Steelyard Blues Review

Jesse Veldini (Donald Sutherland) is addicted to demolition derby driving. Trouble is, he steals the cars he smashes up, and has served three terms in prison for it. Now he’s out of prison, which causes considerable embarrassment to his brother Frank (Howard Hesseman), a district attorney up for re-election. As Frank tries to make Jesse toe the line, Jesse heads out of town with his other brother (John Savage), schoolfriend Eagle (Peter Boyle) and hooker girlfriend Iris (Jane Fonda).

Steelyard Blue is an amiable, rather innocuous comedy. Made in 1972, it’s something of a hangover from the previous decade, in that it follows a group of misfits trying to be free from straight society. Much of the plot centres around attempts to repair a flying boat so that they can escape in it. The film is an odd choice for a Warners’s DVD promotion called “Directors’ Showcase: Take Two”. (The others in the series, released simultaneously, are Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Prince of the City and Straight Time.) Compared to Sidney Lumet, John Badham and Ulu Grosbard, Alan Myerson, whose debut this was, is hardly a name to conjure with. Most of his career has been spent working in television, and if Steelyard Blues is his best film, that’s not saying a lot, as other big-screen credits include Private Lessons and Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach. No, the real voice behind this project is that of debuting screenwriter – and future director – David S. Ward, who would hit the big time with his next script, with the same producers, The Sting. Jane Fonda’s role is a little low-key for her top billing – it’s really Sutherland’s film as far as screentime goes. The pair are easy on the eye and give the film much of the charm it has, though this is hardly the finest film they appeared together in. It’s certainly not Klute, but the little-seen concert movie FTA is probably closer to it in spirit. Peter Boyle steals most of the scenes he’s in, and due to the work of DPs Laszlo Kovacs and Steven Larner the film looks good.

Steelyard Blues is hardly an essential purchase, though it’s inexpensive enough for fans of any of the leading actors and nostalgic hippies, and is a not unpleasant way to spend an hour and a half.

Steelyard Blues is released on a single-layered disc in NTSC format. It is encoded for Regions 1, 2, 3 and 4.

The transfer is in 1.78:1, opened up from the intended ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphically enhanced. It’s a nice-looking picture, with suitably vibrant colours and good shadow detail. It’s generally sharp, save for close-ups of Jane Fonda which are intentionally soft-focussed.

The soundtrack is mono, and as so often I have to find new ways of saying there’s nothing wrong with it – dialogue is clearly audible, music and effects are well-balanced.

There is no commentary on this DVD. The main extra is a featurette, “Would You Believe? Peter Boyle!”, a short piece interviewing Boyle while he was shooting Steelyard Blues. Given that Boyle is an often undersung actor, it’s nice to see him be given some attention, but this featurette doesn’t go anywhere below the surface. It’s in 1.78:1 anamorphic and runs 4:10. Picture quality is very grainy.

Also on the disc is the trailer for Steelyard Blues itself (4:3 format, running 3:05), a rather over-extended piece that indicates this probably wasn’t the easiest film to sell. Finally, there’s a trailer for Warners’s forthcoming Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning, which is 1.85:1 non-anamorphic and running 1:42. Hardly appealing to the same audience, you’d think…

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