Add a Review

  • After the success of Duel (which was really a TV movie) Sugarland Express (Spielberg's first feature film) flopped at the box office, though it received a reasonably warm critical response. In fact this is a great little movie for all kinds of reasons.

    If you're interested in Spielberg as a director this is fascinating as it begins to lay out most of the themes that have driven his work ever since - family (especially divided and dysfunctional families), childhood, parenthood, outsiders, America and Americana etc. It's also a really interesting piece in terms of his developing style. This is the first Hollywood film in which panaflex cameras were used allowing Spielberg to produce fantastically elaborate and fluid shots even in the confines of a car (see the superb 360 pan fixed on Ben Johnson's car when he first talks to the Poplins)- a kind of cinematography that has become a hall mark of Spielberg's, as have the rising crane shots and extended tracking shots that pepper the film. Spielberg skies and "God Light" (his term for shafts of light in mist/at night) also feature heavily.

    It's also a really interesting if somewhat unrecognised influence on films like Thelma and Louise which seems to lift its basic structure and characters right out of this film. The way Ben Johnson's Captain Tanner equates to Harvey Keitel's police officer in Ridley Scott's film seems particularly close.

    Fantastic performances all round too. Johnson, Horne and Atherton (a much under-used actor who has been largely wasted since, playing roles like the self serving journalist in the Die Hard films)particularly shine.

    It's also very funny, sad and engaging from beginning to end. Can't recommend this one enough - especially if you're a Spielberg fan.
  • Critics at the time were impressed by this new director, Steven Spielberg, who had previously directed Dennis Weaver in that spooky TV movie "Duel", but they were really impressed with Goldie Hawn, still mainly known as the blonde nitwit from "Laugh-In". She had been quite respectable in "Butterflies Are Free" in 1972, but she turned in a beautifully nuanced performance in this one.

    I would certainly argue with any notion that this film is "underrated". It's always been well regarded, even back in the days when Spielberg was known as the clever kid who made "Jaws". That doesn't mean it has ever been easy to see.

    Now, with the passage of time, "Sugarland Express" looks even better than it did in the 1970's. One still has no trouble at all getting caught up in the quixotic mission of these characters.
  • There's something so incredibly fascinating about watching the humble beginnings of a director as renowned as Stephen Spielberg. The Sugarland Express is one of his earliest films and it is not of the calibre of films like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the Indiana Jones franchise, but it still remarkably entertaining. It tells the story of two lovers who go on a mad run from the law in order to kidnap their son from his foster parents. Lou-Jean, played by Goldie Hawn, breaks her husband, Clovis, out of jail in order to do so and this sparks mad paranoia in the two. The run from the law doesn't occur until the two kidnap a policeman and his vehicle, forcing him to drive them to Sugarland, Texas in order to find their baby boy. This is a wild, exciting, often hilarious film, and to top it all off it's based on a true story.

    I think what defines this film more than anything is the distinct new Spielberg smell. It has all of the things we recognize from the bigger Spielberg films, just on a much smaller scale. The dialogue flows so naturally and fits right in with the action and camera work of the film. There are lots of familiar camera techniques in the film, especially the fluid camera movement that goes on within the confines of the police vehicle, where a lot of the film takes place. Nothing is as grand and widespread as Spielberg's classics, but anyone who respects the genius can respect this film for what it is because, like it or not, this is where it all began.

    But not only is The Sugarland Express a fascinating look into how Spielberg got his start, it is also just an incredibly fun film. Goldie Hawn plays the border line psychopath mother perfectly. She wants nothing more than to see her baby boy again, and she won't let anything stop her. The film hits both ends of the spectrum very nicely. A lot of it is very comedic, ranging from cleverly hilarious to downright goofy at times. Yet there are also moments of sincere dramatic tension. Through all of the offbeat wackiness, the film never forgets the situation it is dealing with. Despite everything, it is still two convicts running from the law, a subject that the characters must handle with care. And the film brings this to light very well, as it is very gripping at moments, and almost touching at others.

    The Sugarland Express isn't much more than a very exciting adventure story with some enticing moments of drama thrown in, but you have to love it for that. It doesn't try to be much more and it pulls off everything it wants to deliver with a lot of talented finesse and grace. This is not a film to miss. It's only mistake was coming right before Jaws, a masterpiece that overshadowed it greatly, hence why we know that name, but few of us have heard of the pleasant little gem that is The Sugarland Express.
  • Before Jaws propelled Steven Spielberg to the moon, he was a television director, often on episodes of Columbo and Night Gallery. Then came Duel, his taut, experimental feat of man vs. man in machines thriller that made him notable, if not bankable, in the Hollywood eye. His first theatrical release, The Sugarland Express, is to me still one of his ten best (maybe not top five, but up there). Along with his screenwriters (whom would all go to win at Cannes), Spielberg brings a true story with a sense of the tragic realism, but also the sense of adventure and fun that goes into Spielberg's most entertaining films. There's usually a sense of excitement, but one can sense this is not the kind of story that will end up as the main characters think.

