He Watched It Sober.

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     "I've been in enough poker games to know when I'm up against a cold deck."

-- Ron Lewis, gambler    




Gonzoid Cinema




"Uh, geez, honey ... You've never looked better."


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  Phil Karlson
  Mort Briskin
  Art Powers
  Mike Misenheimer (Novel)
  Mort Briskin
  Joel Briskin

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Fried Tales
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Our tale of southern, deep-fat fried vengeance on a stick begins at the Starlight Lounge, where Ron Lewis (Joe Don Baker), owner and proprietor of said establishment, prepares to open for the evening crowd. And while his girlfriend, Susan Barret -- who also serves as the Starlight's headlining act, warbles a tune from the stage, Lewis receives a phone call. Seems there’s a big, clandestine poker game brewing, and apparently, some "pigeons" are coming in from New York to gamble, meaning the pickings will be easy. Easy or not, a concerned Susan (Conny Van Dyke) doesn’t want him to go, but Lewis is a gambler, and this is what gamblers do.

A few days later, when Lewis returns to the Starlight, he puts on a front that he lost big; but truthfully, he actually cleaned and plucked those pigeons completely; evidenced by the large satchel he carries that's stuffed full of cash. And that’s only half of it, as he’s also bought stock in a new Las Vegas casino, where his new partners want him to relocate so he can run things. Yeah, life couldn't be going better for our boy Lewis, but later that night, things start to go awry while driving home on Talbot Road, where he comes upon two cars blocking the way: a Chevy and a Plymouth (-- and believe me, all of this is relevant). Lewis gets out to investigate, only to be shot at, and then the unknown assailant roars off in the Chevy. Only wanting to mind his own business, Lewis decides to dummy up and get the hell the our of there -- but he can't; one of the stray shots took out one of his tires. (Way to be a concerned citizen, there, Joe Don. What would Buford Pusser think?) One mounted spare later, Lewis makes it home without further incident. But he’s barely out of the car before a Sheriff’s Deputy approaches, who then places Lewis under arrest and demands to know exactly what Lewis saw out on Talbot Road. Assuming the position, an agitated Lewis wants to know what’s going on (-- so do we), and his mood doesn't get any better when the Deputy says he isn't going anywhere except straight to the morgue!

Knowing he's in some deep doo-doo, when Lewis starts resisting, a brutal struggle ensues, and as his garage is all but destroyed during the fight, both combatants are severely battered and bloodied until Lewis manages to kill his attacker by poking his thumbs through the Deputy’s eyes ... With all the noise, more cops and paramedics soon arrive on scene, thanks to the neighbors, and Lewis is hauled off to the hospital. Taking possession of Lewis’ gambling money, Sheriff Morello (Warren Kimmerling) motions for Chief Deputy Bundy (John Larch) to join him outside, where Morello claims that since this money is a result of gambling -- and since gambling is illegal, the money doesn’t really exist, and then deposits the satchel in his trunk while both men exchange evil smirks.

When Lewis wakes up in the hospital, he finds a diligent Susan by his side. His lawyer, Andrew Ney (Josh Bryant), is also there, who woefully reports that things don't look too good for Lewis because no one can verify his story about the shootings on Talbot Road. But more damning is the Sheriff’s dispatch log, where the dead Deputy called in a reckless driver matching Lewis’s description before their lethal wrestling match commenced. Knowing his client is good and cooked, Ney thinks they can possibly strike a deal with D.A. but Lewis refuses, swearing he was threatened and acted strictly in self-defense. Smelling a frame-up, he tells Susan to hire some private detectives to do their own investigation. (There has to be footprints and shell casings, right?) But as they plot, little do they know, the room is bugged and Morello is listening in on everything. And when Susan returns home, she finds Morello’s goons waiting for her, who threaten to kill her if she tries to help Lewis in anyway. 

Now, I only got to see the edited for TV version, but I don't think I need to draw you a picture on how they punctuate that threat. Yuck.

