Joe (1970)



Director:     John G. Avildsen. 

Starring:      Peter Boyle (Joe Curran),  Dennis Patrick (Bill Compton),  Audrey Caire (Joan Compton),  Susan Sarandon (Melissa Compton),  K Callan (May Lou Curran),  Patrick McDermott (Frank Russo),  Tim Lewis (Kid in soda shop),  Estelle Omens (Woman in bargain store),  Bob O'Connell (Man in bargain store),  Marlene Warfield (Bellevue nurse),  Mary Case (Teenage girl buying drugs),  Jenny Paine (Teenage girl buying drugs),  Reid Cruickshanks (American bartender),  Rudy Churney (Man in bar),  Robert Emerick (TV newscaster). 

what scared the hippies and leftists the most;  the multitude of Rednecks in the USA favorable to using violence to put down all leftists


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.   Use of the N word by Joe. 

A young hippie couple uses drugs in their apartment. Their names are Frank and Melissa. Frank sells drugs at least part-time. In the apartment he injects himself with drugs. Melissa doesnít really like the drug scene all that much but she does love Frank. He tells her to take an upper and she will soon be feeling great. She does so. 

Frank goes out to sell drugs to some young kids. Melissa comes to see Frank where is working. She says that she is not feeling well so he tells her to take another drug. He says he only has one more pass to make and they can buy more drugs to sell. He leaves.

By this time Melissa is very high. She goes into a store and starts knocking off items off a shelf. The woman behind the counter has to take her down to stop her. Meanwhile, the male clerk or perhaps the owner calls the police saying that there is a hippie in their store who has flipped out.

The police take her to a hospital. Her parents come to visit her and say they are going to take her to Rivercrest for special treatment.

Dad and mom go to Melissaís apartment. But once there they have a fight and mom leaves. Dad goes ahead into the apartment. He is amazed at the number and variety of drugs in the apartment. Meanwhile, Frank sells drugs to two young school girls.

Now Frank has enough money to buy a new drug stash. He buys the drugs and brings them back to the apartment. He finds dad in the apartment. Frank is about to attack dad with a weapon when dad explains he is there to pick up Melissaís things. Dad tells him that Melissa is in the hospital. The hippieís attitude toward his daughter really makes dad mad and he starts banging the fellowís head against a wall. He then starts beating him with his fists over and over. Frank stops moving at all and dad checks to see if he can hear a heartbeat. He canít. Frank is dead. He gathers up some of Melissaís things, grabs the drugs and leaves.

Dad goes down to a bar to have a drink and calm down. Inside the bar is a typical redneck. You can always spot them by their hate speech. The guyís name is Joe and he says the niggers are getting all the money. They all go on welfare, so why should they work? And when they get the welfare money they use it to buy booze. And did you notice that all the social workers are nigger lovers? And now all the niggers want charge accounts.

Joes now turns to the rich white kids. He rails that they are worse than the niggers. Money doesnít mean anything to these kids. His own kid couldnít get into college, because they were letting so many niggers in. And the liberals! Forty-two percent of them are queer! He says the George Wallace people took a poll.

Dad, named William Compton, goes to make a call to the hospital. The doctor isnít in, so he asks that the doctor call him when he does show up at the hospital. Bill goes back to sit down.

Again Bill Compton hears the wailing of Joe. The bartender asks Joe to please give everyone a break and go play some music. Joe goes over to the juke box but says thereís nothing to play. He says: "Look at the shit music." He says itís all the fault of the young kids. He says he would like to kill one of them.

William Compton looks up from his drink, looks straight at Joe and tells him: "I just did!" Joe canít believe what heís hearing. Did the guy really kill one of those hippies? So he asks Bill Compton seriously if he really killed one of them. This time Bill says no. Joe laughs and says: "You had me goiní there." Bill gets a call from the hospital so he excuses himself. Joe tells the bartender that the new guy is alright and to give Bill another drink on him.

