Welcome back to B-Movie Enema. This week, I’m going to look at the 1977 action crime drama, The Farmer. Now, there’s little about this movie that I have the resources or time to really dig too deep into. That said, there’s a whole other thing about this movie that is a real deep rabbit hole that I can kind of traipse around.
But to get started, David Berlatsky directed the movie. It’s his only directing credit. His actual trade was as an editor. He was decent enough at it to get nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for the 1978 mini-series, King. But he also did a lot of other stuff. For example, he edited 1977’s The Deep for director Peter Yates. He also edited 1973’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for Sam Peckinpah.
In the 80s, he edited a couple episodes of the short-lived, 1984, Glen Larson series Automan. What’s Automan? It’s about a computer-generated superhero. That superhero can also computer generate a car to drive around in. How does computer-generated things become physical objects? Who knows and who cares. He also edited the first season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Haven”. Which one is that? That’s the one that introduced Counselor Troi’s horrifically annoying mother and had something to do with a ship of diseased people closing in on a planet that would be wiped out by said disease.
Anyway, most people in the know with obscure and boutique home video releases know about the swirling controversy that was a DVD and/or Blu Ray release of this movie through the company Code Red. Starting back in around 2006 or so, Code Red’s operator, Bill Olsen, first made comments surrounding a home video DVD release of this movie. Olsen was an interesting character. He got involved in forums on blu-ray.com and will answer questions about releases and got in front of the camera on social media to talk to customers.
And that’s the first place we can start.
Olsen was known as the “Banana Man” because he wore a banana suit while promoting his wares. What’s more, was that he also liked to air his grievances against other labels and individuals at those other labels. Olsen’s past aggravation of those competitors had been enough on display for some folks to say that it’s less likely that he doesn’t care for their business practices or the movies they release (as is the case with his hatred of Vinegar Syndrome for what he claimed was due to their releasing 70s and early 80s porn) and more to do with the fact that they are incredibly successful where he was not quite as successful.
He’d let his critics know exactly how much it would cost him to release something. If you asked him about releasing something he had the rights for, he’d respond by saying he needed to know a certain number of people will pay a particular price point. When you weren’t so sure about the price, he’d get mad and then just refuse to release something. So, yeah, what you saw was what you got. Later on, he often partnered with David DeFalco from Dark Force Entertainment who looks and talks and hypes like a wrestler. There’s no nuance with DeFalco. It’s all text, no subtext. He also has a massive New England accent.
But when it came to The Farmer, Olsen kind of created what’s probably the biggest case of blue balls in 70s exploitation fandom. As early as 2006, Code Red announced the release. They posted teaser images on their website. But then… the movie never released. Go over ten years later, and, after lots of more teasing and more discussion about getting it released, a war began to brew.
For the most part, outside of the constant promise that The Farmer would get released and it will be remastered and all that stuff and getting frustrated and angry with potential customers when he would respond to their criticisms of releases’ quality and how he would try to raise interest and money for additional releases, Banana Man Olsen would kind of fade mostly to the background of this story. DeFalco would take much more centerstage. DeFalco is kind of known to be a little bit of a “LOLcow” online. His antics go way back to the early days of his movie career when he would do promotional stunts like being interviewed at a morgue, in what’s best described as professional wrestling gear, as an extra feature on a movie he directed (which Roger Ebert gave a pretty negative review of starting up a one-sided rivalry between DeFalco and the critic).
But when he began doing Dark Force Entertainment streams on social media… Woo boy. It got wild. The streams started innocently. Banana Man and DeFalco seemed to get along pretty well. Later, DeFalco would begin streaming phone calls with Olsen. They are a combination of cringe, unwatchable shenanigans, and incomprehensible business meetings. But one thing that would start to happen is how DeFalco would constantly belittle competitors (especially Vinegar Syndrome) and how DeFalco would constantly refer to releasing “Tha Fahmah!” It only built more hype for the release of The Farmer.
Eventually, as of earlier this year, Scorpion Releasing would finally get The Farmer onto Blu Ray. After years of hype and promising the release from Code Red and even DeFalco of Dark Force hyping it. That’s not before the movie leaking out onto YouTube. But… wait. What do I mean Scorpion Releasing was the distributor of The Farmer??? Didn’t I say Code Red was the owner of the distribution rights? Well, Scorpion Releasing is owned by Bill Olsen’s less goofy brother, Walter Olsen.
