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Woefully Overlooked Counter-Culture Screwball Comedy
Steelyard Blues {aka The Final Crash}
Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda, Peter Boyle
When this film was released on national teevee, the network, in its infinite wisdom (or something) decided that we wouldn't want to watch a film with a title so irrelevant to what they perceived as the main thrust of the film, and so they retitled it "The Final Crash" -- i assume it was because the main character (Donald Sutherland as Veldini) is a demolition derby driver when he isn't in jail (he was in jail for robbing gas stations in order to pay for the demolition derby driving habit...).

This, of course, is almost irrelevant to the main themes of the film, except as it is to be seen as one more example of a free spirit trammeled 'round by petty mundanity, i guess.

That aside, this is a nice little surreal comedy about a group of non- conformist types who want to fly away and a society that cannot tolerate their oddnesses nor grant them the freedom to opt out, as personified in Veldini's brother, DA "Veldin" (Howard Hesseman, against type as an uptight Establishment politician), who hopes to run for Governor and doesn't need his wacko brother making his name a laughingstock again.

Representing the Forces of Freedom (or at least Absurdity) along with Sutherland as Veldini are Peter Boyle as Eagle, a self-defined lunatic who does a wicked Brando impression, and Jane Fonda as Iris Caine, childhood friend of the Veldinis, now a high-priced callgirl (keep an eye on her highball glass full of ice...).

Symbolising the dreams of the free-spirited is the PBY Catalina seaplane that the three plus friends plan to refurbish and fly away to a desert-island paradise in.

Actually, the film is a pretty loose framework for various bits of outrageous comedy, including a non-violent commando raid on a Navy base for parts, and an opening jail-house scene in which Veldini attempts to convince a cellmate that he is, indeed, dangerous.

The main problem that this film has, for me, and, i suspect for others (aside from the fact that some people still reflexively spit when they say "Hanoi Jane" Fonda's name) is that Donald Sutherland (like, say, Bruce Dern) can be, shall we say, a bit wearing as a lead actor primarily carrying a film. (Can you say Alex in Wonderland, kiddies?) I, in this case, don't have too much of that problem, and i really like this movie.

Some classic bits:

Eagle sneaking out of the mental institution where he is a voluntary commitment in the dead of night -- not because he has to; he can sign himself out anytime he wants -- but because it feels right.

The afore-mentioned Brando imitation that is so right and so wonderfully satiric.

Fonda, Hesseman and the ice cubes.

Veldini's obsession -- there is only one model and year of post-war car he hasn't destroyed at least one of, and he's determined to get one before he goes.

And so on.

The "twist" in the end is fun, too.