou Jean a misguided but fiercely loving mother and the tragic victim of an uncaring system, and having the affable young cop gradually become a friend and ally to his captors. In fact everyone, right down to the police captain in charge of the manhunt, is portrayed as so fundamentally likeable and decent, that the stakes are rarely felt (so the end seems doubly unjustified,) and for the most part the film is played as a zany picaresque adventure. Especially in the pacier second half, this aspect works quite well as the growing disparity between the efforts to contain the pair and their obvious harmlessness throws up some ironic comment: at one point a town they’re due to journey through holds an actual parade in their honor, with crowds of locals cheering them and strewing the car with presents for the baby. Spielberg handles the car crashes, crowd scenes and rare shootouts like a pro—already his technical proficiency is on display—but the characterization suffers and occasionally the attempts to humanize and normalize the Poplins come across as patronizing, like Lou Jean’s myopic obsession with collecting Gold Stamps from gas stations, or her insistence on putting curlers in her hair. So strangely it feels like Spielberg’s nascent sentimentality actually ends up undercutting any real feeling we have for the pair, and the denouement (which is itself undercut by a postscript that insists things kinda worked out after all) plays out a bit like discovering an inexplicable piece of grit in your bubblegum. [B-]
“Something Wild” (1986)
Jonathan Demme‘s totally bonkers “Something Wild” is a testament to the lengths men will go to in order to impress a girl, to the point of changing everything about themselves. In this case it’s Jeff Daniels, who plays a straitlaced banker, who falls for Melanie Griffith (at her absolute cutest). You can feel his desperate desire to impress her from the very beginning, so when the two run away together (in a car she’s stolen), it doesn’t seem absurd, it seems natural: these are the lengths this guy is going to go to just to try and impress her. “Something Wild” is beautifully shot by longtime Demme collaborator Tak Fujimoto and has an amazingly vivid soundtrack that features tons of popular New Wave bands of the day, emphasizing the freewheeling “fuck it” attitude of the whole movie. Anyone who has fallen in love with someone you know isn’t right for you (and wanted to follow them anyway) can identify with “Something Wild,” no matter how crazy it gets. The movie becomes darker and more unpredictable as it goes along, especially when Ray Liotta shows up as Griffith’s estranged husband (emphasis on the strange), leading to a wholly unexpected climax. But right before the credits start to roll, the quirky romanticism of the rest of the movie returns, and it’s hard not to swoon again. As a lovers on the run movie, it’s a sweet, goofy, thoroughly modern tale about a square dude who wants to impress a cool girl, no matter the consequences. A tale as old as time, really. [B]
“Pierrot Le Fou” (1965)
Jean-Luc Godard would revisit the theme of doomed lovers on the run, from the law and various other forces of bourgeois society, several times over in his long career (notably elsewhere with “Breathless,” and “First Name: Carmen,”) but never with as much joyous, silly verve as in “Pierrot le Fou,” that walks the line between send-up and loving homage to the “Gun Crazy”s of American cinema with humor and insight and, of course, a heavy dash of self-aware intellectual pretension. His experimentalism is here in force—jump cuts, abrupt music cues, entire sequences shot through red or blue filters—but there is enough of a narrative strand, or rather he references genres that we’re already so familiar with, that there’s always a lifeline to cling to, even within the film’s most avant-garde moments. The constant wordplay (“Allons-y, Alonzo!”), pop culture references and jokes also contribute to the breeziness of tone (he nods to everything from “Johnny Guitar” to Elnett hairspray to the “put a Tiger in your tank” advertising campaign for Esso) and the primary-color palette mean the film passes by in a giddy rush. And it’s all anchored by the criminally photogenic Anna Karina sporting a variety of fetishizable outfits and hairstyles, and the King of Cool Jean-Paul Belmondo as the lovers who are not so much star cross’d as filled with odd whimsy and bouts of existential ennui. And yes, that is actually Sam Fuller playing “American Film Director Sam Fuller” at a party early on, at which, hilariously, the women talk about toiletries while the men discuss cars. There are murders and double-crosses and some sort of quasi terrorist/arms dealing group, and lashings of comically morose reflections on life, death and art, but it all practically screams at you not to take it seriously and the result is one of Godard’s simplest, most viscerally enjoyable films, with an ending so funny-silly that it wouldn’t be out of place in an early Woody Allen sketch movie. If you like the lunacy of a line like: “It’s a good thing I don’t like spinach, because if I did I’d have to eat it, and I can’t stand the stuff. It’s the same with you, only backwards,” you’ll love “Pierrot le Fou.” And we do. [B+]
