Badlands (1974)

PG | 94-95 mins | Drama | March 1974

Director:

Terrence Malick

Writer:

Terrence Malick

Producer:

Terrence Malick

Editor:

Robert Estrin

Production Designer:

Jack Fisk

Production Companies:

Pressman-Williams, Badlands, Ltd.
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HISTORY

Near the end of the film, as “Holly Sargis” (Sissy Spacek) and “Kit Carruthers” (Martin Sheen) are being flown back to South Dakota, Holly explains in voice-over that Kit will be executed in the electric chair several months later, and that she will be granted probation and marry her defense lawyer’s son. The film ends with shots of clouds, after Kit asks one of the lawmen if his “uniqueness” will assist his case but the lawman hesitates to answer. As noted in the New York magazine, NYT and other reviews, the tone of Holly’s narration, which is heard intermittently throughout the film, is florid and reminiscent of pulp romance novels or confessional magazines. For example, early in the picture, she states, “Little did I realize that what began in back alleys in this quiet town would end in the Badlands of Montana.” Although most of the film is in color, there is one sequence in sepia. That sequence, showing the public’s reaction and intent to pursue Kit and Holly for the murders, features shots of empty streets; children escorted by guards; men signing up for posses; and individuals posing with rifles, ammunition, and law books.
       The end credits contain a thank you from the producer to several individuals, the American Film Institute and the people of Otero County for their cooperation in the making of the film. The onscreen credit for Dona Baldwin reads, "Hair/Wardrobe." The onscreen end credit for Malick, for whom Badlands marked his feature film directorial debut, reads, "Written, produced and directed by." As noted in the ^LAT review, Malick was one of the ... More Less

