Road Games (1981) – “Cast to the wind…thy ghastly sin” for the Best Hitchcock Movies (That Hitchcock Never Made) blogathon July 7-13

ROAD GAMES 1981

Versatile actor of film and stage Stacy Keach  plays the poetic everyman Pat Quid who is driving a semi across Australia carting a truck load of meat, pig carcasses specifically, due to the high demand as there is a meat strike going on. As in any good traveler mystery, he encounters a variety of odd characters who periodically pop up time and again, as if they are all trapped in some kind of desert purgatory.

Along the way there are also the occasional hitchhikers who are traveling on the same highway. Pat and his trusted companion Boswell, a dingo, likes to occupy his time playing word games to make the journey more stimulating.

He likes to imagine the identities of other people on the road, guessing what they do for a living.

Stopping over to sleep at a motel one night, he loses his room to a mysterious guy in a dark green van who has picked up a foxy young hitchhiker. A girl Quid had decided to pass up along the way, as it is not his practice to pick up hitchhikers because it is against regulations.

That night he sleeps in the back of his cab, but is aroused at 4am by the garbage trucks who have come to pick up the motel trash. Boswell is sniffing around the plastic rubbish bags, chewing at whatever smells tempting on the inside.

Strangely up too, is the guy from the dark green van, who is watching out the window to see that the collectors are picking up the garbage.

The night before, we witness him murdering the young girl passenger that he brings to the motel. Most likely he has disposed of her body in the bags set out on the curb.

After seeing Green Van Man on the road, burying another garbage bag, and once Quid sees a cooler or ‘lunch box’ on the guys front seat, which is big enough to hold a human head, Quid puts a few things together and decides that this guy is probably the serial killer that the news has been talking about.

Jamie Lee Curtis, plays Pamela ‘Hitch’ Rushworth a hitchhiker Quid finally picks up after the third time seeing her on the side of the same road.’Third time lucky!’

The two form an amateur detective team, playing cat and mouse with the elusive Green Van Man as they begin to try and track the serial killer on their own. The chemistry between the two does not have the hallmark romanticism of a typically immortal Hitchcock pairing, Keach and Curtis are more working class guts and grit and less polish and panache.

But in Quid’s pursuit of the Green Van Man it brings him to the attention of the police, who then suspect him of being the killer. Throughout the film, Quid plays the alienated nice guy, who is misunderstood, and under suspicion.

Directed by Richard Franklin (Patrick 1978, Psycho II 1983)Based on an original story by Richard Franklin and adapted for the screen by Everett De Roche. Also starring Marion Edward as Madeleine ‘Frita’ Day and Grant Page as Smith or Jones the Green Van killer.

Since I’ve chosen this film as my contribution to Best Hitchcock Movies (That Hitchcock Never Made) I’d like to briefly cover a few of the most salient points that stick out for me the most.

Not least of which are the few obvious touts to Hitch himself: The casting of Janet Leigh’s  (1960 Psycho’s Marion Crane) daughter with actor Tony Curtis, the wonderfully androgynous Jamie Lee Curtis.

Curtis’s character Pamela has a nickname in the film which is ‘Hitch’ and Franklin actually directed Psycho II in 1983 which starred Anthony Perkins revisiting his iconic role as Norman Bates. Franklin obviously had an appreciation for the story and Hitchcock’s contribution to the mystery/suspense genre.

At one point in the film, Pamela in the back of Quid’s cab picks up a vintage Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine from the 60s.

The more significant allusions that can be drawn from the film are Keach’s role as Patrick Anthony Quid, using a Hitchcockian formula, ‘The Wrong Man.’

The police not only suspect him of the murders, but Quid becomes alienated by the rest of the hostile players in the film, even going as far as being set up by the real killer, not unlike Hitchcock’s later and quite starkly disturbing Frenzy 1972.

Starring Barry Foster as the criminally insane misogynist Robert Rusk, the neck tie killer who rapes and strangles his female victims in what I feel Hitchcock lensed with an utter brutal realism that stays with you.

