Tuesday, June 16, 2020

WTF?!? Raising A Ruckus


It must have been an exciting day when a Hollywood cast and crew whisked themselves into the small towns of Woodland and Knights Landing to film a movie that many people would later forget; the master work known as “Ruckus” (or “Big Ruckus in a Small Town”, as some cinema buffs might refer to it.)





This early eighties classic featured such fine actors as Richard Farnsworth, Linda Blair and Dirk Benedict who were all wondering, no doubt, what wrong career turn they had made to end up in backwoods California, making a film that would no doubt be seen by tens of people.




What, might you ask, is “Ruckus” about? It seems that a smelly drifter (Dirk Benedict) rolls into town, angering the locals with his, um- well, other than eating an unspectacular (and raw) burger, there isn’t much that he does to legitimately rile the townsfolk up. (Perhaps there isn’t much to do around those parts.) Despite being roughed up by the local men of the town, he befriends a Vietnam War widow (Linda Blair) who takes him on wild dirt bike expeditions through the countryside.



What does Richard Farnsworth have to do with all of this? He’s the ineffectual lawman who wants to capture the smelly drifter who is guilty of being smelly and drifting. (I guess those are major problems in their area of the country.) The movie mainly consists of chase scenes in which the drifter gets away from the pickup truck posse, dirt bike races and a “relationship” between the Linda Blair and Dirk Benedict characters. What type of “relationship”? Let’s just say that other than dirt biking and fair-going, the only personal moment they share is when they introduce an inside hand sweep movement five minutes before the movie ends. What does the hand sweep movement mean? What sort of relationship do they end up having? Sorry, folks. The movie leaves those questions unanswered. (Perhaps they were waiting for “Ruckus, Part II”.)



There are other questions that go unanswered; why are only three women living in the town? Yes, that’s right- only three women are shown living and working in those parts. In addition to Linda Blair’s character who does nothing but shop, race dirt bikes and befriend smelly drifters, there are only two other women- a feisty bartender and a plain woman who serves up the aforementioned unspectacular hamburgers out of a burger window. (She also serves Royal Crown cola. That’s right, not just any cola, but Royal Crown Cola.) Of these women, only Linda Blair and the feisty bartender get any lines at all. (Okay, maybe the burger woman does get to ask a customer what he wants to eat, but I don’t remember her saying anything important.

Now about the shooting locations; no, the film was not shot in the Southern part of the U.S., but in the confines of California. Not the glitzy parts, mind you, but in the countryside surrounding the small town of Woodland which is itself located in the countryside surrounding Sacramento. The strangest thing about the Ruckus/Woodland connection is that nobody who was around then seems to remember the filming. Sure, most people remember that Danny Thomas Productions filmed a TV movie at the high school stadium in the 1970s called “Bloodsport”, (no, not the one with Jean Claude Van Damme) but nobody remembers “Ruckus”. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have known about “Ruckus” at all were it not for an eagle-eyed cousin who did a search on the Internet Movie Database. Why has this town forgotten “Ruckus”? The evidence of it is right there on the screen- Woodland’s State Theater flashes by in a night scene, the bridge outside of Knights Landing, the massive grain processing buildings, the County Fair Rodeo being used as the entire Fair among other familiar sights. So why is it the film that a town forgot? Perhaps the movie was made with the same sort of secrecy that is utilized by Steven Spielberg. Perhaps everyone in town was on vacation at the time. Perhaps it’s the sort of thing people want to forget. I have to admit, I was around these parts at the time and I certainly don’t remember it either.

“Ruckus” is now available on both VHS and DVD. I have seen the VHS version, but I have yet to see the DVD. It seems, according to the video distributor, that the DVD features audio commentary from Linda Blair, Dirk Benedict and the film’s director. You can see why I am quite interested in the DVD. What do they have to say? I can only imagine the comments they have about Woodland, the script, the rigors of filming, the dirt biking scenes. Maybe they answer many of my questions. Or maybe they just apologize to everyone watching. You see, despite the glowing things I’ve said about the film up to this point, “Ruckus” isn’t all that great. The conflicts don’t make any sense. The movie has no real ending. (Perhaps they ran out of cash?) In fact, I am quite surprised that the film never received the MST3K treatment. But still, despite all of these things, it is a fun movie to watch. Watching the yokel pickup truck posse get constantly outsmarted (I use that term loosely) by the smelly drifter is worth the price of admission alone.

Maybe I’ll never find out the answers to my questions, but that’s quite fine with me. My imagined answers are probably a lot more interesting than the actual truth.