Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Sugarland Express


In 1969 two losers named Ila Fae Holiday and Robert Dent sort of accidentally kidnapped a Texas Highway Patrolman and ended up leading a slow-motion chase through a lot of my old stomping grounds in southeast Texas, from Winnie to Anahuac to Port Arthur and Beaumont, trailing over a hundred cop cars and news vans. Through Houston and up to Conroe and finally to Wheelock, where Bobby wanted to see his stepchildren. The man leading the chase, Captain Miller, who was in radio contact with the kidnappers the whole time, agreed. And Bobby, who was incredibly stupid, walked right up to a house where he was blown away by a hidden Sheriff and an FBI agent. Ila Fae served five months of a five-year sentence.

This is Steven Spielberg’s first feature film, “inspired” by the ballad of brainless Bobby and Ila Fae. They added a whole lot of stuff, including Goldie Hawn breaking William Atherton out of a pre-release prison, and her iron-willed determination to get her child, “baby Langston,” from a home in Sugarland where he was about to be adopted. Plus maybe the world’s biggest fender-bender as those hundreds of cop cars collide with each other. Plus an overnight stay in a used car lot, culminating with a shootout with a carload of gun-happy Texans. Plus … well, just about everything about this new story is made up. It makes a better story, I agree, and in fact I like it quite a bit, but because it begins as a pure comedy and gradually gets darker and darker, it was not a hit.