In Frenzy it is Jon Finch who plays Richard Ian Blaney the misunderstood working class man who is falsely blamed for a series of murdered women. Blaney also becomes set up as a patsy by the killer, like Quid for the murders.

Unlike Frenzy’s lustful sex maniac who we get to see up close and personal, remember the hideous line… ‘lovely.’

Green Van Man maintains an anonymity, a distance from us and the camera, so the intimacy of the plot is stifled and a line is drawn in the sand as far as understanding the killer’s identity any closer than his gloves, his guitar wire and the dark green van.Which might be the point. Although, Robert Rusk was a fertile character that repulsed yet fascinates.

Barry Foster plays the misogynist sex murderer, Robert Rusk… a neck tie strangler! in Alfred Hitchcock’s FRENZY 1972

Missing is the profoundly evocative score from Bernard Herrmann. Road Games doesn’t utilize music as much to underscore it’s narrative. Although it’s sound editing is very key in various spots of the film to accentuate the sense of alienation that is pervasive in the film. Where Herrmann’s  romantic scoring might guide the viewer along the way to either an empathetic moment or a suspenseful point in a film, the use of sound in Road Games is incorporated in a much more holistic way. And the film starts out quietly, bleak, allowing Keach’s Pat Quid to stretch his characterization of a solitary man on a journey.

Another interesting motif of the film that utilizes some of the traditional stylization of a Hitchcock film is the use of  The MacGuffin– The cooler or ‘lunch box’ that is frequently shown framed in one scene or another which is possession of the Green Van Man, might or might not hold something of interest or relevance or could just be a big red herring. We wonder as does Quid, whether it holds the severed head of the foxy hitch-hiker we see being murdered in the beginning of the film.

I found it interesting that our first awareness of the murders, takes place in a motel, not unlike 1960s Psycho.

Also of interesting note is the use of the ‘Open Road’, expansive at times indicative of alienation and desolation, lending to ‘the traveler’ theme. Like Tippi Hedren in The Birds 1963.

I’m also reminded of the cinematic open landscapes as seen in North by Northwest 1959, with it’s desert environment. While not a single engine plane as the nefarious mode of transportation in pursuit, Quid is often swallowed up by the vast Australian expanse, being taunted by a maniac in a dark green van that is playing cat and mouse with the protagonist!

Cary Grant is on the run and swallowed up whole by the vastly open landscape in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest 1959.

And again with the character of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) traveling from Arizona attempting to escape the mundane ticking of her working class existence. Running away after having stolen a large sum of money from one of the Bank’s clients. Hoping to be together with her lover Sam Loomis ( John Gavin.)Unfortunately stumbling onto a yet another desolate hostile environment that is hidden underneath quiet American family values and a nice mama’s boy named Norman Bates.

Janet Leigh is Marion Crane on the run in Hitchcock’s benchmark thriller Psycho 1960

Hitchcock often used actors who could be perceived as an ‘everyman’ Quid reiterates this line several times in the film , “Just because I drive truck doesn’t mean I”m a truck driver.” He’s fair and ethical and is just looking to do his job, but won’t be defined by anyone else’s standards.

The Lighting has the certain feel of a Hitchcock thriller, the Neo-Noirish ambient colors, highlighting only the ‘object’ the director wants us to see, with everything else framed within shadow. The obscuring of a purposefully arranged set with emphasis on the specific players being lit in close up. And colors used specifically to accentuate a mood. The use of color in Road Games help develop the feeling of a surreal type of desolation.

Right from the beginning of the film, Quid the protagonist, starts out in conflict with this mysterious stranger in the dark green van. The game of cat and mouse begin.

Oh… a neon Motel sign. Not quite the Bates Motel, but it will serve it’s purpose for Mr Smith or Jones, the Green Van Man.
The mysterious young female hitch-hiker, standing in our view.

The killer Mr Smith or Jones checking into the motel.

“First he steals my girl and then he steals my bed… ”

“I hope she steals his wallet. I bet she doesn’t even wait to take her socks off.

