Although it enjoys a certain cult-favorite notoriety because of its irreverent characterizations and storyline, Steelyard Blues is a counterculture-era relic that has not aged well. The film’s main characters are ostensibly freethinking rebels who want to throw off the yokes of Establishment society. In theory, these people are admirable—but in practice, they’re lawbreakers who create destructive chaos while pursuing selfish goals. Plus, as was so often the case with “progressive” ’70s movies, the portrayal of women in the picture is demeaning. Steelyard Blues was written by then-newcomer David S. Ward, who won an Oscar for his next script, The Sting (also released in 1973), and while The Sting is as focused and funny, Steelyard Blues is meandering and middling. Steelyard Blues concerns a loose collective of misfits. Peter Boyle is “Eagle” Thornberry, a borderline-insane eccentric who checks into mental institutions whenever he needs a break from everyday problems. He’s obsessed with demolishing cars. Donald Sutherland is Jesse Veldini, a small-time crook determined to refurbish a World War II-era plane so he and his cronies can fly away and start a commune somewhere outside the U.S. Jane Fonda is Iris Caine, a prostitute involved in a quasi-romance with Jesse. As should be apparent, these are ideas, not real characters. The first directing job for Alan Myerson, who went on to a long career in TV, Steelyard Blues is numbingly episodic and start-to-finish unbelievable, comprising a series of “outrageous” vignettes featuring characters who bear no recognizable resemblance to persons found in the real world. Yet what really drags the movie down are narrative incoherence and a lack of laugh-out-loud humor. Worse, the picture tries way too hard to be clever, so it gets exhausting after a while, and not even the considerable talents of the leading players can pull the whole jumbled thing together.
Steelyard Blues: LAME