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A Small Town In Texas (1976)

Cut from the same cloth as 70’s fare, White Line Fever, Race With the Devil and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, this Jack Starrett directed effort stars “not so good old boy” Bo Hopkins as a Texas Sheriff who bends the law his own way when ex-con Timothy Bottoms turns up in his Texas town to reclaim his girlfriend, Susan George, and the son he’s yet to meet. Bottoms’ major obstacle is the fact that she’s now taken up with Sheriff Bo, the man who sent him up the river for a five year stretch on a trumped up charge.

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From the moment that Tim exits a Greyhound Bus, he’s verbally sparring with Bo who is sporting a set of dark sunglasses throughout a good portion of our 96 minute running time. Can’t help but wonder if it’s a nod to Morgan Woodward aka The Man With No Eyes in Cool Hand Luke. Morgan costars as a shady politician pulling the strings behind Bo’s winning the county election and an assassination that’s about to put Tim and Bo on a deadly path towards each other.

Miss Susan George seems to have little in the way of dreams and hopes thus “settling” on Bo for a would be lover. That’s all about to change when Tim arrives and that spark of love and passion are rekindled. Tim wants her and and the boy to drop everything and move with him to California. Easier said then done once Tim plays witness to a killing at the county fair. One where a gunman kills a political candidate followed by Bo immediately killing the gunman and lifting an envelope off the shooter containing 25K. Looks like Bo has taken out the patsy.

What Bo doesn’t see coming is the 25K stolen from where he hides it. He quickly puts two and two together and calls for the arrest of Tim who he suspects saw the killing go down. Another trumped up charge and he can send him away for good this time. He’ll have to hurry because pressure is coming down from Morgan on the whereabouts of the 25K he put up for the hit.

The chase is on. One that brings along Bo’s deputy played by John Karlsen and as Tim’s buddy, Canadian actor Art Hindle. When Tim isn’t so easily caught we’re going to learn just how violent Bo can be with a badge to back him up. He’ll beat a man to death looking for information on the whereabouts of Tim and pin the man’s death on him. Now wanted for murder, Tim, plans on using that 25K he lifted and get Susan and the boy out of Texas. Problem is she’s got two officers planted on her doorstep.

If the script and plot focused more on Moonshine we’d have an alternate take of Burt Reynolds vs. Ned Beatty in White Lightning. Isn’t it ironic that Bo starred opposite “The Burt” in that one too. Yes for the balance of the film we’re treated to car crashes, violence, explosions and comedy relief from a hillbilly Uncle of Tim’s played by George “Buck” Flower who loves nothing better than to cause havoc with Bo’s increasingly unstable Sheriff. This prompts one of many scenery chewing lines from the always entertaining Bo, “I’ll tell ya something, Lenny, I shoulda busted that old son-of-a-bitches head when we got him out there with that still, I shoulda done it!… but ya can’t be nice to people, boy… Don’t you never forget that… you just can’t be nice!”

I must say I loved the music put together for this good old boy tale from composer Charles Bernstein. From the lazy fiddle tune playing over the opening credits I knew I was going to be a fan of this country music soundtrack chock full of instrumentals. Or if you prefer, picking and grinning. Isn’t it ironic, he did the soundtrack for White Lightning as well.

I won’t swear to it but I believe I saw this as a kid when it made it’s television debut. At the time I knew I liked the cool looking Sheriff in the sun glasses. After all wasn’t he in The Wild Bunch, The Culpepper Cattle Co. and The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing? I’d yet to figure out his name. I just knew I liked his style on camera in films I’d seen as a youngster on late night TV. Bo Hopkins appeared in numerous 70’s features I grew to love growing up and I have to wonder why he never turned up in a Tarantino film at some point.

On the recent blu ray release from Scorpion, Hopkins in an interview spoke highly of director Starrett whom he’d go on to work with again on the telefilm, Thaddeus Rose and Eddie costarring Johnny Cash. Starrett who also directed Race With The Devil, Slaughter and Cleopatra Jones among others might be best known as the hard assed Police Officer in First Blood who wants nothing more than to see Sly dead at the bottom of that canyon resulting in his own death after falling from the helicopter.

I’ve long mentioned that Miss George was an early crush thanks to her appearances in Lola, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Venom. Films I saw at just the right age. Like Hopkins, she too found success under the guidance of Sam Peckinpah in the controversial Straw Dogs.

Yes if we could only return to the days of the drive-in all nighters of the 70’s, A Small Town in Texas, would play quite nicely with those earlier mentioned titles. I mean seriously, who wouldn’t want to see the likes of Bo and Susan, Jan-Michael and Kay, Peter and Warren, Susan and Peter AND Vic followed by Burt and Ned. All on one long night of car chase classics.

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