It’s a whole thing that overshadows The Farmer. I cannot possibly tell the full story in a concise enough way. I watched this video that helped parse the whole story. It is a absolutely nutty tale that is a crazy rabbit hole of rumor, weird behavior, mostly hating on your own customers, rubbernecking when you see a train wreck, and fascination. Bill Olsen passed away last month after a long battle with declining health.
Before we get into The Farmer, I do have one last thing to mention. It’s not completely unknown to the world that portions of the structure of the movie Mean Johnny Barrows, that I covered previously, were fairly identical to The Farmer. How could that be? Well, that’s because The Farmer was shot in 1975 and not released until 1977. So Mean Johnny Barrows had the chance to get released beforehand.
The movie opens with American Liberal God to whom we all sacrifice fetuses to, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He’s talking about war or the end of the war or something. Meanwhile, we get to see all sorts of crazy images from World War II that seem to be in direct contradiction to the rah rah speech about American exceptionalism. What he’s actually doing is talking about the Silver Star that is awarded for bravery to veterans. We then transition to one of those recipients of the Silver Star, Kyle Martin (played by Gary Conway). He’s riding a train back home to Georgia. No word yet if this is indeed a midnight train or not. It does seem pretty dark outside.
Next to our hero is a returning soldier who has no legs. It’s a pretty good reminder that some are a little luckier than others during combat. Things get particularly gross when Kyle decides to go to the booze car on this train. First of all, a ton of these southern soldiers returning home are singing old Civil War songs about Dixie. Okay, I’ll allow it only because it was the 1940s. However, this is where things get real down and dirty… The bartender in this car is an older black man. No one seems to have any issues with that. Another veteran, a younger black man, comes in to get a beer. The bartender says he can’t do that because he is not allowed to serve “no coloreds or Indians.”
A black man says that. Kyle, seeing that this bartender is denying a drink to a man coming home from war, decides this is all a buncha bullshit. When Kyle even goes so far as to say that a “colored” didn’t ask for a drink, a man did, he passes his PBR over to the black man, but these other hillbilly jackasses in the car decide to tell Kyle and the black man to go to the back of the train where they belong. When they call Kyle “Shirley Temple” he tells them they made two mistakes: getting up, and making fun of Shirley Temple. They start fighting and Kyle is eventually tossed out of the train.
Guys… America is so great, huh? These soldiers just finished up fighting one of the worst evils the world will ever know (and, yes, I’m talking about fucking Hitler who, I might add, is still a fucking bad guy with very bad ideas), and they just decide to fight each other over skin color. I guess if you can’t fight a literal war, you find the next best thing, huh?
Anyway, I guess Kyle walks home while the 1971 Gene Clark song “The American Dreamer” plays over the credits.
One more thing I want to bring up. In the credits, second billed, is none other than Angel Tompkins. Angel’s been seen here twice before – 1974’s The Teacher and 1978’s The Bees. The pretty lady also appeared in a 1972 issue of Playboy that I just so happen to own too. It’s safe to say I think she’s pretty swell.
Kyle has a happy reunion with an old family friend. The war hero’s father died while he was gone. His family farm is in pretty bad disrepair. The old family friend, Gumshoe, friend tells Kyle that he couldn’t keep the place up by himself. Plus all the money there was went to Kyle’s dad’s care. Kyle has a little bit of money that can get the old pickup truck fixed so they can start getting the farm back on its feet.
Later on, Kyle goes to the Overbrook bank to beg for one more extension. He’s been back for a bit and his one-man farm is just not cutting the cheese. The bank president says that when he first came home with the Silver Star, everyone wanted to help, but now, the town’s kindness is starting to run out. A one-man farm is just bound to fail.
That night, a drunk driver swerves to miss a cow that has wandered onto the road and turns his car over. Kyle and Gumshoe save the man seconds before the car goes up in flames. I’m not sure, but I think it’s possible this movie is trying to tell us that Kyle is a good guy.
Anyway, Kyle has saved the life of Johnny O. When Gumshoe asks who the guy is, he’s a little cagey and doesn’t want to answer the question. What’s more, he was carrying a gun and Kyle took it from him before he came to. Still, it doesn’t seem like Johnny is all that bad of a guy.