    Goldie Hawn (as pretty as she is dramatic and chippy) and William Atheron (later impressionable in Ghostbusters, very much so here), are a husband and wife- the husband is in jail at the start of the film, and Hawn breaks him out with little trouble. They have a custody battle, literally, going on with their son, who is away at a home. They have to go through Texas- aka the 'Sugarland Express'- but it won't be easy. Soon there's a pursuit across the state, as the couple becomes rather famous in their simple pursuit of getting the one they love. Hawn and Atherton play off each other well, and Spielberg even at his young age as a director here gets very good performances out of them, especially out of Atherton who has a kind of urgent, tense, but focused way about him throughout. Hawn here isn't totally in the kind of mode like in her vehicle comedies- she's playing the worried mother, as determined as her husband, but her performance still contains a kind of naiveté that's crucial to the character.

    And in full widescreen glory Spielberg flexes his technical chops to a full capacity. He doesn't make the film as a thriller like with Duel, but it still drives suspense on in its road movie way. There are a couple of shots that are done for the first time (see trivia) to great effect, and there is a scene in a small town I still remember very well due to the amount of people that are in it, and how Spielberg directs this wonderfully. In some ways this is like one of those Lifetime movies crossed with Smokey and the Bandit only played more for realism; there's something very interesting that we don't get to see much with the son, he's always in a world of his own inside the house, as the situation builds on the outside.

    This all builds up to an ending that some have said doesn't work, or (like with some of Spielberg's other films, War of the Worlds for example) is too abrupt. I found that it worked just as well as with the opening scenes. It's realistic, at least for the period, and its important to remember this is based on a true story, and in these establishing and closing scenes the audience gets the real meat of the story (Catch Me if You Can did this too, though in a different way), and then in the middle some of the more dramatized parts come in. It wasn't a smash success on its first release, but it made enough of an impression with its win at Cannes and its writers guild nomination (ironically it was nominated for Best Comedy) to get Spielberg his next gig, which ended up being the real test of his career. As a nifty tale of overly concerned parents on-the-run, its really very impressive.
  • I wasn't sure what to expect from this film. Fellow fans of Steven Spielberg advised me to see "Sugarland Express," so I bought the DVD. I'm glad I did it as it is one of Spielberg's best. He should have made films more along the lines of "Duel," "Jaws" and the above film. Being based upon a true story is a Feather in the films cap. The two main characters - played by Goldie Hawn and William Atherton - are very sympathetic in spite of their circumstances. She is planning to find their baby boy so they can be re-united. He is a convict serving a light sentence. They both help his breaking out of jail and after taking a police officer hostage, they lead the police of Texas on a state wide chase. The wife and her convict husband race against time so they can find their son. This has thoughtful moments and it isn't a hard- hitting film. There is some violence but it's fairly mild and minimal. The pace is good and the tension is sustained throughout. Ben Johnson does well as one of the senior police officers who leads the Dragnet. He is a tough man but he isn't totally lacking in compassion. The direction is some of the best from Steven Spielberg.
  • Haven't heard about "Sugarland Express" till recently and I had to see it because it was vintage Spielberg, and I'm a fan. And I wanted to see the young Goldie Hawn. I was not disappointed. It was one of these road-chase movies, bigger than life, but it was unique, especially because it was based on a true story. That fact made me incredulous throughout the film, but everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger than life.

    Goldie desperately wants to get her baby back. She was in jail for some minor crimes and was found to be an unfit mother and her baby was put in a foster home and the foster parents were going to adopt him. Despite being a young girl, or maybe because of it, she was desperate to have her baby back. It was a love-child and the mother-love was passionate and obsessive. Hawn played the part to the hilt and used her sexuality and femininity to overcome the objections of her husband who was in a pre-release facility with low security.

    She had a plan to help him escape, but he didn't want to risk it, take a chance of being caught and being incarcerated again. He only had four more months to serve. The other inmates were incredulous as they disguised themselves and got an old couple to give them a ride.

    From this quiet beginning the film proceeded to repeated crescendos of drama and excitement. Try to imagine the young couple, young officer in tow, leading a chase of police cars, first a few, then a few dozen, then many dozen and ultimately hundreds, law-enforcement officers from all over the state and then snipers and a helicopter.

