The Gravy Train (1974)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - R
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This lesser-known entry in the Jack Starrett filmography is deserving of rediscovery. On the surface, The Gravy Train is a crime caper -- and it delivers plenty of action to qualify as one -- but it is much more than just a genre outing. The smart script (co-written by a young Terence Malick under a pseudonym) uses its tale of crime-loving brothers to create a critique of a vacuous, greed-driven culture that reduces dreamers to schemers and back-stabbers. That said, it never overdoes its theme and instead lets it slowly settle in before reaching a devastating finale. The ride to that ending is a fun one, thanks to high-octane performances by Stacy Keach and Frederic Forrest as the title characters. Keach is a source of endless fast-talking amusement as the 'brains' of the outfit and Forrest is oddly endearing as the crazy but brave little brother who is never scared to be the first man through the door. Their work is bolstered by a strong ensemble that offers nicely textured supporting performances: Barry Primus is amusingly obnoxious as a duplicitous would-be crime boss, Margot Kidder is disarmingly sultry as the boss's moll who becomes attracted to both brothers and Richard Romanus offers a sly, deadpan comic performance as a fellow hood who's only slightly savvier than the brother duo. Behind the camera, Jack Starrett gives the film an energetic style of direction built on fluid camerawork and sure-handed choreography of the film's action setpieces (highlights include an intense apartment building shootout and a chase through a building that is being demolished). In short, The Gravy Train is an ambitious blend of thrills and character study that will delight fans of offbeat cult fare.