Speaking of Angel Tompkins, she’s playing Betty. Betty appears to be Johnny O’s lady. She works at the popular bar where music is loud, the dance movies are hopping, and the waitress (Betty) is hot and catching quite a few eyes. Johnny asks her to come get him at the Martin place, but she can’t. Because, you know, she’s working.
Betty has an admirer. She calls the guy Weasel because either that’s his name or he’s the inspiration for one of the weasel goons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Anyway, she doesn’t seem to like him too much, constantly blowing her smoke in his face. When he buys her a drink, the bartender seems to be a little concerned too. He calls her a good looking broad and also tries propositioning her with a job. You see, a crime boss named Passini thinks she’s hot. She tells him to get fucked. He tells her she’ll someday make a mistake and that will spell doom for her and Johnny O.
The next day, Johnny finds Kyle working on the tractor. Johnny thinks Kyle’s scarecrow wearing his army uniform and his Silver Star. Kyle tells Johnny that he pinned it on the old scarecrow to teach the crows how to say “hero.” Once Johnny gets home to his place where Betty is waiting for him, she tells him about the play Weasel made for Passini.
Johnny O has a plan to break Passini by betting on a particular horse race. Johnny is a gambler. I’m guessing he’s pretty good at it because he seems to live relatively well. He’s a bit of a thorn in the side of Passini – probably over his gambling abilities and because Betty is fine.
Betty goes to Kyle’s farm and gives him $1500 from Johnny O for saving his life. However, when she makes a joke about the little jig Gumshoe is doing over the money, he tells her to get lost. And not in a very nice way either.
At the horse track, Johnny’s plan goes into action. He past-posts a horse for $50,000. This royally screws Passini, who decides to get revenge. He sends a couple guys to get Johnny. Passini confronts Johnny over the $50k, but Johnny denies he past-posted. Passini shows him around his laundry joint.
Why did he show him his state-of-the-art laundry joint? To show Johnny that he’s killed his bodyguard and buddy, Corrigan. Passini’s guys overpower Johnny and strap him down on a table. Passini wants his money, but when he won’t tell the crime boss where the money is, he has his goons poor acid in his eyes. While he is blinded by the acid, the guy doing the deed warns Passini that he should just kill Johnny.
Surely this won’t come back to haunt Passini.
Johnny wants Betty to go back to Kyle’s farm. She doesn’t want to go and she doesn’t understand why he wants Kyle to come to the hospital. He just tells her to tell Kyle to come see him in the hospital and it will mean a lot of money to the farmer. He knows Kyle will come because he needs cash.
Betty does what Johnny asks. She goes to the farm and tells Kyle that Johnny’s been blinded by acid having been thrown in his face. Kyle doesn’t say much, but she begs him to come. She even brings up that Johnny paid him well for the last favor. That convinces him to get in Betty’s car and go to town.
I want to take a timeout here to say that Angel Tompkins, despite being one of the all-time lovelies on this site, is actually really good in this movie. Honestly, everyone is really good in this. She plays with a ton of nuance though. Both Gary Conway as Kyle and Michael Dante as Johnny are a little heavier handed as the silent and stoic farmer and the brash wiseguy gambler. When it comes to Tompkins playing this tough-talking skirt who half the south seemingly wants her to notice them, she’s doing something a little different. On the way to the hospital, Kyle makes small talk with her that is not so small when you really get right down to it. Kyle says she likes her car. She says that Johnny gave it to her for her birthday. He asks her how long she’s known him. She coyly mentions they are very good friends. She then smiles as if to say that she’s keeping her options open for this war hero.
Johnny asks Kyle how the farm is going. Kyle says that nothing has changed. The farm is still in trouble. Johnny talks about how he never did what Passini wanted. He never roughed anyone up. He never pushed dope. He never joined up with the other goons. He was only a gambler. So he makes the offer…
Kill Passini’s guys for $50,000.
Kyle doesn’t want to do this. He needs money, but he’s not a professional killer. Johnny says he is a pro. He likely had to kill a ton of Germans to earn the Silver Star. Because he isn’t a professional killer, Passini won’t see him coming. If he agrees to the offer, he’s to return to the hospital with plans to stay a little while. Either way, Johnny wants this done quick.
After Betty drives Kyle home, he offers to make her a cup of coffee. This is shot really well as they go inside and the camera remains outside looking through the door from where the car is parked. There are some nice things said about where the cups are and this and that and the other stuff. All the while, the camera slowly closes in to look further inside the door. Soon, we find out Kyle likes his coffee with some sugar.