    Lucky for the young couple an old-hand cop realized they were just a couple of kids and he staved off snipers with telescopic long-range rifles and a couple of vigilante gun-nuts.

    You know something bad is going to happen at the end, because these kids didn't know what they were doing; they were madly in love and in a fantasy-land of getting their little boy back and living happily ever after in Mexico. Something bad happened, but something good happened. It will be worth your while to see this little classic from one of the greatest directors of the 20th century.
  • Steven Spielberg's theatrical feature film debut is a smartly crafted, expertly composed & skilfully executed adventure drama that clearly exhibits the legendary director's penchant for turning an on-screen moment into a larger-than-life event without ever going over the top and is also significant for marking the commencement of one of cinema's greatest collaborations.

    Based on a true story, The Sugarland Express tells the story of a young woman who successfully breaks her husband out of prison to help her assist retrieving her child, about to be placed in the care of foster parents. Things soon take a turn for the unexpected when they're left with no choice but to take a patrolman hostage & are pursued by the police throughout their journey.

    Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film wonderfully introduces many of his trademarks & themes that would continue to recur in his later works and is a solid work that has enough style & substance to keep the viewers engaged for the most part. Camera-work is dynamic, makes excellent angle choices & remains consistent throughout while editing steadily paces its narrative.

    Coming to the acting department, the cast comprises of Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, William Atherton & Michael Sacks amongst which it's Hawn who chips in with the most impressive performance. Marking his first collaboration with Spielberg, John William provides a score that beautifully reflects the film's tone with tracks that are adventurous, light-hearted & at the same moment, slightly poignant.

    On an overall scale, The Sugarland Express is one of Spielberg's highly underrated flicks & although far from a masterpiece, it's still a quality work of passionate filmmaking that's admirable for a number of things. Full of crowd-pleasing elements, presenting the then-young filmmaker refining his craft & an indication of greater things to come, The Sugarland Express is a must for Spielberg's fans as well as critics.
  • Petty crook is busted out of pre-release jail by his determined-yet-reckless wife; seems their infant son has been farmed out to a wealthy foster couple while the two were behind bars and the Mrs. wants her baby back now. Director Steven Spielberg's first theatrical film has a scene midway through that still takes my breath away: Goldie Hawn and William Atherton take refuge in a mobile home parked in a lot behind a drive-in movie theater, a cartoon is up on the screen and Atherton supplies the sound effects--but, as the cartoon descends into violence, he stares out the window while his wife giggles on, oblivious to the parallels between the film and the paths their lives have taken. It's a miraculous moment in a high-spirited comedy-drama about trying to get what you want--even at the expense of the law. I'm surprised most Spielberg fans turn their noses up at this movie, it's one of his best. The finale doesn't really work (the picture switches gears too many times and eventually leaves us eating dust), but Goldie Hawn's performance is brave and funny and wonderful. In fact all the acting is excellent, right down to the last two-line player. *** from ****
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Normally when you put Spielberg, John Williams, and a great cast together, you get a super mega hit adventure. This one does not fit that mold because it is based on a true story with some Hollywood embellishments. While it is well directed, it is not on a par with this famous directors later films.

    The are 2 major assets in this movie. Goldie Hawn is great, as she plays the role of the mother who wants he child back perfectly. She is obsessed and yet a little cracked. There might not be as much of Goldies skin in this one compared to some films, but there are several sequences which do use her figure to great advantage.

    The 2nd major asset is Ben Johnson. His role as the major lawman in pursuit of the escaped boyfriend and his wife in pursuit of their child who was placed with foster parents is very well done. While this is not everyones best, just Goldie and Johnson make this one worth watching.
  • Boba_Fett11389 November 2004
    Man, I forgot how much fun this movie actually was. In my mind it was a heavy drama but on my recent viewing (finally it's on DVD!) I rediscovered this movie and found out how fun it was. It kind of has the same fun feeling the other 'based on a true story' Spielberg movies: "Catch Me If You Can" and "The Terminal" have.

    The movie is made with lot's of profession and very little money. The small budget does not stop Spielberg of making a good movie. This movie was also the first Vilmos Zsigmond/Steven Spielberg collaboration. They later worked together on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". But more importantly; it also was the first collaboration of John Williams and Steven Spielberg, one of the most successful collaborations in movie history, as later turned out.

    the movie features a young Goldie Hawn and William Atherton who I really like as an actor. Atherton is probably best known for his role in "Die Hard 1 & 2", "Ghostbusters" and the more recent movie "The Last Samurai" in which he has a small part early in the movie.

