I can say with some confidence that if you’re mid-thirties or older you know Linda Carter from her years as Wonder Woman. There’s probably a good many of you who know Marjoe Gortner, the child evangelist who grew up and starred in B-movies like Starcrash and Mausoleum. Some of you may even know director Mark L. Lester from his more prominent films like Commando and Firestarter. Of course, I’m going to talk a bit about all of those folks today, but what we’re really here to find out is who the F@&k is Vernon Zimmerman? That’s right; I’m back again with my second week in the series that shines the spotlight on the strange, the obscure, and the forgotten figures in genre film. Last week I looked at Fade toBlack, one of Zimmerman’s directorial efforts, but this week I turn my eye to a film that he wrote, Bobbie Joe and the Outlaw.
Take a piece of Crazy Mary, Dirty Larry, a smidge of Bonnie and Clyde, and add in a dash of Linda Carter topless, and you’ve got yourself Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw. The story follows Bobbi Joe (Carter), a waitress with dreams to be a star in Nashville, and Lyle Wheeler (Gortner), a drifter and thief who aspires to be like his Western outlaw heroes. One day Lyle comes by the diner Bobbi Jo works in and whisks her away from her small town life. The pair soon runs out of money, and they hook up with Bobbi Jo’s sister Pearl (Merrie Lynn Ross) and her boyfriend Slick (Jesse Vint). The foursome decides to step it up a notch and begin to knock off banks, but a life on the run might not be as romantic as either of them thought. With the cops nipping at their heels, they have to keep running if they want to stay together.
It should come as no surprise to fans of ‘70’s cinema that Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw was a fine production from American International Pictures. The film has the low budget hallmarks of AIP all over it. This was the second AIP film for director Mark L. Lester following the 1974 Claudia Jennings film Truck Stop Women. Lester does a solid job with the quiet moments in the film, but the action and driving sequences left something to be desired. He would work out the kinks in filming action over the next nine years before filming 1985’s Commando. Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw is not really a film about the set pieces though. It really has much more to do with films that followed the path of Easy Rider. It is a road movie in which the characters are trying to find themselves and meaning in their lives. Unfortunately, I don’t think they ever really find out much.
That brings me around to the man of the hour Vernon Zimmerman. After writing and directing two films, 1972’s Deadhead Miles and UnholyRollers, this was the second script that Zimmerman had seen produced by another director (I’ll be looking at the first, the 1973 supernatural biker flick Hex, next week.) It’s always hard to say what changes might have been made between the script and the screen, but while the characters that Zimmerman created seem very interesting, they also feel lost. Not lost in the existential sense, but rather in the way that they don’t seem to have much to do. They wander across the country, floating in and out of small towns and communes, but the film doesn’t really seem to have much focus until they get around to robbing banks. Then the film takes the predictable spiral that Warren Betty and Faye Dunaway had followed years earlier.
Now what first attracted me to this film was the appearance of Linda Carter. I have to admit that I’ve spent most of my life with a huge crush on Ms. Carter (A fortune telling machine said she was my perfect mate when I was about 10 and you’ve got to trust fortune telling machines.) I used to watch the Wonder Woman show religiously, and I have to admit that more than once I wondered what was under that red, white and blue outfit. Well, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw is the only place you can find out (though it has been long rumored that Hugh Hefner has some pictures locked away in the Playboy vaults) . The scene is question if brief, but after a lifetime of wondering (pun intended), it was worth the wait. Carter looks gorgeous throughout the film, and if you’re a fan of hers like I am, then I recommend looking past the film’s shortcomings. I don’t want to shortchange her acting either, along with the charismatic Marjoe Gortner, she turns in a solid performance that carries the film though the slower spots.
Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw is not the greatest film. From script to direction, it meanders along, but if you’re a fan of ‘70’s drive in cinema, Mr. Gortner, or the lovely Ms. Carter, then you should check this one out. It’s kind of hard to get your hands on this one, but I happen to know that the Lair’s good friends over at Cinema de Bizarre have this one in stock. Don’t get your expectations up to high, and you should enjoy what you see. Plus it is one more step toward knowing who the F@&k is Vernon Zimmerman. Next week, we’ll take a look at another of the movies he penned, Hex starring a young Gary Busey, Keith Carradine, and Scott Glenn.