They decide to fuck and I do realize this is the 40s so that means that it’s mostly watching ALL the various clothes that Betty has to remove. Jesus fucking Christ… She’s wearing a dress. She’s got her knickers. She’s got her bustier. She’s got garters. She’s got nylons. For fuck’s sake… By the time she’s naked to get the business, Kyle’s gonna have to go back to the hospital to accept the position as Johnny’s assassin to kill Passini’s goons.
The next day, Kyle’s happy good time from getting down to business with Betty is soured by the bank putting the farm up for auction. I guess that means Kyle better get busy killin’ or get busy dying from crushing debt of losing the farm.
Meanwhile, Weasel is following Betty around town. She’s gone out to see Kyle at the farm. He’s followed her. Weasel begins repeating over and over how he wants to buy Betty a drink. Now, I’m not too sure how the 40s worked, but Weasel has her trapped in a barn on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. There are no drinks there. I mean there’s maybe a cow with milk, but I don’t think that’s what he means. He chases her around the barn and rips her dress off.
Isn’t Weasel playing with fire here a little bit? Isn’t this the girl his boss has the hots for? Is raping Betty the best career, no, fuck that… the best life choice Wesel could possibly make? Wait… Is Betty getting brutally raped in the barn and Gumshoe being shot dead for trying to come to her rescue what will get Kyle off his duff to kill these goons?
So it should also be mentioned that Weasel doused the barn and Gumshoe with gasoline. He lights Gumshoe on fire to start the barn blaze. That’s fucking cruel. So is the fact that the horses are utterly fucked in that barn too. Betty barely gets out before the whole thing goes up in a massive fire.
It’s revengin’ time!
Kyle moves into a hotel. As he does that, we hear the instructions that Johnny gave him. He’s got info and pictures of his targets. The music goes from a mostly melodramatic score to a tougher sounding rock soundtrack as he prepares for what Johnny says is the real war – as opposed to that bullshit war he fought in Europe – that stupid war against complete and utter fascism and eradication of an entire race of people. Gosh… what a waste.
Anyway, Kyle has carved crosses into the tips of the bullets he’s going to use and fashioned himself a pretty sharp garotte. Kyle finds his first target, Lopie, in a parking garage and handles him pretty easily with that garotte. He gets all the information he needs for his targets from Betty. Johnny says that he can’t be seen with her. They should meet out of town so no one figures out what she’s giving him.
Next up, during a Fourth of July parade, Kyle goes to Valentine Investments to get the next guy – the guy who actually poured the acid in Johnny’s eyes, Doc Valentine. He’s looking out the window at the parade from whatever floor he’s on.
Guess what happens to Doc Valentine.
Now that Lopie and Doc have both ended up dead. I mean Lopie was very obviously killed, but Doc? He had to be pushed out the window. Passini knows Johnny O has to be the one to blame. But he’s not able to do it himself. He has to be giving the info to someone.
Passini sends another of his goons to the hospital. The guy either injects something into Johnny or air into his veins and kills him. Passini calls a man named Conners to kill Betty. She meets Kyle at a diner. She cries over Johnny being dead. Kyle tries to cheer her up with a kiss. She tries giving Kyle the money, but he refuses it. As he leaves, she says she’ll meet him at the farm. As he leaves, Conners comes in to buy a couple packs of smokes and survey the place.
He then follows her while Kyle continues doing the job he was hired for but apparently won’t take money for. The guy who killed Johnny, Sam, is the next to go. From under Sam’s own car, he shoots his legs and then blows him away. He locks Weasel and Passini in the laundry factory or whatever that would be called. Is that a laundromat? Is it a laundromat that does laundry for you and not the laundry you do for yourself? Eh, fuck it.
Kyle sneaks into the laundry factory and kills the boss fairly easily by just hiding, waiting for Passini, and after he passes by, calling his name and blowing his ass away. I’m not all that surprised that Weasel is the last one of the gang to go. While he had nothing to do with Johnny’s predicament, he did rape Betty, kill Gumshoe, and burned down the farmer’s barn. I feel like that third thing is the biggest trespass against a farmer. Anyway, there’s a gunfight at the O.K. Laundromat while Betty doesn’t realize that a paid assassin is following her all the way to Kyle’s farm.