    It might be a bit too slow and probably boring for some people but I still recommend this movie. It has both action and substance. In a way also a must see because it was Spielberg his first real big hit and can be regarded as his breakthrough.

  • Following Duel, movies heavily featuring cars were what Spielberg seemed to be offered, as he was set to direct Burt Reynolds in the action film White Lightning. He worked on it for a few months before quitting to take on this movie. "The one thing that I almost made was White Lightning the Burt Reynolds picture," Spielberg said "I spent two-and-a-half months on the film, met Burt once, found most of the locations and began to cast the movie, until I realized it wasn't something that I wanted to do for a first film. I didn't want to start my career as a hard-hat, journeyman director. I wanted to do something that was a little more personal." Reynolds was hurt by him quitting saying " He wanted out and it really hurt me, I felt like he just didn't want to work with me, and that was the reason. And he didn't."

    Shot in perfect continuity (for financial reasons) The majority of this movie is filmed in a car. But there was no rear view projection or shoot it and then have the actors lip-sync later. Spielberg's timing was just right Panavision inc had recently developed and the Paraflex, the first totally noiseless camera, compact enough to be handheld or shoulder rested. Virtually the entire movie was shot in sync dialogue with only 10 lines a looped later. The Sugerland Expressis one of the first fiims to be shot in this then revolutionary style, though shortly, all filmmaking would follow suit.

    This movie shows that Goldie Hawn could have been a fine dramatic actress had her career gone in that direction. Hawn's plan, slightly mad as it is, in fact does have an inner logic. I expected her infedelity (She prostitutes herself to a male neighbour for $65) to become a bigger issue. But it's surprisingly dropped pretty quickly.

    There is no villain in this movie. Captain Tanner certainly isn't one. I also like a tender scene involving a Wile E. Coyote cartoon which was probably my favourite scene in the movie. This film marked the beginning of Spielberg's friendship with John Williams and we get a Spielberg trademark (images seen in a side mirror)

    This is one of the few Steven Spielberg films that ends on a downbeat note. And boy what a downbeat note it is!!

    Sugerland Express grossed $7.5 million (against a 3 million dollar budget) at the domestic box office.
  • Although The Sugarland Express has been compared to Thelma And Louise most often, there was a film that came out the following year from Stephen Spielberg's first big screen classic that it most resembles in my mind.

    Goldie Hawn's Lou Jean might not have all that much in common with Al Pacino's Eugene in Dog Day Afternoon except for two things. Neither are the sharpest knife in the drawer and both concoct a really whacked out scheme that gets them in way over their heads.

    Unlike Pacino who put a little thought into his bank robbery plan, on a visit to a minimum security prison to her husband William Atherton who has only weeks to go on his sentence, she persuades him to bust out to kidnap their baby who foster parents are looking to adopt. The parents are in Sugarland which is West Texas near the Rio Grande.

    They actually bust out quite easily. But then during a routine traffic stop they misread signals and take rookie state policeman Michael Sacks a hostage.

    Just like Dog Day Afternoon anyone with a working brain knows that this crazy thing is doomed, but the adrenaline rush for Hawn and Atherton is out of control. The two become popular cult figures one way or another.

    Hawn, Atherton, and Sack are fine in their roles. Kudos also go to Ben Johnson for his role as the man in charge of the hunt, the chase, and the hostage negotiation.

    Stephen Spielberg started his big screen career with a winner.
  • The Sugarland Express is most famous these days for being the first theatrical feature film from the soon-to-be-massive directorial wonder kid Steven Spielberg. It's by no means his first significant film, as he had already directed another earlier road movie, namely the seminal TV movie Duel (1971). But this was the first time that he had went beyond working for the TV studios and made a feature directly for cinema release. Despite receiving good notices, it flopped on release though. And because it fell in between the critical and commercial hits Duel and, of course, Jaws (1975) it seems to have been kind of forgotten to a certain extent. Given this director's subsequent fame I find it quite surprising how relatively obscure The Sugarland Express actually is, especially considering that it's actually a very good film.

    Seemingly based on real events, it focuses on a young outlaw couple who organise a jailbreak and then kidnap a police officer who attempts to apprehend them. They then drive over to Sugarland, Texas to try and take back their child, who has been given to foster parents on account of the authorities regarding these natural parents as being, unsurprisingly, unfit.

