Cinema: Uneasy Rider

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The place where Alice doesn't live any more is a cramped tract house in Socorro, N. Mex. The reason she doesn't live there any more is that her dense, repressive husband providentially dies in a truck accident soon after the movie begins. Now she is free to pursue her laughable but somehow touching dream of becoming a popular singer.

The dream was born in the claptrap romantic movies of the 1940s. Anachronistic Alice (Ellen Burstyn), who is bright enough in other ways, dimly believes that time has stood implausibly still in Monterey, where she grew up. To her, it is the logical place to resume a career that apparently consisted of a single gig at the local hotel.

Escape from a deadening marriage, however, solves only one of the problems inherent in realizing her long-deferred ambition. For one thing, she does not have enough money to make it to northern California without parking her station wagon here and there to take odd jobs. For another, she has an eleven-year-old son (Alfred Lutter) who is smart-mouthed beyond his years and slightly unbalanced by her alternation between backchat and smothering in the attempt to show love for him. Moreover, Alice, who admits to 35 and cannot hide an overripe figure, does not have much left of a voice that probably was not much to begin with. She is, in short, a long shot for success.

But she is not out of touch with reality in the conventional manner of movie heroines with more determination than sense. She simply, clumsily wants to improve reality a little. Needless to say, what she finds on the road to Monterey is mostly no improvement on what she had in Socorro. The first man she meets turns out to be cheating on his wife and maniacally possessive about Alice. The steadiest job she can find is in an uproariously mismanaged hash house.

There are times when the movie teeters on the edge of commercial cuteness. The relationship between Alice and son verges sometimes on the Paper Moonish; the romance that develops between her and a terribly nice, understanding rancher (Kris Kristofferson) is too perfect a solution to her problems. But Writer Getchell's plot line has plenty of unmarked curves in it, and it twists past a curiously mixed group of characters who hitch briefly onto Alice's odyssey. Director Scorsese, having proved adept with the claustrophobia of a big-city ghetto in Mean Streets, demonstrates an ability to discover a similar but more comic oppressiveness behind the fagades of the wide-open streets of the Southwest. He leaves plenty of room for quirky tangents to develop as the film proceeds on its wayward course.

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