Several days later, Lewis is still laid up in the hospital, and when Ney reports that he's turned up nothing new on his case, Lewis hopes the investigators Susan arranged had better luck. To which a confused Ney relays that not only were there no outside investigators hired, but Susan hasn’t been seen or heard from since she first left the hospital. Angered by this percieved betrayal, Lewis asks Ney to look into it. Outside in the hallway, Ney finds Morello and Bundy waiting, and they all exchange another round of evil smirks. (Jeezus, the lawyer’s in on this, too?!) As a gambler, Lewis knows when he’s up against a stacked deck and decides to take Ney's deal. After accepting the plea-bargain, he heads to jail for a crime that was legally self-defense, a victim of a tangled frame-up that Lewis vows to unravel and avenge -- if he lives long enough to do it, that is...

Director Phil Karlson's father wanted his son to be a lawyer, and it was while attending law school in California in the 1930's that the younger Karlson got a job as an assistant prop-man at Universal Studios to help pay the bills. Bitten hard by the show-biz bug, Karlson soon abandoned his law degree and worked his way up the studio food-chain, eventually serving as an assistant director for a couple of Abbott and Costello pictures. Finding his directing legs for low-rent operators like Monogram in the '40s, Karlson developed a hard-nosed, no-nonsense, and an extremely detailed style of filmmaking, epitomized by one of his earlier noir efforts -- and I think it's his best, Scandal Sheet, where a newspaper publisher kills his estranged wife and watches as one of his cub reporters slowly but surely tracks the dead body back to him. Karlson initially peaked in the 1950's, but kind of scuffled through the '60s, with vehicles for the likes of Elvis Presley (Kid Galahad) and Dean Martin (The Silencers). When the 1970's rolled around, the director had a brief renaissance when he teamed up with producers Mort and Joel Briskin for Ben, a sequel to their killer rat movie, Willard. And though both of those films are true gonzoidal classics, it was the trio's next venture that made them Drive-In Movie Legends -- a violent tale of backwater vengeance via a really big whompin' stick called Walking Tall.

Based on the life of Buford Pusser, a former professional wrestler turned Tennessee lawman, who, with the help of several head-busting axe-handles, fought against the corrupting influences of the dastardly State Line Mob. To play this larger than life character, the Briskins turned to Joe Don Baker, who, let's be honest, was born to play this particular role. An unapologetic, southern-fried exploitation piece, turns out America was ready for this kind of anti-hero and Walking Tall went on to make a ton of money. As usual, sniffing more profits, the studio wanted a sequel. Now, I really don't know why the Briskins and Karlson weren't asked to return, but I do know why Baker wasn't back for Part 2, Walking Tall. Originally, the studio had struck a deal with Pusser, allowing him to play himself in the sequel, but before filming could begin, Pusser was killed in an auto-accident (-- accident to some, a victim of foul play to others --) and the roll was eventually given to Bo Svenson, who rode it out for another sequel and a short-lived TV series.

Thus shut out of the sequels, the Briskins, Karlson, and Baker instead teamed up for Framed. Released the same year as Part 2, Walking Tall (-- which I doubt was a coincidence), and based on the novel by Mike Misenheimer, Karlson's last film was a similarly malevolent tale of biblical payback fueled by small town corruption, with a heaping dose of violence and brutality thrown into the mix to add some pop. But it wasn't your typical Hollywoodized violence. Nasty and all kinds of vicious, Framed is sometimes downright uncomfortable to watch, typified by the knock-down and dragged-out fight between the brutish Lewis and the Deputy in the opening act. But we've barely scratched the service yet, with plenty depths yet to plumb. Read on...

...Branded a cop-killer, the scornful prison guards aren’t all that friendly toward Lewis when he's processed into the state pen. After getting his prison uniform, they then force the prisoner to strip and shower. (Off screen. Thank you lord.) Armed with a mop handle (--again, I'm not gonna draw ya picture), one guard accosts Lewis while he's still in the shower -- but Lewis quickly gets the better of him. Unfortunately for Lewis, the guard gets his revenge after he's placed in his cell, where they proceed to apply tear gas, then mace, and finish up by beating the living crap out of the hapless prisoner.