    What makes this one stand out quite a bit is that it is clearly a product of the New Hollywood. These American movies were director-led challenging works that were released predominantly in the 70's. This one's downbeat plot elements and lack of moral certainties marks it out as a clear example of this kind of thing. It also falls into a sub-category of New Hollywood movie, namely a lovers-on-the-run film. Films such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Badlands (1973) were of this ilk and this one is another clear example. Maybe the public had begun to grow tired of this type of road movie by 1974 and this meant the film didn't do such good business at the box office. It's difficult to say but whatever the case, this is a fine example of this kind of thing. Goldie Hawn and William Atherton play the young criminals and do so very well, with Michael Sacks also impressive as the police officer they capture. Interestingly, the film goes a little against type by portraying the police captain who chases them in a very sympathetic manner. Usually these types of movies are very anti-authoritarian and anti-police but not so in this case, which adds a bit of extra depth in some ways because it's not spelt out to the audience who they should root for. Spielberg himself has went on the record to say that he believes the police to be the heroes in this film, with the main bad guys actually being the citizens who cheer the criminals on as part of the media circus generated by the televised nature of the case.

    This is a very fine film from Spielberg and in my view one of his actual best. It shows that in the days before he was so powerful that he could pick and choose his projects, he had to interpret material that wasn't necessarily 100% aligned to his sensibilities and also had to do so on a lower budget. I think the effect of this was that he was forced to utilise his obvious talent in a more lean and economical fashion, while in directing material further removed from his naturally more syrupy and sentimental disposition resulted in tougher and less morally certain films. With The Sugarland Express we get the best of both worlds.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "The Sugarland Express" is an altogether satisfying movie-going experience, and ably shows off Spielberg's skill as a director. He knew from the very beginning how to get great performances out of his actors (namely Goldie Hawn, William Atherton, Ben Johnson and Michael Sacks), how to ratchet the tension with clever editing as the climax approaches, and there's some interesting camera work with the continuous shots in and around cars.

    And the story itself is so out there that you just have no idea how this thing will end. Things move at a steadily outlandish clip, with one getaway car pursued by fifty, and our main characters even stop for some fried chicken and a pee break. Then the car lot shootout changes the mood, double-crosses start to unfold and the foreboding really sets in.

    Hawn's daffiness is a delight here, and really underscores the goofy ride that is most of this movie. And that snide change in tone is what really gives "The Sugarland Express" its lasting impact.

  • Warning: Spoilers
    Steven Spielberg's first feature is outstanding. Goldie Hawn springs her husband from jail and attempts to travel across Texas to retrieve her son. The dim-witted couple are relentlessly pursued by lawman Ben Johnson. To say the movie is fast moving is an understatement. It's entertaining from beginning to end with Hawn giving a very good performance. She's very much out of her element but pulls it off. She's funny but more tragic than comic. She's well matched with William Atherton as her husband. Michael Sacks is the not so bright junior cop they take hostage. The stunning cinematography is by Vilmos Zsigmond. The movie has a lot of suspense, a lot of humor, a lot of sadness...elements found in virtually all of Spielberg's subsequent films.
  • They clearly didn't think it through, but they do it anyhow. They're both just 25, but they've served time, and now the state has carted off their baby boy and given him to a foster family. So she breaks him out of jail, and then they bumblingly commandeer a highway patrol car, accompanied by highway patrolman, and pilot a spectacle across Texas in an endeavor to reclaim their son. That's the narrative of Steven Spielberg's second film, for which he takes the vacant desert of his tense, spare debut and fills it with a Looney Tunes parade of used-car lots, drive-ins, diners and a detained, eccentric force. Indeed, all the engines drown out all the common sense. While it's derived from an actual event, like so many things in Texas, it doesn't seem that believable. It happened in 1969, and the young couple garnered a lot of support from the people along their path. More like Natural Born Killers than Bonnie & Clyde, the lovers on the lam find brief sanctuary from their Looney Tunes world by watching Looney Tunes in a camper.

    Funny that Spielberg and Malick would be on the same thematic page now and twenty-five years later. Except here, the lateral-thinking young lovers should acknowledge, sure enough, that they can't expect to walk away from kidnapping a cop. The husband does understand, more or less, but he's intimidated by his wife and, as if she herself were the child, he would do nearly anything to pacify her. The wife, as played with an inspired vacuousness by Goldie Hawn, lives in the present tense despite that they're being pursued by roughly 200 police cars. She raids a gas station of trading stamps, then sifts through to see how many will get a bed for her boy, much like another young boy's compulsive collection of labels in Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. Except the down-home American family that characterizes so much of Spielberg's ensuing work is but a feeble daydream here.