When Bill gets off the phone he picks up the drugs and leaves. This upsets Joe who shouts: "Hey, Compton, I bought you a drink! What is this?"

When Bill gets home his wife asks him whatís wrong? Whatís happened? Why did it take so long?

At home Joe watches television. His wife says she is going to bed. In the morning Joe goes to work. He listens to country music complaining about the same things he always complains about.

Back home his wife has fixed him a good meal. But she has some bad news. Colored people moved in down the block. Joe is not pleased. He finishes his beer, gets another , tells his wife to call him when the food is ready and goes down to his den which is filled with typical redneck joys: bowling paraphernalia and rifles.

One day Joe hears about a death of a drug dealer down in Greenwich Village, New York City. The fellow was beaten to death. He thinks about Compton, but is not sure.

Back at Billís house, his wife hears the news and realizes what happened. Bill tells her the rest.

Joe calls Comptonís Office. Bill has his secretary tell him he is busy. He does not know any Mr. Curran. But Joe insists that Compton does know him. Now Bill takes the call. Joe tells him he wants to see him. They will meet at the Bowl-a-drome in Astoria, Queens, New York City.

Compton shows up and Joe is very friendly to him. He introduces Compton to his bowling friends. Joe says Compton is a guy whose got real balls. Joe takes Compton to a better place. He lets Bill know he knows about the killing. He bets Compton that he was thinking that old Joe is here to blackmail him. Joe says he could blackmail Bill, but donít worry about it. Heís not going to do that. After all, Joe only talks about it, while Bill actually did it! He believes Bill is a real hero.

Joe talks about money. He only makes $160.00 dollar a week and is shocked to learn that Bill earns $60,000 a year. Now Bill takes Joe to an even nicer place, a place where he hangs out. Joe comments to Bill that all the guys there look like a bunch of fags. But he still figures they are a bunch of smart guys too.

Bill plays a joke on an uptight colleague. He says that though Joe might not look it, he is going to be the new executive vice-president down at the guyís place of work. The colleague gets all upset over the news because he wanted the job.

Bill takes Joe to look at the huge buildings of glass on Manhattan island. He says all the people do in these building is just push paper around from one place to another. Joe tells Bill he has to go hunting with him one of these days.

A friend, Phyllis, visits Melissa in the hospital. Melissa asks about Frank. Phyllis is shocked that Melissa doesnít know what happened.

The Comptons visit Joe and Mary Louís place for dinner. Mary Lou orders in Chinese food from their favorite Chinese place. Mrs. Compton feels very out-of-place in the small apartment.

Melissa gets out of her hospital bed, puts on some clothes and leaves the hospital.

At the Chinese dinner Joe says that these modern kids are screwing up their elders, not the other way around.

Melissa arrives home, probably let in by the landlord.

On the way home Mr. Compton tells his wife that Joe and Mary Lou are a refreshing change to all the stuffy businessmen he has to deal with everyday. The parents arrive home and continue discussing Joe and Mary Lou. Joan says that Joe holds their lives in his hands. Bill says he rather likes Joe. Itís as if Joe shared in the experience; as if he had killed the boy too. Joe makes Bill feel as if he has done a humanitarian act by killing a drug dealer.

All of a sudden Melissa makes an appearance. She asks why didnít her parents tell her about what happened to Frank? That he was dead? She tells her father that she heard what he said: "You killed Frank and I loved him!" She runs out. Bill runs out after her and catches her. He lets her go when she yells: "Are you going to kill me too?

Joe calls Bill about coming over the next day. Bill says he canít. Melissa ran away from the hospital and he has been searching for her every evening. Joe volunteers to go with him on the search.

They meet at a parking lot in Greenwich Village. They go into a place called the Cauldron. Some of the hippies make fun of Joe because he looks like a truck driver. Since there is no liquor served there, they leave. Joe gets some liquor from a liquor store. They go into another eating place.