As his sentence commences, Susan tries to visit, several times, but Lewis always refuses to see her, thinking she ran out on him when he needed her most. Luckily, for his health, Lewis's gambling reputation has drawn the attention of Sal Vicarronne (John Marley). Serving time for a petty bribery charge, Sal is a made man who owns most of the guards. (Sal also claims he has enough money to buy the prison and sell it back to the state.) When he sends Vince Greeson (Gabriel Dell) as an emissary to invite Lewis to join his bookmaking operation, he accepts and soon works his way up the ranks. Then one day, while taking bets, Lewis sniffs out an assassination attempt on Sal and takes a shiv in the back for the mobster. This is a debt that Sal won’t soon forget. More time passes, and after Vince finishes his sentence and is released, Lewis gets into it with the guards again and is put in solitary confinement, where he meets a new friend -- a cockroach, that he feeds and asks for advice. (And the scary thing is, he listens to it!) Eventually, Lewis is released back into the general population, and after three more years pass, Sal’s sentence is up -- but before he goes, the old gangster tells Lewis that he’s fixed his next parole hearing, meaning Lewis will soon be out of jail, too. The old man also gives Lewis his number and a promise that if he ever needs any help, all he has to do is call. Lewis is grateful, but warns that with the game he’s about to play, Sal won't want any part of it.

With the help of Sal's greased wheels, Lewis is soon out as an early parolee. Taking the bus back home, he finds Susan there, waiting for him at the depot. Still bitter, he ignores her, but can't do the same for Deputy Sam Perry (Brock Peter), who is there to remind Lewis that as a parolee, he must register with the local authorities. Promising that he'll do just that, Lewis also has a change of heart and reconciles with Susan. When asked why she abandoned him, Susan breaks down and tells him about Morello's goons -- and what they did to her, which only fuels his fire for some Old Testament-style vengeance. His girl also reveals that a lot has changed during his four years in prison: Morello is now the Mayor; Bundy is the Sheriff; and Ney is the District Attorney. This seismic shift in power is too big of a coincidence for Lewis. Swearing that he’ll punish the whole bunch for what they did, to both of them -- though Susan just wants him to let it all go -- Lewis is now locked-in on who screwed him over, but now has to find out why.

Later, Perry tracks Lewis down at the Starlight. Apparently, Perry is one of the good guys who doesn’t like what Morello and his cronies have done to their town. Thinking that perhaps they can do each other some good, Perry tells Lewis that on the night of the incident on Talbot Road, there was no record of a reckless driver in the dispatch log. Two days later, however, one mysteriously appeared. And it gets better: one of the cars he described belonged to the son of Senator Tatum, and has since disappeared without a trace. Intrigued, Lewis asks Perry to check on the other car he saw that night, and after they split up, Lewis returns home, where a shadowy figure points a gun at him! Luckily, it’s just Vince. Turns out Vince is a mechanic -- a mob assassin, whose been hired by a certain party to kill Lewis. But since they’re friends, he wanted to warn him first for old times sake. Calling in his favor to Sal Vicarronne, Vince no longer has to kill Lewis but the old mobster warns that several other hitmen are currently converging on him. Saying he can take care of that himself, Lewis asks if Sal has any dirt on Senator Tatum. Sal promises to look into it and lets Vince stick around to help Lewis out. Heading over to Susan's apartment, they find Perry outside, who warns that two of those hitmen Sal warned about already beat them there. With Perry's help, they manage to take out the killers and find Susan tied up inside, shaken up but OK. As they untie her, Perry decides they'd better treat this as a burglary gone bad. It's obvious who hired the hitmen, but they don't want to tip their hand to Morello just yet.

Then things really start to fall into place when Perry tells Lewis that a well known drug dealer used to drive a Plymouth, and both the dealer and the car disappeared about the same time Lewis killed the rogue cop. Later, Sal calls back and says Tatum’s only son died of a drug overdose just two days before the same incident. With that final piece of the puzzle, when the resulting picture finally comes into a sharp focus, at last, it's time for some payback. To start, while Vince checks out the security on Morello’s fortress home, Lewis heads to the state capitol to shakedown Tatum. But he’s hijacked along the way by the same men who raped Susan waaaay back at the beginning of the film. Using a moving train as speed bump, Lewis manages to escape while leaving the bad guys to be smeared all over the rails.