    Indeed the chase is guided by another of Ben Johnson's cowboy father figures, a wholesome cop. He's never killed anyone and hopes to maintain this record. But close on his trail are a literal sea of local, county and state cops, ad hoc amateurs, even a couple of Louisiana troopers who came over for the thrill. And TV news mobile units permeate the convoy every chance they get, and things develop into a sort of spin-doctoring affair. Ultimately, the renegades and their captive grow less central than stopping the pageant and preserving the apparent dignity of the authorities.

    The entire film is a protracted ride into John Ford's sunset, and knowing Spielberg's passion for Golden Age Hollywood cinema, I'm sure he drew some inspiration from Billy Wilder's 1951 film Ace in the Hole, in which a man is ensnared in a cave and the news coverage of the incident becomes expedient and manipulative. That movie was rooted in actual events, too. And, sure enough, that one was set in Texas, too. As the motorcade works across hundreds of miles of Lone Star en route to the Sugarland foster home, a sort of companionship develops between the trooper and the husband. The trooper has been on the force less than a year, but he's sensible enough to see that his captors don't want to kill anybody. There are moving moments in which the husband gathers how to speak in police radio terminology, and when the trooper clarifies the modus operandi behind expeditious pursuits.

    If the film is ultimately minor Spielberg, that's since he gives more consideration to all those police cars and their collisions, and not as much to the behavior of his characters, which distinguishes his subsequent masterpiece Jaws. Here, in that film's predecessor, we become acquainted with its three main people just enough to wish we knew more. A celebration of dolly and zoom, the enjoyment instead comes from Vilmos Zsigmond's innumerable telephoto shots of cop cars. It's visually beautiful and relentlessly kinetic, screen movement being incessantly intermingled with by camera movement. And the movie has its moments, and when the escapees pass through Main Street and are offered help and donations by their recently acquired followers, we understand: That's the way fame works in America, no matter why you're famous.
  • Based on a true story, a woman (Goldie Hawn) helps her husband (William Atherton) escape from prison so they can kidnap their child from the foster family he's been placed with. Along the way the duo takes a state trooper hostage and are pursued by police while their story gains media attention. Steven Spielberg's first theatrical film (Duel was made for TV but released in theaters later). Also his first collaboration with John Williams. It's a fun dramedy with some great performances from Goldie Hawn, William Atherton, and the rest of the cast. Especially good are the colorful supporting characters, many of which have an authenticity about them that gives the film some nice flavor. An under-appreciated gem in Spielberg's oeuvre.
  • The first theatrical feature by Spielberg, his last as just another director before "Jaws," this story is saddled by what I call an 'idiot's resolve' plot. This means the main characters behave like complete idiots and, in real life, wouldn't get two steps in the direction they're going, much less the miles of roadway managed in this pic. But - and this is an important point - the story is supposedly based on a real life incident, which means such theorizing may not apply here. It all depends on how much Spielberg and the writers exaggerated events, which I tend to think was quite a bit. The story is jump-started in that a 2-year old baby is placed in foster care; the real parents (Hawn & Atherton), small-time criminals, won't have it and break the father's incarceration to set out for the foster home. But, from the outset, these two are presented as such obvious losers, I was hoping they'd never reach the kid. The father, for example, has only 4 months remaining of post-prison time to do; in short order, the idiot couple's transgressions escalate from auto theft to kidnapping of a cop (Sacks). In essence, they quickly sabotaged any chance for themselves of getting the kid back in a happy fashion.

    I also got the impression Spielberg was poking a lot of fun at Texas and Texacans in general, where this takes place. Besides the two idiotic so-called parents, most everyone else is also presented as a buffoon, a country hick with no clue. The more sinister examples are those who live for the opportunity to shoot someone - this is gun country, after all. The only one who escapes with his dignity intact is the police captain, well played by Ben Johnson. There are traces of the imagery and poignancy which many of Spielberg's later pictures would be laced with. There's the absurdity of that long, very long line of police vehicles, lights flashing, following that one car with the fugitives (I guess no other crimes needed attention in the county that day?). And the sudden look on Atherton's face when he watches a Road Runner cartoon is amazing. But these are a few instances far and between in an ambling picture. Hawn is immensely likable, of course, but in the end she comes off as an idiotic screaming shrew who directly causes bad stuff to happen. Maybe it's just me, but I don't really like women such as this. But then, if this is true-to-life, Spielberg captured some sense of an unpleasant reality we have no control over. It just didn't retain such a consistency through the entire movie.
  • namashi_124 April 2010
    'The Sugarland Express' is a very special film, it stands out. Here's why: It's based on a true story and it is the first theatrical feature film directed by Steven Spielberg. Now, 2 ACES, can never disappoint?