Near the end of the film, as “Holly Sargis” (Sissy Spacek) and “Kit Carruthers” (Martin Sheen) are being flown back to South Dakota, Holly explains in voice-over that Kit will be executed in the electric chair several months later, and that she will be granted probation and marry her defense lawyer’s son. The film ends with shots of clouds, after Kit asks one of the lawmen if his “uniqueness” will assist his case but the lawman hesitates to answer. As noted in the New York magazine, NYT and other reviews, the tone of Holly’s narration, which is heard intermittently throughout the film, is florid and reminiscent of pulp romance novels or confessional magazines. For example, early in the picture, she states, “Little did I realize that what began in back alleys in this quiet town would end in the Badlands of Montana.” Although most of the film is in color, there is one sequence in sepia. That sequence, showing the public’s reaction and intent to pursue Kit and Holly for the murders, features shots of empty streets; children escorted by guards; men signing up for posses; and individuals posing with rifles, ammunition, and law books.
       The end credits contain a thank you from the producer to several individuals, the American Film Institute and the people of Otero County for their cooperation in the making of the film. The onscreen credit for Dona Baldwin reads, "Hair/Wardrobe." The onscreen end credit for Malick, for whom Badlands marked his feature film directorial debut, reads, "Written, produced and directed by." As noted in the ^LAT review, Malick was one of the first Fellows of the AFI’s Center for Advanced Film Studies. Lanton Mills , the seventeen-minute short Malick made there in 1971, featured a variation on the scene in Badlands in which Kit suggests to Holly that they bury their belongings and speculates on who might dig them up. One of the actors appearing in Lanton Mills was Warren Oates, who portrayed Holly’s father in Badlands . According to a 1975 Sight and Sound article, after leaving AFI, Malick was hired to rewrite drafts of several scripts, among them, the 1971 Columbia production, Drive, He Said , for which he did not receive screen credit, and the 1972 production, Pocket Money (see entries below), for which he received onscreen credit.
       The Sight and Sound article reported that Malick began working on Badlands during his second year at AFI by simultaneously writing the script and creating a sales kit with slides and videotapes for potential investors. A 2004 Guardian (London) article reported that Malick secured half the financing to produce the film from dentists, lawyers and doctors, and $25,000 of his own money. The other half was raised by executive producer Edward Pressman. In Jul 1972, when production began using a non-union crew, the budget was approximately $300,000, not counting deferred payments to laboratories and actors.
       According to the Sight and Sound and Guardian articles, the production encountered many problems, such as difficulties between Malick and certain crew members. When photographer Brian Probyn became ill, another photographer, Tak Fujimoto, filled in until a third, Stevan Larner was hired. According to the Guardian article, the editing and sound departments also had turnovers. Among other problems on the set was the destruction of cameras during the fire sequence. When principal photography ended $35,000 over the budget, Malick took other rewriting assignments in order to finance the editing, which, according to the article, occurred over ten months.
       The music of renowned composers Erik Satie and Carl Orff, as well as popular songwriter, singer James Taylor, was used in the soundtrack of Badlands to convey the dreamy, aimless sensibility in the film. Two popular songs of the 1950s are featured in Badlands . The music and lyrics of the 1957, “Top 40” release, “Love Is Strange,” to which Holly and Kit dance during the forest sequence. On the night before their arrest, Holly and Kit dance to a radio broadcast of “A Blossom Fell,” performed by Nat “King” Cole.
       Despite the standard disclaimer that Badlands is not intended to depict real events or persons, as noted in reviews, the inspiration for the story was the 1958 killing rampage by nineteen-year-old Charles Starkweather and his fourteen-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, who murdered eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming, including Fugate’s mother, stepfather and half-sister. The film story veers from actual events in many ways, and often makes the characters appear more sympathetic. However, several elements from the true story are present in the film. According to a modern biography, Starkweather had a string of low-wage jobs, among them, refuse collector, and like Kit in the film, identified with actor James Dean’s image of a teenage rebel. After a confrontation with Fugate’s mother, who did not approve of his relationship with her daughter, Starkweather killed her family. Instead of taking refuge in a forest, as the movie shows, the couple remained in Fugate’s home in Lincoln, NE for about a week, keeping visitors away by claiming that the family had the flu. When they sensed suspicion had been aroused, the couple proceeded to the farm of an elderly friend of Starkweather’s family, whom Starkweather shot. The next day, they killed a teenaged boy and girl from whom they hitched a ride, and the girl’s body was later found half naked with multiple stab wounds. The discovery of the bodies of the couple and the elderly man instigated a major investigation.
       Unlike what is dramatized in the movie, Starkweather and Fugate circled back to Lincoln, but, as in the film, took refuge in a wealthy man’s house after getting past his maid. Starkweather killed the man and his wife (a character not represented in the film), and later stole many valuables, driving off in the couple’s expensive Packard. By this time, Starkweather and Fugate’s photographs appeared in the newspapers, giving them a notoriety that appealed to Starkweather. The Nebraska governor called for the help of law enforcement agencies, the National Guard and the FBI. A reward was posted for the capture of Starkweather, who, with Fugate, was now traveling toward Washington state, where his brother resided. While crossing through Wyoming, he decided to exchange the luxury car for something less conspicuous, but his attempt to steal a Buick led to the murder of its owner, and his struggle with another civilian caught the attention of a deputy sheriff. Like the film, a high-speed chase ensued that ended when Starkweather stopped, but his reason for surrender was that he had been wounded by windshield glass shattered by gunfire.
       According to a 31 Jan 1958 LAT article, Starkweather told the arresting sheriff that “I always wanted to be a criminal but not this big a one.” That statement was spoken by Kit almost verbatim in Badlands and earlier had been included in the Lanton Mills script. Starkweather also said that he “wasn’t mad at anyone” and that he wanted to “be somebody,” statements Malick used in Badlands ’s dialogue. Also, according to the LAT article, Starkweather claimed that Fugate “took no part” in the killings. The modern biography stated that after learning that Fugate had told authorities that he took her hostage, Starkweather blamed her for the stab wounds of the young woman and implicated her in other killings, all of which Fugate denied. At his trial, Starkweather was found guilty, and he was executed by electric chair in 1959. Fugate was unable to convince the jury that she had been held against her will, but, because of her young age, was given a life sentence.
       According to a 13 Aug 74 Box article, Fugate was being held at the Nebraska Women’s Prison in York and was seeking parole after serving sixteen years, when she was given a personal preview of Badlands , shortly before the film opened in Nebraska. She watched the film with Malick and Sheen, who were seeking her reaction, but, according to the article, she did not comment on the film. 31 Oct 1973 LAT and LAHExam news items, occurring shortly after Badlands ’s first screening, reported that Fugate, who claimed to be a “redeemed Christian,” was denied parole. However, her life sentence was commuted to a thirty-to-fifty year term. The shorter sentence made her eligible for parole in 1976 and, according to a 21 Jun 1976 NYT news item, Fugate finally gained her parole that year.
       Badlands was screened as the closing feature of the New York Film Festival in Oct 1973. A 6 Nov 1973 DV news item reported that Warner Bros. acquired the film for $950,000, which was about double the reported negative cost, outbidding its competitor Cinema V. A 2 Oct 1974 Var news item reported that Badlands won first prize, the Golden Seashell, and Sheen won best actor at the San Sebastian film festival, prompting Warner Bros., which had not planned to distribute the film in Europe, to schedule runs in Spain and consider other territories. Although Badlands received critical acclaim, and Malick was identified as a major new talent, it failed to draw audiences.
       The NYT reviewer of Badlands felt that the film’s story of violence prompted by psychology rather than poverty or other societal problems placed it firmly in the contemporary times of the 1970s, with Kit and Holly “directionless,” “technically literate but uneducated,” and “members of the television generation run amok.” However, in a New Republic review, Malick stated that he wanted the story set in the past, as it was “meant to be a fairytale or romance.” Vincent Canby of the NYT described Badlands as a “ferociously American film.” The Var review suggested that the film’s subtext was a study of those who indiscriminately “idolize film stars and criminals” and of the “mythmaking propensities of the U.S. public,” comparing Kit to a “perverse Horatio Alger.” In 1993, Badlands was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress for the United States National Film Registry. Two years after the making of Badlands , Spacek married the film’s production designer, Jack Fisk. Other films based on the Starkweather-Fugate killing spree are the 1963 production, The Sadist , which was written and directed by James Landis, and a 1993, made-for-television movie, Murder in the Heartland directed by Robert Markowitz and starring Tim Roth and Fairuza Balk. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Oct 1973
p. 4634.
Box Office
13 Aug 1974.
---
Cosmopolitan
Jun 1974.
---
Cue
25 Mar 1974.
---
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
31 Oct 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
29 Mar 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
31 Jan 1958.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 Mar 1974
p. 1, 23.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
14 Nov 1973.
---
New Republic
13 Apr 1974.
---
New York
25 Mar 1974.
---
New York Times
25 Mar 1973
p. 40.
New York Times
15 Oct 1973
p. 50.
New York Times
7 Apr 1974.
---
New York Times
10 Jan 1975.
---
New York Times
21 Jun 1976
p. 52.
Newsweek
8 Apr 1974.
---
Playboy
Apr 1974.
---
Playgirl
Jun 1974.
---
Rolling Stone
9 May 1974.
---
Sight and Sound
Apr 1975.
pp. 82-83.
The Guardian (London)
22 Aug 2008.
---
Time
8 Apr 1974.
---
Variety
10 Oct 1973
p. 12.
Variety
7 Nov 1973.
---
Variety
2 Oct 1974.
---
Wall Street Journal
22 Mar 1974.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Jill Jakes Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Photog
Photog
Asst cam
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Assoc art dir
Art work
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dresser
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orig mus comp and cond
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd eff
Prod mixer
Re-rec mixer
Boom man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles, op and processing by
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Prod secy
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
STAND INS
Stunts
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Musica Poetica" by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman
"Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire" by Erik Satie
"Migration" theme by James Taylor.
SONGS
"A Blossom Fell," music and lyrics by Howard Barnes, Harold Cornelius and Dominic John, sung by Nat "King" Cole, courtesy of Capitol Records
"Love Is Strange," music and lyrics by Mickey Baker, Ellas McDaniel and Sylvia Robinson, sung by Micky and Sylvia.
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1974
Premiere Information:
New York Film Festival screening: 13 October 1973, New York opening: 24 March 1974
Los Angeles opening: 29 March 1974
Production Date:
began July 1972
Copyright Claimant:
Pressman-William, Badlands, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
24 March 1974
Copyright Number:
LP43811
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
col w sepia seq
Duration(in mins):
94-95
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23774
SYNOPSIS