“The 39 Steps” (1935)
While quite a few of Hitchcock’s films feature, in part at least, a pair of lovers on the run (“North by Northwest,” “Spellbound”) perhaps he found the fullest expression of the theme in this absolutely totally genius 1935 film, the first and still the best adaptation of John Buchan’s “The 39 Steps.” Here, however, the lovers on the run are wrongly accused: Richard Hannay (our 1930s boyfriend Robert Donat) has been framed and, desperate to clear his name, ends up involving a bystander, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) as his initially unwilling but gradually thawing companion. In both their innocence and the fact that they don’t actually fall in love until fairly late in the game, this could seem like an atypically naïve inclusion on this list, populated as it is more by amoral psychos whose only world is each other, but that would belie the fantastic chemistry between the two and the charm and humor that Hitch milks from even the most thrillingly perilous of situations. In fact, we’d argue that the scene in which, handcuffed to Richard, Pamela has to remove her wet stockings, has more sheer sex appeal that any amount of soft-focus writhing flesh. That not only do these lovers successfully outrun and outwit the police and the bad guys who are pursuing them, but they also end up basically saving the country with their heroism, is the totally satisfying conclusion to this brilliantly entertaining caper, a film that, for once on this list, doesn’t end in a hail of bullets, but rather with a very sweet close up of holding hands. [A]
“Sun Don’t Shine” (2012)
You probably best know Amy Seimetz as an actress (TV’s “The Killing,” Shane Carruth‘s “Upstream Color“) but she’s a formidable writer/director in her own right, as evidenced by her 2012 debut feature, the mesmerizing “Sun Don’t Shine.” The film stars Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley (who appears briefly as Casey Affleck‘s brother in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” which is of course, directed by David Lowery, Carruth’s ‘Upstream’ editor, and thus the circle is complete) as a couple on the run from the Very Bad Thing that Crystal (Sheil) has done, which also happens to be riding in the back of their truck. Seimetz creates a world that is sun-bleached, overexposed and dreamy; a perfect rendering of a faded Florida road trip. Sheil and Audley give performances that are pitched at two completely different frequencies—she seems constantly lost in a daydream or a nightmare, never really face-to-face with reality, as he confronts their situation head-on, growing more panicked and frenzied by the minute. Because we are aligned with Crystal for the majority of the movie, we aren’t completely sure just what the situation is, because she isn’t. Seimetz infuses this dreamy yet terrifying crime drama with the look and feel of a beachy road trip vacation, and the result is something completely unique and utterly compelling. [A-]
“Breathless” (1960)/“Breathless” (1983)
For a movie made back in 1960, stills from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” (on which Francois Truffaut gets a story credit) still adorn a whole lot of college dorm walls. Partly, of course, that’s to do with the irresistible black-and-white Parisian chic of the whole endeavor, partly because of Godard’s reputation as a cinematic enfant terrible and founding member of the terminally cool nouvelle vague, but also it’s because the film is simply one of the best evocations of how amazing it could ever be to be young and in love and alienated from a society that just doesn’t get it. Wreathed in cigarette smoke, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) overtly and knowingly channels Humphrey Bogart to create a character who, as nihilist and self-centered as he is, is himself just as aspirational for young guys, while the eternally modern Patricia (Jean Seberg), with her pixie cut and flats represents the chic-est possible version of the young American abroad. Of course they don’t so much go on the lam as hole up together to talk and smoke and look cool after the sociopathic Michel, unbeknownst to Patricia, kills a policeman, but motion is hardly the order of the day here—and neither is morality, until Patricia’s final desperate decision. Even today, when perhaps the film feels ever so slightly worn, as though the intervening decades of adulation have rubbed a little of the sheen off, it’s easy to see why the kinetic jump-cut style and non-linear storytelling shook up French cinema to the extent it did, and launched a whole movement—a thousand dorm walls can’t dim the film’s sheer beauty and unimpeachable eye for cool. [A-]
And you know what? The 1983 Richard Gere-starring, L.A.-set U.S. remake is not nearly as terrible as you might think, if you can kind of get beyond the essential pointlessness of remaking “Breathless” in the first place (though Tarantino has gone on record to say the remake is superior; note: he’s dead wrong). We’re just surprised that Godard never thought to remake the U.S. remake of his French homage to U.S. genre films, though perhaps he did and it created a singularity which swallowed itself immediately. [B-]
