Drive-in pulp done right, Framed puts Southern-fried star Joe Don Baker into his most comfortable role: a tough-talking everyman pushed to violent extremes by horrific circumstance. Offering a shady spin on Buford Pusser, the lawman Baker played in Walking Tall (1973), this picture casts the actor as Ron Lewis, a gambler who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Driving home from a big game one night, he comes across two cars parked on a country highway, and exits his own vehicle to offer assistance. When an unseen person shoots at him with a gun, Ron dives back into his car and makes tracks. Later that night, a cruel small-town deputy shows up at Ron’s doorstep, ostensibly to make a bust but really to start a fight. Realizing he’s been set up to die, Ron defends himself and kills the deputy. Then, thanks to collusion between various corrupt local officials, Ron’s railroading is made complete when he’s sentenced to a four-year stint in jail. And that’s the just first third of the movie: After all this happens, Ron makes surprising alliances inside the big house before coldly seeking revenge (and the truth) upon his release.
Briskly written by Mort Briskin and directed with meat-and-potatoes economy by Phil Karlson (both of whom worked with Baker on Walking Tall), Framed delivers the B-movie goods from start to finish. The characterizations are clear and purposeful, the dialogue is pithy and sometimes clever, and the violence is nasty. In particular, the close-quarters fight between Ron and the deputy in Ron’s garage is a bone-crunching brawl with persuasive stunt work and plentiful splatter; it’s hard to watch the scene without flinching. The rest of the movie is just as intense, even though the picture follows a somewhat leisurely pace (106 minutes is lengthy by revenge-flick standards). Baker is a quintessential ’70s lead, a hulking good ol’ boy in a leisure suit cracking wise and kicking ass, so it doesn’t matter that the rest of the cast is largely anonymous. The great Brock Peters shows up for a smallish role as a cop who recognizes Ron’s innocence, and Gabriel Dell is funny as an easygoing hit man who drifts in and out of Ron’s life. Ultimately, it’s all about the crime and the grime, and Framed has those elements in abundance.