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USA 1978
Directed by
Ulu Grosbard
114 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Straight Time

From Ratso Rizzo to Raymond Babbit, between 1969 and 1988 Dustin Hoffman created some of the best known characters of modern American movies. One of them, Max Dembo, a con who tries to go straight but fails, deserves to belong with them but Straight Time, a low budget, gritty crime film did not perform like its higher profile companions and today he is all but forgotten.

Dembo has just been released after serving a six year sentence for robbery. His parole officer Earl Frank (a suitably seedy M. Emmet Walsh), a kind of Inspector Javert to his Jean Valjean, bullies him until Max finally cracks (in a brilliantly electric scene) and returns to his criminal ways, in the process enlisting a couple of old cronies (Gary Busey and Harry Dean Stanton) and starting a relationship with a young office worker (an early role for Theresa Russell)

Hoffman bought the rights to the 1973 novel No Beast So Fierce by co-scripter and ex-con Edward Bunker (who later turned up in Reservoir Dogs as Mr. Blue) and spent two years raising money for it. It was to be his first directorial effort but he found the dual roles of actor and director beyond him and after a few days he called in Ulu Grosbard who had directed him in the1971 film, Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why is He Saying These Terrible Things About Me?  Freed from the pressure of directing, the result is one of Hoffman’s most effective performances but the film itself is a beautifully economical effort and an undeservedly neglected example of the best of American independent film of the 1970s with its strong focus on characters and real stories rather than high-toned production values.




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