“Natural Born Killers” (1994)
Few movies in the nineties were as controversial as “Natural Born Killers,” Oliver Stone‘s kaleidoscopic, blood-soaked road movie about a pair of lovestruck serial killers (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis), which was at least partially based on an old Quentin Tarantino screenplay (he publicly distanced himself from the movie after Stone changed it enough to make it his own). As visually striking as anything the filmmaker has done, “Natural Born Killers” was a lovers-on-the-run movie that also served as a barbed satire of the nineties media obsession with all things evil. This was a period in American history when high-profile criminal cases captured the nation’s imagination and serial killer trading cards were printed and traded by young kids (aw, I already have Dahmer) and Stone wanted to skewer it all in the most wildly over-the-top, orgiastic way possible. And so every frame of the movie is over-cranked, highly processed, or multimedia—sequences shift from black and white to garish animation and back again without any warning or context. To Stone, the passion of the two lovers on the run and the appetite of the American public to make them into rock stars was equally depraved, with one feeding the other. The amount of media outrage that accompanied this movie was just as shocking as in the actual movie, with whole sequences removed from the theatrical edition (including one where Tommy Lee Jones, who plays a villainous prison warden, had his head chopped off and put on a stick) to secure an R-rating, and outspoken protests mounted from coast to coast (later, a number of “copycat crimes” would be blamed on the movie). The gonzo kitchen-sink approach Stone takes to evoking the ‘Killers” private world is admirably bizarre and retains its power to jolt to this day, but its overheated, over-hyped freneticism doesn’t have much substance or emotive impact underneath its psychedelic trappings. It should be noted, though, that it’s divisive to the last, with this being one entry that the usually harmonious Playlist Borg Hive Mind cannot agree on a grade for, ranging from [D+] to [A] (insanity). So we’ll even it out at a [B-]
“The Getaway” (1972)/”The Getaway” (1994)
Based on a novel by the poet laureate of hard pulp Jim Thompson, whose script was rewritten by the titan of cinematic masculinity Walter Hill, directed by feminist favorite Sam Peckinpah, and starring a Steve McQueen firmly in the midst of a cocaine-soaked marriage breakdown, “The Getaway” rises out of a dense fog of testosterone: it doesn’t get any more boys-night-in than this. Ali McGraw (somewhat miscast, to occasionally charming effect) uses her wiles to free husband “Doc” McCoy (McQueen) from prison. After a botched bank robbery, the bickering pair go on the run with the loot, pursued by cannon-fodder cops and a variety of goons, lead by the astonishingly repellent and malevolent Rudy (Al Letteria). Perhaps inevitably, it all culminates in a bloodbath in El Paso, and a tender reconciliation for the by-then real-life lovers, but not before their picaresque journey has seen them both rack up quite a body count, get dumped in a landfill by a garbage truck, and be double crossed by nearly everyone along the way, even some complete strangers. This is by no means top-tier Peckinpah; both he and McQueen were desperate for a no-nonsense hit after the commercial failure of “Junior Bonner” (1972), and aside from an impressively evocative opening when Doc is still in prison, this is mostly a straight-up action/heist film. But it’s a genre film with pedigree and all the staples are there—stunningly edited montages, patented slo-mo bullet ballets and a blank disregard for the lives of minor characters (witness to poor sap dentist who hangs himself in shame over his wife’s flagrant affair with Rudy). And as vacuous a presence as we often find McGraw, there’s no doubt that she and McQueen at least physically suit the gritty anti-glamor of the cinematography and run-down locations. Possibly not Robert Evans‘ favorite film though… [B]
Take away whatever sheen of auteur vision Peckinpah’s version has, and amp up the trashy, pulpy aspects to lurid mid-90s effect and you get the 1994 remake, starring Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. It’s not nearly as good—what little was not made explicit in 1972’s version is laid thuddingly bare here—but that’s not to say you can’t derive quite some guilty pleasure from its excesses. [C]
“Boxcar Bertha” (1972)
