Years from now, at the end of my epic investigation of ’70s cinema, it will be interesting to see which blockbuster generated the greatest number of knockoffs during the ’70s. For every creature feature designed to mimic Jaws (1975), there appear to be half-a-dozen gangster pictures styled after Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Among the least of these is Little Laura and Big John, a borderline incoherent romantic drama about real-life 1920s criminal John Ashley, who ran amok in 1920s Florida with the aid of people including Laura Upthegrove, later dubbed “Queen of the Everglades.” Presumably, there’s an interesting story to be told about how Ashley and his fellow bandits ravaged the Sunshine State. That story, however, is not told in Little Laura and Big John—at least not in any way that’s discernible. Even with the weak framing device of John’s mother telling the gang’s story, thus introducing the lengthy flashbacks that comprise most of the picture’s running time, Little Laura and Big John is boring and muddy. Character development, continuity, and historical accuracy clearly were not priorities. Musical elements are jumbled, too, since half the scenes are scored with annoying‘20s songs that are repeated endlessly, and half the scenes are scored with some kind of disco/funk bilge, which is completely anachronistic. The acting is just as weird. Former teen idol Fabian Forte (as John) phones in a bland non-performance, and he seems like a little boy playing dress-up during scenes in which his character sports an eyepatch. Meanwhile, ’70s stalwart Karen Black (as Laura) runs her usual gamut, whether she’s trying too hard to be sexy or not trying hard enough to suppress her tendency toward harpy-ish overacting. Atop all these problems, footage is assembled so haphazardly that it seems the filmmakers realized they were missing important chunks but didn’t care. And then there’s the complete non sequitur nude scene, during which one of John’s gunmen spends umpteen minutes staring at a naked bathing beauty through binoculars while standing on a lifeguard tower at a public beach. Calling Little Laura and Big John inconsequential would be too kind.
Little Laura and Big John: SQUARE