As Quid lays back in the cab of his rig for the night, he plucks his guitar as the scene becomes transmuted into a moment of subtle dissonance, the out of tune guitar strum, which rings over into the next scene.

She did in fact, leave her socks on!

The camera framing the girls socked feet dangling over the motel bed. The after sex dangle. The humorous thread and irony running through the narrative. She did in fact leave her socks on during sex.

There is anonymity here. We do not relate to this potential victim. She has been depersonalized by a pair of argyle socks, no close up on her face and a musty teal motel carpet.

Preparing us for something more nefarious, the camera slowly pans up her bare legs, as we see her sitting on the bed strumming a guitar in the neon glow of the motel room, quite parallel to Quid who is doing the same in the sleeping compartment of his rig.

She runs her hands stridently up the neck of the guitar, causing a brittle metal screeching of friction to create a feeling of unease.

A very Hitchcock type of framework. The close up on the murder weapon. The emphasis on detail… slow and purposeful.

Cut away to a close up of the killers gloved hands, holding a small white package with one guitar string. We are alerted to the implication that this little metal wire will be used as the choice of murder weapon. A musical garrote with which to choke the life out of his female victim. She continues to handle the instrument not gently playing a melody or strumming a harmonious set of chords. She is paralleling the killers masturbatory ritual of handling the guitar string in a disconnected, psycho-sexual compulsion.

As he pulls the little wire from it’s white sleeve, the droning waves of fingers traveling up and down the neck of taut metal strings flutters like tiny iron butterflies trying to take flight. The merging of the image of the killers hands, and the sound of clashing chords, build the tension, and prepare us for the moment of her death.

This could be considered quite a Hitchcockian moment, in the building of suspense, where we get to see what is going to happen to the victim, before the victim actually does. We are helpless to warn them. We are the voyeurs, privy,,, in at the kill… There is less emotional attachment to the scene as there is an austere distancing from the characters and the activity. Franklin chose a plot mechanism where there is a lack of intimacy. As cold as the steel strings that will ultimately find themselves around the pretty young hitchhikers neck.

Reminds one of another drain used in Psycho during the memorable shower scene. Life goes down the toilet sometimes.

The killer, crumples up the white sleeve the guitar string came in and tosses it into a sterile white toilet, as if to say, this has no worth, it can be flushed away. Her life is something to be tossed away. He has no attachment to the preparation of her death. He has no remorse, no hesitancy. It is something he will perform. And not unlike Marion Crane’s death scene where we see the bloodied water, leading down the drain the life force that was Marion, I think this shot is purposeful in saying and doing quite the same thing.

The drain in Psycho 1960

Suddenly the water rushes like a small violent eddy in porcelain, the flushing of the murder weapon’s packaging is gone forever down the pipes, and the next frame shows in close up as the killer threads the tiny steel wire, readying it for it’s destructive purpose. He pulls the string through and the frame washes to stark white, oblivion, a landscape soon to come.

Also notable is the constant ticking of the clock whenever SHE the foxy hitch-hiker is in the scene. It is telling us that her time is running out. She sits with her back to the bathroom door still strumming inane chords from the guitar that covers her naked body. The back drop is a single starkly bright white light emanating from the bathroom door that is ajar. The red neon light washes over her and bathes her in a slightly red glow. Here again the use of sound is key to punctuating the narrative. While not a Bernard Herrmann epic masterpiece of melodrama in symphony, it’s still quite effective here.

The camera moves in, she begins to scrape her hands down along the neck of the guitar again creating more in-harmonious streaks of noise like the last breath of a dying machine. Choking out the last bit of breath from the guitar, a hint at her death. Her death in a motel room. The lack of her caring about the sounds she is making from the guitar maintains her anonymity because if she doesn’t care, then why should we. We don’t know anything about her. She’s a naked lamb for the slaughter. She is a free floating transient female body for use, a hitchhiker with no name. Who chose the wrong man to a have a one night stand with.

