Although nominally a blaxploitation flick because of its racial themes and predominately African-American cast, Thomasine & Bushrod is primarily one of the many Bonnie & Clyde rip-offs that appeared in the early ’70s—an old-timey love story about doomed souls on the wrong side of the law. The fact that it’s also a Western is what makes Thomasine & Bushrod somewhat unique, because the varied influences add up to an offbeat vibe, even though the movie isn’t particularly impressive.
At the beginning of the story, sexy bounty hunter Thomasine (Vonetta McGee) uses her wiles to trap a white criminal. Delivering the crook to odious U.S. Marshal Bogardie (George Murdock), Thomasine announces her plan to capture the notorious black outlaw J.P. Bushrod (Max Julien)—and when she tracks him down, viewers realize that Thomasine and Bushrod are actually a couple reuniting after a long separation. Together, they embark on a crime spree so brazen that Bogardie makes capturing them his personal mission. Before the final confrontation, however, the robbers hook up with their impulsive Jamaican friend, Jomo (Glynn Turman), forming a surrogate family in a series of campsites and abandoned homes.
Written by Julien, who starred in the gritty pimp saga The Mack (1973), Thomasine & Bushrod misses nearly every opportunity to add meaning and significance to its story. There are a few lip-service speeches about the difficulties of being black in the Old West, and Bushrod’s Robin Hood-style habit of giving his stolen loot to poor people approaches a weak kind of social commentary, but for the most part, the lead characters are simply crooks biding time until they pay for their misdeeds. Perhaps the idea was to say something about how African-Americans can only be free in an oppressive society by flouting that society’s rules; if so, this potentially interesting theme never rises to the surface. Nonetheless, Julien’s humane screenwriting delivers a few memorable moments, like the throwaway interaction between Bushrod and an aging black man who is touched when Bushrod actually asks his name, a courtesy the man hasn’t been shown in years.
Julien and McGee make an interesting screen couple, since Julien is so mellow he barely seems like he’s acting and McGee is as fiery as she is photogenic. Turman, so great a year later in Cooley High (1975), is borderline campy with his flamboyant accent and costume, though still quite likeable, and Murdock delivers the requisite one-note villainous performance. Thomasine & Bushrod was directed by Gordon Parks Jr., best known for the drug-dealer flick Super Fly (1972), and he employs his usual haphazard style, punctuating Thomasine & Bushrod with the same type of groovy still-photo montages he employed for Super Fly. (Available through Columbia Screen Classics via WarnerArchive.com)
Thomasine & Bushrod: FUNKY