In 1958, in Dupree, South Dakota, after twenty-five-year-old garbage collector Kit Carruthers leaves his job in the middle of a shift, he aimlessly roams the streets until he spots fifteen-year-old, Texas-born Holly Sargis twirling a baton in her front yard. Introducing himself, Kit politely asks her to walk with him, but she declines, as she knows her widowed father will disapprove. Soon after, Kit is fired, but takes another job at a feed lot where animals are slaughtered. He later succeeds in commencing a relationship with Holly, who is surprised by his interest, as she has never been popular. Kit explains that he likes her because she does not giggle like other girls. Holly finds that she can tell Kit difficult things, for instance, about the time she killed her pet fish when it was ill, but her first sexual encounter with him leaves her wondering why people speak highly of the act. Upon learning about their relationship, Sargis forbids it and arranges for Holly to take after school clarinet lessons. Later, he punishes her for going behind his back by shooting her dog. Not long after, Kit slips into their home and shoots Sargis dead. Holly slaps Kit, but does not call the authorities when she has a chance. Proceeding to a coin-operated recorder in town, Kit records a soliloquy, in which he explains that Sargis provoked him, then signs off, saying “thank you.” When Kit returns to the Sargis house, he packs some of Holly’s belongings in his car, sets fire to the building then drives off with her. However, before leaving town, he takes her to her school to retrieve books from her locker, so that ... +