    'The Sugarland Express', based on a true story is about a husband and wife trying to outrun the law, they want their life back, they want their Baby Langston back. It's a joyride! The incident has been made with ease, the Legendary Filmmaker never disappoints -- as simple as that!

    Coming right away to the acting department, Goldie Hawn steals the show with a magnificent performance. The Legendary Actress delivers a performance of a lifetime! William Atherton is superb, this is his most mature performance to date. Ben Johnson is, as always, terrific. Michael Sacks emotes the helplessness and support remarkably. Others are satisfactory.

    On the whole, this Superb Piece Of Cinema cannot be missed by Cinema-Devotees. Thumbs Up!
  • I began my Spielberg Festival at the Cinematheque by his first movie done the year I was born. It's my first viewing and it's amazing to see how his first feature takes root from his first project ("duel"), even thought the story is totally different. In fact, you'll see that all his movies can be tied by two, so check my pairing note at the end of my next reviews. It's maybe easy now to predict that Spielberg would become a master but on the other hand, all his future trademark are already there: He knows how to tell a story and i can tell the difference with today movies where the plot and edit are unintelligible (transformers, cars,). Next, Spielberg has en "eye": he knows how to put the camera to have a stunning visual, especially his close-ups. Then, he is excellent with his cast and knows how to built emotions. Even if hundred policemen chased the couple, the audience supports the side of the family and don't view them as criminals. At last, with nearly 40 years behind (thus nearly my age), the movie has a good historic and cultural value. In some ways, it announces the media folklore of the 80's and so on. At least, his screenplay won the Award at Cannes Festival and it's a sure proof that this newcomer would become a name!
  • Spielberg surprised me with this movie, regardless of whether or not I thought it was going to be good or not. Usually, debuts from film-makers aren't really that good. Very rarely do we have a film-debut that's as good as this. Goldie Hawn was really good as Lou Jean Poplin, who wants her son back from a foster home in Sugerland, Texas. I was surprised to hear that this was based on a true story as well. I had no idea that anything like this happened. The ending was sad as well, but I won't give it away. You'll have to see it yourselves.

    Over all, this is one of the best debuts that I've seen in a long time.
  • jotix10016 July 2004
    Not having seen this film in many years, I was surprised when TCM showed it recently. This film showcases the talent of Steven Spielberg in his early period. It's even more to his credit that he persisted in filming this story, based on a real incident, because he didn't have the recognition back then. Spielberg knew he had a winner in this film and he worked hard in getting a "star" like Goldie Hawn to agree to be in the movie and thus convincing the executives to let him go ahead.

    At heart, this is a story about a mother's love for her son, and to what extent she is willing to go to get him back from the same system that saw her unfit to raise him. Lou Ann might have done things in her past to land her in jail, but her heart is in the right place and if she has to fight in order to get the toddler back, she will do whatever is in her power.

    The prison escape is hysterical. Clovis can't believe what Lou Ann makes him do. The film become a road picture when the old couple agrees to give them a ride. When they're stopped for going so slow in the highway, Lou Ann decides to take matters into her own hands. Later on she overpowers the patrolman, Slide, and they embark in an adventure of great proportions.

    The carnival that follows them is created by the media that follows the trio on the road. It's incredible to think of the caravan of police cars that followed them and were unable to do anything to arrest them. Captain Tanner knows his fight against the fugitives will come to nothing because the press has made the couple into popular figures on a quest for justice.

    Goldie Hawn is the best asset on the film. She doesn't have her usual mannerisms, as she plays a straight Lou Ann. William Atherton is equally excellent as Clovis. Michael Sacks and Ben Johnson contribute to the film tremendously.

