One of the very best things that happened in American movies during the late ’60s and early ’70s was that filmmakers began telling stories about losers on a regular basis. Utilizing such unconventional leading players as Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino, bold directors explored the complex life experiences of men living on the fringes of modern society, thus broadening the spectrum of what was considered acceptable in mainstream cinema. But, as the saying goes, you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelete. So, for every groundbreaking story about an offbeat protagonist, there were plenty of failed attempts. Hence Corky, a bummer drama about an asshole who dreams of becoming a top racecar driver. As portrayed by the diminutive but volatile Robert Blake, Corky Curtiss is a foul-mouthed, ignorant, narcissistic redneck who abandons his family, endangers his coworkers, objectifies women, punches his friends, and eventually succumbs to sociopathic madness. And while there’s a school of thought that says any character capable of provoking strong reactions is inherently interesting, the problem with Corky Curtiss—and with Corky as a whole—is that the character’s behavior becomes so repetitive and ugly that, eventually, the only possible reactions are fatigue and indifference.
The story gets off to a shaky start. Corky works in a garage and moonlights as a demolition-derby driver on the team run by the garage’s owner, Randy (Patrick O’Neal). Corky’s dangerous antics behind the wheel get him fired from both jobs, so Corky tells his wife, Peggy Jo (Charlotte Rampling), that he’s leaving town, ostensibly to make money on the racing circuit. Yet Corky spends all of his time away from home boozing, brawling, and gambling. Then, when he finally returns home (spoiler alert), he gets angry that Peggy Jo has moved on with her life and he goes on a shooting spree. Good luck finding anything edifying here, especially since key elements of the movie are maddeningly distracting: The music is gooey and weird; the intermittent flashbacks illuminate nothing; and Rampling, the epitome of icy European beauty, is laughably miscast as a barefoot-and-pregnant redneck housewife. Were one to strain in the effort to find something praiseworthy in Corky, it could be said that Blake’s commitment to his performance is impressive—but then again, wouldn’t Blake’s intensity have been more impressive if his character came across as sympathetic instead of merely repulsive?