Monday, 24 January 2011

The Dion Brothers (1974)

This film may be familiar to some of you as The Gravy Train but I think audiences at early screenings indicated that the title sounded too much like dog food. It was therefore altered and re-submitted as The Dion Brothers, which to be fair is more fitting to the film anyway.

"I got the makings of a Kirk Douglas man! Look at me. Kirk-fucking-Douglas!"

Calvin (Keach) is a factory worker who decides one day that he's had enough, so he just ups and leaves his busy, busy, busy, busy job and aims to make it rich as an armed robber. So he joins Tony (played by Barry Primus) and the rest of his gang in Washington D.C. as they plan to steal an armoured car and share the money. Calvin convinces Tony that in order to pull this off he's going to need a dynamite expert, and that the best person for the job would be his brother Rut (Forrest). Rut also joins the gang with no hesitations and they set off to steal the car. Everything goes exactly to plan and they pull off the robbery without any major setbacks. But it's only when they return home to find their place surrounded by cops that they realise Tony has set them up. The brothers must then spend the rest of the film trying to track down Tony to get their share of the robbery, with the help of Margie (the gorgeous but strange Margot Kidder).

The film moves from one scene to the next without any real fluidity, it jumps from comedy to drama to action so fast and your never really sure what's coming next, but it's the relationship of the brothers that make the film and holds everything else in place. All they want to do is earn (steal) enough money so that they can open up their own seafood restaurant. You can't help but want exactly that for them even though they're criminals. Those scenes reminded me of Of Mice and Men, because I remember those characters wanting to to open up their own Jazz bar or something like that. The film shares a few other similarities with that story I guess as the brother Rut could almost be mistaken for Lenny. Dumb, strong but very caring. There is also a scene where Carlos is playing the horseshoe game, again taken from the Steinbeck novel and film adaptations.

Stacy Keach is amazing, from the opening shirtless scene in the canning factory you know your going to be in for a treat and he doesn't disappoint. Praise must also go to Frederic Forrest who plays Rut, the much dumber and carefree brother, he's pretty damn special in this. You may also notice Richard Romanus who plays Carlos, he's the older brother of Robert Romanus of Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame.

I really enjoyed the film even though I watched it on a pretty grainy VHS rip. It's unavailable on DVD right now and has been largely obscure for many years. I can't recall ever seeing a tape of either title in the video stores or markets when I was younger. I would really love to see it again some time fully restored but it still didn't take any of the heart away from it. It's a very solid film and one which needs to be seen by a much wider audience as it's fairly obscure. I'd heard of it a while back but it was brought back to my attention lately by the guys over at the ggtmc podcast.

The only thing seperating this film from it's 5th star for me is the fact that it's something of a mess structurally.

"Name a fish plate after me..."

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