In 1958, in Dupree, South Dakota, after twenty-five-year-old garbage collector Kit Carruthers leaves his job in the middle of a shift, he aimlessly roams the streets until he spots fifteen-year-old, Texas-born Holly Sargis twirling a baton in her front yard. Introducing himself, Kit politely asks her to walk with him, but she declines, as she knows her widowed father will disapprove. Soon after, Kit is fired, but takes another job at a feed lot where animals are slaughtered. He later succeeds in commencing a relationship with Holly, who is surprised by his interest, as she has never been popular. Kit explains that he likes her because she does not giggle like other girls. Holly finds that she can tell Kit difficult things, for instance, about the time she killed her pet fish when it was ill, but her first sexual encounter with him leaves her wondering why people speak highly of the act. Upon learning about their relationship, Sargis forbids it and arranges for Holly to take after school clarinet lessons. Later, he punishes her for going behind his back by shooting her dog. Not long after, Kit slips into their home and shoots Sargis dead. Holly slaps Kit, but does not call the authorities when she has a chance. Proceeding to a coin-operated recorder in town, Kit records a soliloquy, in which he explains that Sargis provoked him, then signs off, saying “thank you.” When Kit returns to the Sargis house, he packs some of Holly’s belongings in his car, sets fire to the building then drives off with her. However, before leaving town, he takes her to her school to retrieve books from her locker, so that she does not get behind in her studies. Renaming themselves James and Priscilla, Kit and Holly proceed to a riverside forest, where they build a tree house and survive on stolen chickens and vegetables from nearby farms. Pretending they are "spies," they talk in low voices and dig secret tunnels to protect themselves from intruders. Although Holly usually feels that they get along well and loves the forest, occasionally she becomes annoyed with Kit and longs for a more civilized life. As she looks at photos of her family in her father’s stereopticon, she wonders how her life might have been different and who she will marry, and wishes she could be taken away to a “magical land.” Eventually, a man who had spotted Kit shooting at fish in the river comes to their hiding place with two other men. Seeing them approach, Kit hides in a trench he has built and shoots them. After packing and driving away, Kit tells Holly that he feels bad about killing them, but they were bounty hunters, not lawmen. They proceed to the home of Cato, Kit’s former workmate, but the first time Kit suspects that Cato might turn them in, he shoots him. As Cato lies dying in his bed, a young couple comes to visit, but at gunpoint Kit takes them into a root cellar, locks the cellar door then shoots though it, leaving without checking to see if he killed them. Holly admits to herself that Kit is “trigger happy,” but Kit says one must shoot all witnesses when running from the law and take the consequences without whining. Soon, as the public becomes aware of the killings, fear grips the region, causing posses to be formed. After the National Guard and a Boston detective begin a multi-state manhunt, Kit and Holly feel like celebrities as they read about themselves in the newspapers. After they take refuge at a remote house owned by a wealthy man, Holly admires the beautiful décor of the home, and Kit records clichés of advice into the man’s Dictaphone, commenting that he has so far avoided being caught and is doing fine. When an architect arrives at the home for a prearranged meeting, Kit sends him away, saying that the man has the flu, but afterward decides that they, too, must leave. Kit provides the rich man with a list of items he says they are borrowing and locks the man and his maid in a closet. He then drives off, taking Holly, in the man’s Cadillac, crossing the roadless Great Plains, guided by phone lines. Kit spins an empty bottle to determine the direction they will travel, but then decides arbitrarily. Holly, feeling tired and dirty, is losing her admiration for Kit and secretly decides that in the future she will avoid “the hell-bent type.” That night under the stars, they dance to the music on the radio. With a sense of doom, Kit wonders whether he will hear what is said about him after he dies and dreads the idea of dying alone. At dawn, a more hopeful Kit drives to an oil rig to ask for gas, but the worker refuses him. Kit pulls out his gun, but seeing a helicopter approaching, orders Holly to run for the car. When Holly refuses, Kit becomes upset, but then invites her to meet him at the Grand Cooley Dam at noon on New Years Day, 1964, if she wishes to reunite. After the helicopter lands, Holly surrenders to the emerging lawmen, but Kit shoots at them and escapes by driving away. When Kit stops to fill his tank, he is spotted by a sheriff and deputy, who chase him through meadows and rural roads until the lawmen’s car rolls over while making a sharp turn, thus allowing Kit a chance to escape. However, Kit stops, shoots his car tire and builds a small rock cairn while he waits for them. When they catch up to Kit and place him in handcuffs, the young deputy expresses surprise at the harmless appearance of the highly publicized, notorious killer. In the backseat of the sheriff’s car, as Kit makes small talk, he admits that he always wanted to be a criminal, but “just not that big.” Amused, the deputy remarks to the sheriff that Kit resembles the late actor James Dean, which pleases Kit. When Kit is reunited with Holly at a rural airport, he tells her that he plans to take full responsibility for all that happened and assures her she will meet other boys. As they are being flown back to South Dakota for formal sentencing, when a lawman calls Kit “a unique individual,” Kit asks hopefully if “they’ll take that into consideration.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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