One of the better drive-in features of the early 1970s, Arthur Mark's BONNIE'S KIDS shows that a decent script, professional actors and a sure hand behind the camera can result in a film that, while a disposable piece of exploitation at heart, can also be a solid piece of entertainment that holds up very well nearly forty years after it was made.
Ellie (Tiffany Bolling) and Myra (Robin Mattson) are two sisters living in a sleepy little town with their abusive stepfather, Charlie, after the death of their mother two years earlier. When Ellie catches Charlie assaulting Myra she kills him, hides his body and the two sisters head off to the Big City in search of their Uncle Ben, who runs a modeling agency which is really a front for the mob. At this point, the film separates the two sisters, giving them their own distinct storyline. Myra becomes the object of affection for Ben's latent lesbian wife, Diana, while Ben recruits Ellie as an unknowing courier of a suitcase full of mob money. When she realizes what she's carrying she splits with the money, only to be pursued by two enforcers (Alex Rocco and Tim Brown). Needless to say, this is an exploitation film from the 1970s so it's unlikely that either plotline will end happily.
Every step of the way BONNIE'S KIDS feels like it's a cut above the usual grindhouse fare of the period. In fact, it really doesn't feel like a grindhouse film at all. While Marks never passes up an opportunity for gratuitous nudity and bloodshed (including surprising nudity from Mattson, who was 16 when this film was made) the story is strong enough that it never feels like just a string of exploitation set pieces. Marks, who previously had been know mainly as a director for the PERRY MASON TV series, shows a flair for action. the film is well paced and never drags throughout its 105 minutes. This is helped by its excellent cast which besides B-movie queen Bolling and future soap star Mattson includes solid performances by Rocco (whose connection to the previous years THE GODFATHER is played up in the film's trailer), Max Showalter and Sharon Gless in her film debut.
When people talk about the good old days of the 1970s exploitation film this is the kind of movie their talking about. As much as I love exploitation from that period I'll be the first to admit that more often than not the movies were just not very good. BONNIE'S KIDS is an exception (along with Bolling's other classic from 1973, THE CANDY SNATCHERS). It's a terrific movie for anyone looking for a fast paced crime thriller with just a pinch of sleaze thrown in for good measure. Check it out.
For more overlooked films go to Todd Mason's blog