As he did with so many young talents, Roger Corman gave Martin Scorsese one of his first big breaks with the opportunity to direct the exploitation flick “Boxcar Bertha” as his second feature (his first was “Who’s That Knocking On My Door“) for Corman’s company American Independent Pictures in 1972. Starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine as a young couple lovin’ and robbin’ on the road with their badass gang, the film took advantage of two 1970s New Hollywood tropes: nostalgia (the film is set in the 1930s) and exploitation (nubile Hershey is frequently nude, probably per Corman’s standards and practices). No doubt capitalizing on the “Bonnie and Clyde” success of 5 years prior, “Boxcar Bertha” is a film that pushes the boundaries of that already boundary-pushing film, upping the sex, violence and gore that 1970s audiences expected, despite the period setting. The sexiness of ‘Bertha’ was even captured in a fully-nude Playboy spread featuring real-life lovers Hershey and Carradine (it seems only appropriate that another Carradine appears in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” to keep up the tradition). But for all the exploitation-y goodness of ‘Bertha,’ the film is quite artfully made, despite the time and budget restraints, and showcases the kinetic and dynamic style that Scorsese would come to be known for, as well as his willingness to probe the darkest wells of human nature. Hershey and Carradine are riveting, as well as perennial favorite Bernie Casey (of “Revenge of the Nerds“) representing the racial tension of the time. A quintessential and often overlooked example in the Lovers on the Run genre. [B+]
“The Honeymoon Killers” (1969)
There’s a kind of freak-show fascination that holds you in its dark embrace while watching “The Honeymoon Killers,” a movie that had at least three directors attached throughout various points of the production (including Martin Scorsese, who was fired for working too slow; some of his scenes can still be seen in the movie). The movie stars Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco, in a story based on the infamous “lonely hearts killers” Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, who were convicted of killing several people and suspected of murdering at least a dozen more (retold in 1996’s Mexican film “Deep Crimson“). Shot in a grimy, low-rent kind of black-and-white that suggests both newsreel footage and pulpy film noirs, “The Honeymoon Killers” is wonderfully lurid, to an almost sickening degree. A lot of this has to do with the cheap-ass filmmaking but just as much of it can be attributed to the two lead performances, which are somehow both deliciously over-the-top and frighteningly real. Stoler and Lo Bianco have a low-rent energy that suggests how in love they are and how potentially psychotic they could become. There is something decidedly “off” about them, which enriches the movie with a gritty realism that might have been missing had more accomplished, manicured actors taken the roles. While the movie has obtained a degree of cult movie notoriety over the years, it still remains something of a curio, and one that not everyone is capable of watching. Even though their love story is oddly moving, it’s still a tough watch, the kind of thing that makes you want to take a shower after you’re done watching it. Maybe with someone you really, really love. [B]
“Wild At Heart” (1990)
In “Wild at Heart,” Sailor (Nicolas Cage) wears a snakeskin jacket which, in his words, represents a “symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom” and Lulu (Laura Dern) is the kind of woman whose sexuality radiates off the screen; you want to run away with her, no matter the consequences. David Lynch‘s lovely, bizarre riff on the lovers-on-the-run genre, which Lynch worked on after he finished the pilot for his acclaimed series “Twin Peaks,” turned a few heads (and stomachs) when it was initially released. This is one of those “booed at Cannes” movies where you can almost understand the response, especially in the sequence where Lula and Sailor kiss over the smoldering neck wound of someone they had just decapitated with a shotgun blast. But this is a no-holds-barred outlaw movie in all of its parole-breaking glory, featuring two characters who are on the run from the law and a host of underworld baddies (most memorably Willem Dafoe‘s Bobby Peru). There are a number of unforgettable, incredibly weird flourishes that act like the inside jokes that a close couple shares: the Elvis Presley songs, the overt “Wizard of Oz” allusions, and the oftentimes uncomfortable marriage of sex and violence. This is a movie where Crispin Glover puts live cockroaches in his underwear and Diane Ladd, Dern’s real-life mother, appears in stark close-up, smearing lipstick all over her face (she was Oscar-nominated here). “Wild at Heart” is wonderfully picaresque, darkly funny and totally unique, and so is just as powerful as any other Lynch masterwork, amongst whose number it can comfortably be counted. [A-]
Proof positive that the genre is nearly as old as the medium and spans continents and styles, Swedish pioneer Victor Sjöström made silent film “The Outlaw and his Wife” back in 1918, which tells the story of an 18th Century Icelandic outlaw who falls in love with the landowning widow he works for, and who, on being found out, takes to the hills with her. All sorts of melodrama ensues as they have a child (whom she tosses over a cliff to evade bandits!), get involved in a love triangle and eventually freeze to death in each other’s arms (Intertitle: “Their Love was their only law”). Unfortunately the dreadful quality of our copy doesn’t do justice to what was, at the time, called “the most beautiful film in the world.”
