From the makers of the highly successful The Walking Tall Trilogy comes the ultimate story of revenge. Joe Don Baker (Lewis) plays a gambler who is framed for a crime he did not commit. A corrupt legal system leads him into a plea bargain and four years behind bars. By the time Lewis gets out of prison, he's determined to put together the pieces of his frame-up and dole out the justice he was denied to those responsible. Framed comes out swinging with two-fisted action that will have you cheering as some of cinema s most loathsome villains get what's coming to them.
Joe Don Baker. I start this review off my mentioning the name of this venerable actor because it will no doubt elicit a wide variety of responses. Some may instantly remember his terrific turn in flicks like 'Walking Tall.' Others may think of his appearances as different characters in the James Bond films of the 80s and early 90s. Still, others like myself will forever remember the rotund tough guy for 'Mitchell' and 'Final Justice' - the films mercilessly savaged by the SOL crew on 'Mystery Science Theater 3000. Always a terrific everyman character actor, Joe Don's leading role films were always dipped in a slightly uncomfortable layer of sleaze that made them difficult to fully embrace. 1975's 'Framed' directed by Phil Karlson features Baker in his element, as a sloppy gambler put in prison for a crime he didn't commit on a quest for 70s style vengeance.
Ron Lewis (Joe Don Baker) has got a lot going his way. He's got the beautiful singer Susan Barrett (Conny Van Dyke) for a girlfriend, he owns the club she sings to packed crowds in every night, and he also happens to be the most skilled card shark in town. After winning a boatload of cash in a poker game, Ron is feeling like he's got life made in the shade. After coming upon a disabled car on the side of the road, Ron is shot at by a shadowy figure. When he makes it home and is about to call the police, the town Sheriff is already there aiming a gun at Ron's head. In a fight for self-defense, Ron accidentally kills the Sheriff. When the bag of cash that was in his car mysteriously goes missing during the investigation, Ron's chances of a successful defense disappear in the blink of an eye.
Forced to take a plea deal, Ron's sent to serve a stretch of hard time. Inside he meets connected man Sal Viccarrone (John Marley) and right-hand and enforcer Vince (Gabriel Dell). They encourage Ron to spend his time inside doing what he does best: playing cards and making friends - the sort of friends who can do favors later. Vengeance can wait. After doing four years Ron is eventually set free, but freedom will only bring violence when Ron returns home in search of the men who took his life away.
In all honesty, there isn't a whole lot to 'Framed' that hasn't been done or seen before in countless other revenge movies. It's a fairly rote and routine paint by numbers "guy is wronged, guy kills people who wronged him" story. While the bits and pieces and the character arks are spelled out pretty much from the get go, this isn't a half bad film. I expected to experience the usual Joe Don Baker sleazy sort of 70s pseudo-exploitation low-budget action flick, but I was surprised to see the level of heart and care taken with the execution.
Working from a script by Mort Briskin from the novel by Art Powers and Mike Misenheimer, Phil Karlson smartly kept the proceedings reigned in. More or less 'Framed' is a sort of 'Walking Tall' knock off picture featuring the same actor, but thanks to the smart script, some decent performances, and a few terrific set pieces, the film works on its own. Joe Don Baker is in his element being all things angry, smarmy, and charming as he dishes out his brand of tough guy violence. Conny Van Dyke does a great job as Susan in an effort to ground the hero while John Marley provides a great fatherly sort of figure to guide our unconventional hero. The late great Gabriel Dell delivers yet another terrific supporting character here rounding out a fantastic cast of colorful characters.
No, 'Framed' is not a "great" movie in the traditional sense of the word, but I will readily admit to saying it was an entertaining one. Considering Joe Don Baker made 'Mitchell' the same year, I was expecting this flick to be a bit of a dog. Baker has always been an impressive supporting actor. The man can steal a scene. As a leading man, however, his movies were always a bit on the uncomfortably grimy sort as he'd frequently play incredibly unlikable characters. For a run-of-the-mill revenge movie, 'Framed' ended up being a better than average turn for Baker as the movie itself is never boring and moves along at a brisk pace. It's the best sort of popcorn movie that you don't have to be too attached to in order to enjoy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Framed' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard, sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options.
Considering the type of movie this is and made when it was, the 1.85:1 1080p transfer supplied for 'Framed' is actually pretty decent. It's not a miracle restoration of the ages by any stretch, but it gets the job done. While I doubt this is a very recent transfer, the results offer up a visible if slightly noisy grain field. Detail levels can fluctuate at times, but that is because of some baked in focus issues where it appears as if the focus puller wasn't doing a very good job. Close-ups look pretty good, middle shots are a bit iffy, but establishing shots tend to look fine. Colors are decent all around replicating that mid-1970s pallet. Flesh tones look healthy and accurate. Black levels tend to be strong with deep inky blacks but some of the darker scenes in the club can sport some slight crush. The source elements for this transfer display a near-constant range of slight to moderate speckling with a few scratches and staining.
'Framed' comes packed with a decent English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. Dialogue is intelligible and remains largely front and center throughout most of the film. There are a few exchanges here and there that sound like they were looped in post-production with a tinny fake quality to them that stands out from the rest of the mix. Sound effects are present and provide a good sense of space and dimension, especially when Ron is living out his prison term, there is a nice sense of echo while also maintaining that expected feeling of claustrophobia. Hiss is present but thankfully isn't an overwhelming problem. No other serious age-related issues to report.
Audio Commentary: Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson provide a lively and engaging commentary track. As often as they're describing events on screen, they're giving a lot of production history and information about the film's cast and crew. A fun listen all around.
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'Mr. Majestyk' Trailer: (HD 1:33)
If you've got a love for Joe Don Baker movies, it doesn't get much better than 'Framed.' Under the guidance of director Phil Karlson, a routine revenge movie gets the gritty and grimy 70s exploitation treatment that only a sweaty Joe Don Baker can deliver. Kino Lorber brings this entertaining flick to Blu-ray with a damage-but-good video transfer, a serviceable audio mix, and a fun audio commentary track. No one will say 'Framed' is the best movie ever made, but it's never boring and proves to be a fun way to spend an evening. Worth a look.