Anyway, Kyle shoots Weasel in the dick for Betty and then in the fucking face for himself.
Okay, so all the bad guys that Kyle, Johnny, and Betty knew about are handled. We have 9 minutes to go and Betty has taken her fine ass to the farm. Conners is creeping around and Kyle is many miles away doing killing stuff. Let’s get to our grand conclusion that I’ve been promised, through the likes of Edgar Wright and others who knew this movie, will be kind of wild.
Conners has a fancy case that probably has a pretty significant sized gun for which to shoot people and things with. He finds himself a spot near the farmhouse to open that fancy case. Sure enough, it ain’t a trombone, but a high-powered rifle that he needs to put together. This gives Kyle sufficient time to be part of this finale. Conners puts one bullet in the gun, but before he can put in a second bullet he hears Kyle’s truck pulling up. Kyle comes home while Betty is wrangling chickens.
Sweet and romantic music starts to play as the lovers gaze at each other. I can’t help but hear an undertone of scary music under the sweet and romantic music. Anyway, Kyle and Betty approach each other knowing that all the bad stuff is behind them now. They can save the farm and make a life for themselves. Meanwhile, Conners aims, but doesn’t fire. Kyle and Betty walk away from where Conners first set his sites to. As the couple keep walking around, Conners has to constantly readjust.
I’m not kidding. This takes several minutes of Conners setting up, looking at Betty and Kyle through the sites, Betty and Kyle moving, Conners readjusting. It’s both tense and kind of funny. Several minutes pass while we have to wait to find out if either Conners is gonna kill our heroes or if Kyle (or possibly Betty) will get Conners first.
Finally Conners lowers his weapon and we see who he is…
Conners is the black dude who Kyle went to blows with the racists for on the train at the beginning of the movie. While Kyle and Betty pick at the charred remains of the barn that Weasel burnt down, Conners packs up his gun and leaves. As he drives away, we’re told that Matt Conners was gunned down two months later in Kansas City. However, he lived long enough to tell the story of the Farmer.
So… There are a couple things about The Farmer that I want to talk about. This movie had this gigantic legend around it, mostly thanks to all that shit I talked about earlier with the Olsens and DeFalco. There is no way this movie could live up to that hype. Also, you had Edgar Wright come along and talk about how he watched a 16mm print of the movie over at Quentin Tarantino’s place and was blown away by the ending. The ending of this movie is a subtle blow away. But when talking about it in the way that Wright did on Twitter or his website or whatever, people probably took it to mean that the end was off the rails bonkers. It is not. It’s an impactful ending that good movies should have.
The simple truth is that this movie can’t possibly live up to its own hype that it never created itself. This is not trash cinema, but it is something that is ripe for boutique distributors like Vinegar Syndrome or Shout Factory or Severin or, yes, even Code Red. Personally, I know that Severin and Vinegar Syndrome would have tracked down Gary Conway and Michael Dante and Angel Tompkins to talk about the movie if they could. It would have had all sorts of retrospectives and what have you. That said, there’s a reputation around this movie that is going to likely irritate many people who have extra expectations around the content they buy from these types of sellers.
Here’s the thing, though… The Farmer is a VERY good movie. It’s well made. It’s got a simple story about a guy who does one good deed and decides that he can even do more deeds that involve assassinations. The farmer himself is not a bad guy. The killings he’s doing are somewhat understandable and valid. There is a very subtle through line underneath the movie about how even being a literally decorated war hero means nothing in a system that requires money to survive. There’s also that emotional punch at the end that finds the farmer and his new love surviving solely because Kyle was good enough to stand up in the face of cruel injustice some months, or possibly even years, before.
Also… Highest marks possible for how cute Angel Tompkins looked in her farm wife outfit while chasing chickens around.
Alright, things must come to an end this week, but I’m feeling pretty good. How about you? The Farmer was really good and the next couple weeks will be celebrating holidays! First up is something called Chri…st…morse? Is that how it’s pronounced? Anyway, I hear it’s a thing where people come together and really juice the economy by buying toys for brats and, according to TV commercials that run ad nauseum during this time of year, desperate dudes buy their wives whole brand new cars. So to celebrate, I happen to actually have a Vinegar Syndrome release to talk about – the 1991 thriller starring Denise Crosby and Rip Torn Dolly Dearest!
Be well and don’t come to me when you get caught past-posting a crime boss.