Honky TOnk Freeway DVDDirector: John Schlesinger
Screenplay: Edward Clinton
Starring: Beau Bridges, William Devene, Terri Gorr, Geraldine Page
Year: 1981
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 mins
BBFC Classification: 15

Ticlaw is a small town that desperately needs an exit of its own off of the nearby freeway as, since this concrete goliath was built, the majority of passing traffic has done just that, pass by. The town’s mayor, (and its hotel owner and preacher), Kirby, decides to try and bribe the government road building department by handing over $10,000, which the town have cobbled together by putting on various charity events, in order to help lubricate the wheels of freeway construction, but they end up being duped and no exit is built and they lose their money into the back pocket of the greedy government official.

Meanwhile a peculiar group of people from various cities such as Chicago and New York set off on their own road trips, all heading down to Florida, which takes them past Ticlaw. These include a couple of bank robbers and a hitchhiker they pick up, an elderly couple (one of whom is a raging alcoholic), a young woman, Carmen, with her mother’s funeral urn, a couple of nuns (one old and stuffy, the other young and frisky), and Dwain (played by Bridges), a wannabe writer of children’s books.

Back in Ticlaw, after trying various ways to raise the profile of their town, including trying to get the local safari park’s elephant, Bubbles, to water-ski for the local press, the townsfolk decide to force the issue by blowing up part of the freeway, thus forcing commuters off the main road and down into their small conurbation.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here by saying that all sorts of weird and wonderful things happen relating to our meaningful menagerie of travellers and the townsfolk of Ticlaw as they prepare to ‘sic it to the man’ and bring down ‘his’ trunk road.

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Only in the 70s and early 80s could a film like Honky Tonk Freeway get made. It’s a strange freewheeling miss-mash of a film that, while mildly amusing, never really fulfils its comic or dramatic potential. It’s reasonably well made and, dodgy 70s fashions aside, is quite a visually arresting film with some nicely realised aerial shots of the freeway and surrounds. But the main problem with it is that is kind of meanders about for far too long, introducing too many characters in too short a time for us to really get to grips with any of them. Today it would probably be made as a mini-series and shown on some more obscure cable TV station.

It’s a film filled with surreal moments like the scene where one of the bank robbers watches TV with some hookers in a brothel while he waits for his mate (with greater stamina) to finish up, a scene where a cocaine dealer snorts Carmen’s mum’s ashes or the bizarre scene where a rhino has to be persuaded to go into the back of a truck and ends up causing all sorts of mayhem.

Some of the dialogue dates the film pretty badly including one dreadful line where the mayor tries to persuade his black sheriff to ‘jungle up’ for the tourists! There’s also quite a bit of smutty humour throughout that kind of spoils it as a family film, which it obviously purports to be. In fact I’m not sure if the filmmakers really knew who their audience was going to be when they started shooting this movie!

Sadly for a film where quite a lot happens, for some reason it still doesn’t engage the viewer as it should do, which is a shame. Overall, a ‘honky-tonk’ disappointment.

Honky Tonk Freeway has been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are, to their credit, currently releasing lots of these rarer film titles.

If you’re listening Network, other films you might want to track down are Quentin Lawrence’s The Trollenberg Terror (1958) and Cash on Demand (1961); Dilemma (1961) – directed by Peter Maxwell; and I Start Counting (1969) –
directed by David Greene.

The extras on the review disc were 63 images in a gallery, including some from scenes that didn’t appear in the film, a theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer, which refers to the focus of the story as a ‘spunky little town’, which made me giggle a bit!

About The Author

Justin Richards is a journalist by day and a scriptwriter by night. His work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not sitting hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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