Joe and Bill really stick out in the hippie places. One of the young guys asks Bill if he wants to buy some grass? (He wants to sell him some oregano as grass.) Bill tells him no because he has lots of his own grass. The guy goes to tell his friends what Bill told him. They send him back to ask if he is for real. The guy goes back and Bill says he wonít sell any of it. So they guy invites Bill and Joe to a hippie party as long as they bring the drugs with them. Bill doesnít want to go, but Joe says this is their opportunity to get in with the hippies and get to know them. That would make it easier to find Melissa.

The party is pretty "far out", man. The older guys smoke grass and get high. The girls get naked and start having sex with some of the guys. Bill comments: "The new sex; like eating." A naked woman invites Joe over to her and he starts sucking on her breasts. But she tells him to take off all his clothes if he wants to have sex with her. Joe obliges her.

Another hippie girl has sex with Bill. Joe has sex in a bedroom with his girl. When he finishes the girl criticizes him for coming so fast.

While the guys are preoccupied, the hippie fellows grab the stash of drugs and leave with them and a few of the girls. They also take the credit cards.

Joe yells for Compton saying they have been robbed. They stole their wallets and their drugs. This makes Joe very angry and he starts slapping one of the two girls left behind trying to force her into telling him where the guys are. The girl not being slapped, but having to watch, tells Joe that the guys have a hippie commune, but she doesnít know where. So Joe keeps slapping his girl until she tells him how to get to the commune.

Joe drives Bill up to the commune. He gets out two of his rifles from his trunk. Compton tells him to put the weapons back in the trunk, but Joe wonít hear of it. He says he is just going to give the folks a little scare.

They go into the house and the guys recognize Joe and Bill right away. One fellow runs for it. He gets out to the back yard, but there Joe shoots him from the back door of the house. Joe comes back to the living room and shoots the remaining guy and gal.

Joe rushes upstairs with Bill following behind. He says they have to leave the area clean, no witnesses. He tells Bill to shoot two homosexual lovers. Bill refuses, but Joe starts to work on him with his hate speech. He says these kids today just shit on you. He says Bill hates them as much as he does. Bill shoots the two homosexuals. He turns and shoots another young fellow in the next room.

Now Compton seems to be in a state of frenzy. Three people enter the house and Bill kills the first two entrants with one shot, the bullet going through both of them. The third person, a woman, turns around and runs away over the front yard. We can now see that the frightened girl is none other than Billís daughter Melissa. Bill shoots her dead in the back.


Good movie.  I can remember my wife and I specifically going to see it when it came out, because it was about a redneck and there were certainly a lot of those type criticizing and beating those against the Vietnam War.  In hindsight I see it's a a better movie than I thought at the time.  I guess I wanted a clearer denunciation of the rednecks.  But now I see it's enough.  After all, there are millions of rednecks, mostly white people, especially white men, who are racist haters and culture war haters.  These people were always scary to me.  What was so scary was not their ignorance and meanness so much, as their propensity for violence.  This feeling was caught by the great movie Easy Rider.   But the movie Joe also catches this feeling.  You always feel that Joe is on the verge of some violent act or another.  And it all comes to fruition at the end of the movie.

I grew up in a culture of strong racism:  the South during the era of apartheid.  Luckily, my parents were from Iowa.  I did not like Southerners because of this feeling of their racism and their approval of violence.  I guess I was almost always the white liberal in a sea of haters, some genteel and some real monsters.  And what an eye-opener it was when I worked the summer after my first year of college in the Jacksonville shipyards.  It was nigger this and nigger that all over the place.  I refused to join in on the hatefest and my employers thought I was strange.  But they still liked me, which I found strange.  I guess they never saw a liberal before.  Anyway, my point is that I knew all about rednecks and the way they talked and acted.  So seeing Joe was just seeing a repeat of a very common type of fellow in the South.  (Not that there are not rednecks in the north too and elsewhere, but they just don't have the cultural backing like they do in the south.) 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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