Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ulu Grosbard|
|Produced by||Stanley Beck|
|Screenplay by||Alvin Sargent|
|Based on||No Beast So Fierce|
by Edward Bunker
Harry Dean Stanton
M. Emmet Walsh
|Music by||David Shire|
|Edited by||Sam O'Steen|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Straight Time is a 1978 American neo noir crime film directed by Ulu Grosbard and starring Dustin Hoffman, Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton, M. Emmet Walsh and Kathy Bates. The film is based on the novel No Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker, who also acts in the film.
One of the conditions of parole is that Max finds a job. At the employment agency, he meets Jenny Mercer (Theresa Russell), who helps him land scale-wage work at a can factory. Jenny accepts his invitation to dinner, where it's clear that she is smitten by this worldly and seemingly gentle ex-con.
Earl pays a surprise visit to Max's room, finding a book of matches that Max's friend Willy Darin (Gary Busey) recently used to cook heroin. Although Max clearly has no track marks or other signs of drug abuse, he is handcuffed and dragged back to jail, out of a job and a home. Jenny visits him and gives him her number to call when he gets out.
After urine tests prove he is clean, Max is picked up by a smug Earl, who feels he actually gave Max a break by not pursuing the fact that someone had been using drugs in his place of residence, which would result in three more years in prison. During their car ride to a halfway house, Earl pushes Max to name the user. Max, realizing he will never get a break, pummels Earl, takes control of his car, and handcuffs him to a highway divider fence with his pants around his ankles.
This stunt now makes straight life impossible. Max returns to a life of crime, robbing a Chinese grocery store and planning bigger heists with some willing old accomplices. After robbing a bank together, Max and his friend Jerry Schue (Harry Dean Stanton) decide to up the ante and clean out a Beverly Hills jewelry store. The job is botched when Max takes too long in trying to steal everything. Willy, acting as getaway driver, panics and takes off, leaving Max and Jerry to flee on foot as police converge on the store.
Jerry is shot and dies, while Max shoots a police officer. Max escapes with the loot, settles the score with Willy by killing him, and escapes L.A. with a loyal Jenny by his side. Outside the city limits, though, Max has second thoughts as to their prospects on the lam. He decides to leave Jenny at a gas station for her own good, telling her he will be caught no matter what as he drives away.
The screenplay was written by Alvin Sargent, Edward Bunker and Jeffrey Boam, based on Bunker's novel No Beast So Fierce. Dustin Hoffman was the director of the film when shooting began, but ultimately decided to give up that role, resulting in Grosbard being hired.
This film both starred Gary Busey and introduced his seven-year-old son Jake. It was the second film for actress Theresa Russell; it also featured an early screen appearance by Kathy Bates. Busey went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor as the lead in The Buddy Holly Story which was one of three films released between March and May 1978 in which he had a leading role; the other two were Straight Time and Big Wednesday. Russell's film career includes roles in Impulse and Whore. Bates would win the Academy Award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe Award, playing deranged nurse Annie Wilkes in the Rob Reiner film Misery, as well as thirteen Emmy award nominations for her work in television.
The film became the subject of litigation between Hoffman and the First Artists Production Company over creative control. Before Hoffman had finished editing the film, First Artists exercised a clause to take over the project since the shoot had gone 23 days over schedule and approximately $1 million over budget. Hoffman's lawsuit alleged that his right to the final cut had been violated and that the take-over clause did not mean he forfeited all creative control. First Artists' countersuit claimed that Hoffman's "derogatory statements" damaged the film's reception and box office performance. The outcome of the litigation has not been disclosed.
Filmed at The Burbank Studios, California. (Ref: Film Credits)
Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised Straight Time as "a leanly constructed, vividly staged film" that "makes no attempt to explain Max. It simply says that this is the way he is. It requires us to fill in the gaps, and it's the measure of the film that we want to."Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four stars out of four and called it "a superior thriller, a riveting portrait of an ex-con," adding, "Most criminals in American movies are drooling, trigger-happy psychotics. In 'Straight Time,' the criminals are people, and, somehow, that's more disturbing ... Credit ultimately must go to Hoffman, who continues to avoid playing the million-dollar cardboard roles that so many of his peers are drawn to." At the end of the year he named it the best film of 1978.David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, "Though made up of familiar elements - an ex-con, bank robberies, lovers on the run - it is an unusual movie out of today's Hollywood and a very fine one. Small in scale, grittily realistic, charged with a fierce intelligence about how people live on the other side of the law, the film makes few concessions to an audience's expectations, but it has an edgy, lingering intensity."Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "riveting to watch from start to finish," adding, "Hoffman's Max has less dimension than some of his earlier characterizations. You wish his fight [to go straight] had gone on a little longer. But his cool, hard disillusion, his unsentimental realism and his fatalistic attitude toward a life that never got going makes its own impact." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety panned the film as "most unlikable" because Hoffman "cannot overcome the essentially distasteful and increasingly unsympathetic elements in the character. Ulu Grosbard's sluggish direction doesn't help." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote that there were "authentic, gripping moments in the film" but "in some unavoidable way [Hoffman] just doesn't look threatening and ruthless. You're tempted to console him rather than run from him. The cunning and aggression that one might accept immediately if actors like Robert De Niro or Harvey Keitel were cast as Max are only theoretically apparent in Hoffman."
In 2003, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.