    This is a classic Spielberg.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I saw The Sugarland Express for the first time about six months ago. I can't believe I've never heard of this movie before then. It had everything you could hope for in a movie. Excellent story, good acting and great directing by Steven Spielberg. The story is about a young woman named Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn), who has lost custody or her baby son because of her criminal record. She decides the only way she can get him back is to get her husband and take her baby son away from his foster parents. Unfortunately, her husband Clovis (William Atherton) still has four months of his own prison sentence left to serve. Lou Jean visits him at the Pre-release Center he is serving his time in and threatens him with divorce if he doesn't leave with her. He reluctantly agrees and escapes. (Actually he just walks out - the place has the worst security). From then on, the two only have bad luck. The older couple they hitch a ride with get stopped by Highway Patrol Officer Slide (Michael Sacks). Lou Jean and Clovis then steal the older couple's car, wreck the car and kidnap Officer Slide and force him to drive them to Sugarland where their son is living. The remainder of the film chronicles what happens to them on their trip. How the media transforms them into a cause célèbre and how the police have to not only deal with the fugitives but with the media and the public which has rallied behind the couple. The movie also deals with the changing relationship between Clovis, Lou Jean and Office Slide. As Lou Jean, Goldie Hawn brings a heartfelt and sympathetic performance to the role of a women who refuses to see the futility of her actions and is blinded by her desire to get her son back at any cost. This is definitely one of her best performances and shows what she can do with a part that demands a range of emotions. It was a real surprise to see William Atherton as a good guy and not as a pompous jerk or villain. (I will always remember him as the idiot inspector in Ghostbusters). Atherton did a good job of letting you see that Clovis did whatever Lou Jean said not because he was weak-willed but because he really loved Lou Jean and didn't want to lose her. Michael Sacks gave dimension to a character which in lesser hands might have come across as your basic by-the-book cop. Over the course of the movie you see the gradual change in Officer Slide as he is torn between his duty as an officer and his desire to help the couple get their son. (It's a mystery to me why I've never seen Michael Sacks in anything I can remember - he was very impressive in this.)

    Spielberg's direction gives you a real feel for the expansive Texas countryside which contrasts with the fact that for most of the movie these characters are confined in cars. Spielberg uses everything at his disposal to highlight and backdrop his story - the sunsets, the open Texas highway, and local color are all used to optimum effect. Not a surprise he went on to become as successful as he did.

    Overall - A must see.
  • Lou-Jean (Goldie Hawn)visits her husband in prison with the sole intention of helping him escape from prison. Lou-Jean informs her husband Clovis (William Atherton) that she has lost custody of their son and asks her husband to assist her in kidnapping their son from his foster parents. Initially, the plan is working until they take a police officer hostage...

    Based on a true story, The Sugarland Express starts out quite fun and Spielberg gives the film a mostly light-hearted and playful touch to it which makes it moderately enjoyable. Unfortunately, the screenplay does little to develop the main characters making them rather one-dimensional, thinly-drawn and rather uninteresting as people. Presumably this is intended as part road-movie and part character-study, but it isn't fun enough to be classed as a good road-movie (a lot of the film sees the couple being followed round Texas very slowly which hardly makes for an exciting picture). It also fails as a character study because there is precious little to study - the film occasionally mentions the state determining that Lou-Jean is a bad parent and her argument to the contrary, but this is never really explored or given any focus which is a shame because this probably would have made the narrative that bit more involving.

    Later in the film, there is almost a Stockholm syndrome scenario developing between the kidnapped cop and the couple which again was an interesting direction to take the story in, but again it never really developed into anything; in fact this aspect of the story started out interesting and grew more and more ridiculous as it progressed...

    The Sugarland Express isn't all bad and does have a few good points about it; Goldie Hawn once again puts on a good show and is great fun to watch here, the supporting cast are all OK, but Hawn easily outshines everyone. The film also has some amusing moments - the car being pushed to the petrol station was one such example.

    Whilst it starts out well, unfortunately The Sugarland Express has already stretched its thin plot beyond breaking point by the midway point in the film and it starts to become repetitive, tedious and a tad boring. The Sugarland Express once again proves that having Steven Spielberg's name against a film isn't always a cast-iron guarantee of a good quality film.
  • Based on true events. In Texas Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn) breaks her husband Clovis (William Atherton) out of a pre-release house. It seems their baby was taken from her and she is determined to get him back. They kidnap a police car with its patrolman (Michael Sacks) and order him to drive to the town of Sugarman where their child is. Head of police Captain Tanner (Ben Johnson) wants to settle this without any blood or shooting...but can he?

    Steven Spielberg's first theatrical film is still largely unknown...and it's easy to see why! The basic story is OK but the film just gets more bizarre as it goes on. At first it was kind of fun but then it got annoying. I mean are we supposed to take seriously the entire force of Texas police following this one car? After a while it just became an endless series of car chases and shootouts. By the end I could have cared less if they got the kid or not. Also Atherton (a wonderful actor) gives a rare bad performance here (but his part WAS difficult to play). There are some good points about the film--Sacks (who has since retired from acting) is good in his role, Goldie was charming in hers and Johnson is just incredible. The stunning wide screen cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond and great direction by Spielberg help--but they fail to totally cover the fact that this is an overdone car chase film. Also the veering from surreal to reality at the end is jolting (and depressing). Worth a look if you're a fan of Spielberg and Hawn but overall a disappointment.
An error has occured. Please try again.