Elsewhere there were many titles we couldn’t get to for space/time reasons. There seems to have been a worldwide glut in the early-to-mid ’90s—Kelly Reichardt‘s debut “River of Grass” is a Jarmusch-indebted loose-limbed film from 1994 that is more promising than truly impressive, while Gregg Araki‘s “The Living End” (1992) is a gay take on the theme in which an odd couple, both HIV positive, take off after killing a cop. Widely considered a founding film of New Queer cinema, it casts the grim circumstances almost as a nihilistic comedy to the frequent refrain “Fuck the world,” and Araki would revisit the genre, again in kitschy, gonzo style, a few years later with “The Doom Generation” (subtitled “A Heterosexual Film by Gregg Araki”) starring Rose McGowan. Michael Winterbottom‘s 1995 “Butterfly Kiss” worked a lesbian/bisexual angle, while less controversial (depending on how you feel about Renee Zellweger) was 1994’s “Love and a.45,” another set-in-Texas-heading-for-the-border go-round. Drew Barrymore also worked out her late-teen troubles in not one but two lovers-on-the-run films: 1992’s “Guncrazy” and 1995’s “Mad Love,” neither of which are much cop.
1940’s “Contraband” might be a film by the venerable duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, but Conrad Veidt (normally a villain) can’t really cut it as a leading man and the movie is kind of sawdust dry (though our Powell & Pressburger retrospective puts forth a different opinion), while Godard wasn’t the only Nouvelle Vague-er to embrace the genre: Francois Truffaut’s “Mississippi Mermaid” also stars Jean-Paul Belmondo, along with Catherine Deneuve, and, like “Pierrot le Fou,” at least part of it details the stresses that life on the run can put on a love affair, usually as a result of the woman becoming restless and longing for a more luxurious lifestyle. And two more recent, skewed visions that loosely fit the paradigm of a couple pursued by the authorities are Ben Wheatley‘s brilliantly dark “Sightseers” and Wes Anderson‘s adorable “Moonrise Kingdom,” but we’ve written about both ad nauseam recently elsewhere.
We also tried to avoid films that may feature a love-on-the-run subplot, but are mostly classified as something else, like sci-fi, in the case of downbeat-but-fascinating “Code 46” and the glossy-but-uninteresting “The Island,” or heist film, in the case of the Goldie Hawn and Warren Beatty-starring “Dollars.” Also 1974’s “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” has some of the right elements, but is really just one long car chase, and as exactly as awesome/wearying as that sounds. Francois Ozon‘s “Criminal Lovers” also fits in here, as, despite a fleeing-from-police ending it’s more a dark, psycho-sexual thriller along the way, and despite our best efforts we just didn’t manage to track down two interesting-sounding Japanese entries in time: 1999’s “Adrenaline Drive” and the fantastically Japanese-ified title “Jeans Blues: No Future” from 1974. 1996’s Keanu Reeves/Cameron Diaz turkey “Feeling Minnesota,” however, doesn’t appear on the main list because we simply couldn’t induce anyone to write about it. Weigh in on any of our inclusions or exclusions or OMG HOW COULD YOU FORGET X oversights below. – Jessica Kiang, Rodrigo Perez, Erik McClanahan, Drew Taylor, Mark Zhuravsky, and Katie Walsh.