With things rapidly falling apart on him, Morello puts out the order to shoot Lewis on sight. Outside his perimeter fence, Vince carefully cases the joint, taking special notice of the patrolling Dobermans. Meanwhile, Lewis abducts Senator Tatum right off the capitol building steps, and after taking him to a secluded spot, beats out a confession. Turns out it was Tatum (Walter Brooke) who shot at him that night on Talbot Road. Seems the Senator drove his son’s car to meet the drug dealer, whom Tatum felt was responsible for his son’s death, and killed him -- and then Lewis just happened upon the wrong place at the wrong time. In a panic, he called Morello and gave him Lewis’s description. The shady Morello then promised to take care of everything, with some special favors from the Senator as payment for his continued silence. Still needing corroborating proof of all the corruption, as Lewis and Vince prepare to assault Morello’s mansion to get it, Susan pleads with her man to call the whole thing off. But Lewis says he has to finish it. He had everything he ever wanted, and then Tatum and Morello took it all away. As the men leave, a distraught Susan warns that she might not be around when they get back.

After sneaking onto the estate grounds, and killing one of the guard dogs in the process of, Vince and Lewis find Ney and Morello inside, where they convince Morello, at gunpoint, to open his safe. Inside the strongbox, Lewis finds all of the crook's records of bribes and payoffs, and a large sum of cash. But when one of Morello’s guards stumbles upon them, mayhem ensues as Vince and the guard manage to shoot each other dead. Lewis then knocks Morello through a big picture window, and when the villain lands outside, the other guard dog attacks and kills him. Back inside, as Ney tries strike another deal, Lewis pistol-whips the lawyer. A lot. He then gathers up all the documents, the money, and splits.

And can I ask just one stupid thing? Why do these corrupt officials always keep records that can incriminate them? Didn’t Watergate teach us anything? You’re supposed to destroy all the evidence and then deny everything.

A relieved Lewis finds Susan still waiting for him at the Starlight. Told to pack up, because they both need to get out of town real quick-like, Susan refuses to runaway and begs Lewis to stay, too. But the gambler in him says the odds are better if he goes -- and go he does, leaving the heart-broken Susan behind. But once out in the parking lot, Lewis has another change of heart and heads back inside, where he tells Susan to call Perry -- but not until after they hide the money.

The End

Man ... Hell hath no fury like a scorned Joe Don Baker. Yeah, Baker basically played the same old surly bumpkin in each of his films, didn't he? Sure, his good old boy characters were always a jerk -- and cranky ones at that. Always wearing those same crappy leisure suits, each one also had a tendency to get the snot beat out of them. A lot. And they all had women who would have absolutely nothing to do with these characters in real life. (Although I really don’t have any room to talk on this subject.) But underneath all the perceived buffoonery is a simmering powder keg just waiting to explode, a brute that can dish out as much damage as he takes on. Plug this into the revolving plots, where his characters are always wronged in some way, who then swear bloody revenge, who then get beat up a few more times (-- or did I mention that already? --), throw in a really bad car chase, and then wrap it up, fast and neat, when Baker kills everybody ... Seems simple enough. And Framed is no different. (Only this time, Baker does take a shower.) Here, the film sets up a pretty decent mystery but then seems complacent to just idle along at a slow boil until some pertinent information shows up at the beginning of the last reel that ties in with what happened in the first. (I hate it when that happens.) Lewis wants to find out who set him up, and is hell bent on kicking their ass when the time comes, but then does nothing, really, as all the info finds it’s way to him. 

As I said earlier, I've only seen the edited for TV version of Framed and I get the feeling that I'm missing a few scenes that would help clear a few things up. Having only seen the MST3k version of Mitchell, I know I've missed something there as there's a picture of a dune buggy chase emblazoned on the film's poster tacked up on my wall that helps explains away John Saxon's mysterious disappearance. As is, my fondest memories of the expurgated version of Framed revolves around Baker's time in stir talking to the cockroach. My harshest memory, of course, is the shower scene where our star spends way too much time in the buff, wrestling with Red West over a broom stick. GAH! Long out of print on VHS, and unjustly lost in the shadow of its better known predecessor, Legend Films has finally got Framed out on DVD and I think it would definitely be worth a second- full bore look.

Originally Posted: 01/20/01 :: Rehashed: 04/20/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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