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WHEN YOU COMIN BACK, RED RYDER? (1979).

Here's another one of those M.I.A. titles. Based on an Obie Award-winning play by Mark Medoff (CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD), this screen adaptation was initially touted with full-page ads in major newspapers, but after its disastrous reviews and box-office, the movie vanished from sight. I'm not surprised, since this is a misguided, angry, sadistic, and ugly piece of work, featuring an oddball mix of character actors and Broadway vets -- who were obviously deluded into thinking that they signed onto some brutal yet important 'statement'. Ha!... The time is 1968, with child-evangelist-turned-mediocre-actor Margoe Gortner (who also produced) playing Teddy, a long-haired, drug-dealing, Nam-vet scumbag. But it's Candy Clark who understands how to kick off a movie, during her full-frontal nude bath as Teddy's groovy girlfriend. Primarily set inside a desert roadside diner, we meet EQUUS-star Peter Firth as local greaser Stephen "Red' Ryder, who yearns to ditch this "hog trough"; Lee Grant and ex-BARNEY MILLER Hal Linden as a stressed-out city-couple on vacation; Pat Hingle, Bill McKinney and Audra Lindley are gristled locals; while newcomer Stephanie Faracy is big-boned waitress Angel (with Anne Ramsey as her mom). It's obvious that all of 'em have empty lives, and a wake up call is on its way. Enter Gortner and Candy, who need a place to eat, a garage to fix their VW van, and a bunch of strangers to psychologically abuse at gunpoint. Teddy is the Psycho-Hippie From Hell, and quickly tears away at his hostages' emotional frailties. He tells chubby Angel that no one will ever marry her, wings Linden, threatens to smash Grant's pricey violin, and play-acts a Red Ryder western scenario (FYI, the movie's title comes from their dialogue), until they all reach a breaking point. Why? For the sheer kicks, as far as we can tell. While this might sound powerful, director Milton Katselas undercuts it with deluded pretensions, gratingly-stupid characters, and even a gospel cameo by Hovie Lister and the Statesmen. Suffocatingly overwrought, the film's only saving grace is Margoe, who revels in this sweat-stained, Manson-wannabe -- from being on the receiving end of a painful rectal search by a Customs official, to his lengthy diner stand-off. Neither sick enough to appease exploitation fans, or compelling enough for any average moviegoer, this self-important embarrassment deserves a spot next to other Gortner turds like STARCRASH and VIVA KNIEVEL.

© 2001 by Steven Puchalski.