The use of red lighting that seems to now hover over her like a gaseous cloud, paints a tone of violent predetermination. She will be bathed in ‘Blood’ soon, won’t she? whether we see it in gory detail or not. Between a reckless strummed chord, the pronounced sound of the clock ticking has increased it’s pitch.

Quick cut to the stark white light of the bathroom. Close up once again on the killer’s gloved hands. Not hardy leather gloves, but a tacky, cheesy sort of beige Isotoner driving gloves.

The sound of running water, so hot that the steam actually makes noise.This absurd presentation of cleanliness surrounding a killer’s ritual of bloodshed is disturbing as it should be, because it is the stark contrast that makes the skin crawl with anticipation.

The juxtaposition of the crimson room where the lamb awaits it’s slaughter, and the pristine, sterile whiteness, almost surgical in it’s feel. The contrasts are placed frame by frame to turn up the heat on the slow burning scene of murder. The use of sound of the steamy shower that mimics the sound of searing, set against the screeching of the guitar, play off each other really effectively.

The killer is handling the small wire, he’s twisting it slowing against the stark white back lighting. Fondling his weapon, again it is his foreplay.

Again, we do not see her face. She is a red haloed muted figure in a dark room, scratching out sounds on the guitar. A single bedroom lamp to light the room. A crack of piercing white splitting the bathroom door opening between the walls.

The screeching continues, she never turns around, the door opens a little wider, to expose the silhouette of the killer emerging from the brightest white… a glowing light. As if a demon has emerged from a part of white hot hell.

The door creaks wide open, he is standing in the doorway, with his face obscured. The dark outlining his body… looming from behind, thrust from the white glowing oblivion.

No Herrmann score to warn us or leads us along, the dark and frightening path. Here the use of sound, is the heightened screeching of the metal guitar strings and the blaring din of the steamy shower that is coming down around our heads like acid rain. We can see that he is starting to play with his wire garrote as she continues to look down at the guitar.

Quid’s comment about her socks doesn’t’ seem so funny anymore.

We now see her naked back and the curve of her ass. She looks more than ever just like meat for the slaughter.

The sound of the guitar strings screeching even take on a knife being sharpened on raw bone. The force of the shower giving off sparks more like a blow torch than the force of a water stream pouring heavily out of a shower head.

The camera moves in closer. She starts to tune the guitar, It’s as if she is devolving the scene into the last moments before her death one note at a time. An auditory verse of noise that represent the last moments of her life.

Again we do not see her face, it is merely her torso, her carcass that is being shown to us. She is merely prey for the killer.

The ticking of the clock  is noticeably louder, the camera moves in even closer, with an emphasis on her hand working the knobs, tuning the guitar.

From behind his gloved hand reaches to touch her hair. Then grabbing a little more intensely in order to get a good hold on her head and around her neck, the wire held in his right hand.

For the first time, we see a close up of her eyes. At once, she suddenly has become humanized in these last brief seconds. We see her soft brown eyes.

They look up, not reflecting fear… yet, more like an innocence.

From frame to frame, we see shots of her eyes as she now realizes that he is about to garrote her with a steel guitar string.

The wire floats in front of her eyes. Not a drastic reaction on her part. It’s quite chilling to see her passiveness. It’s  as if it’s happening in a dream.

As the wire moves down closer cutting visually along the in-between of her glossy pink lips, she still does not react. No screams. No movement.

To back track a bit, it’s interesting too, how the scene hints at the iconic shower scene from Psycho yet in reverse, in contrast.

Where Road Games’ terror comes from within the shower, pushing itself outward onto the girl in the other room. And not having her killed in the shower itself, being attacked from outside the curtain, as it was in Psycho.

It’s an effective twist and kind of gives it an eerie and creepy feeling because it’s working against what you’d expect.

Also the unsavory preparations are happening in a ‘clean’ bright space while the murder victim is set more in the darkness, seemingly calm and unaware of what’s about to emerge from the bathroom.

One more close up on her lips, the wire now presumably fully around her neck. And a final screech which is quickly cut away to join a clashing of garbage cans in unison. The clinking and crashing of tin cans merge with her death scream ending the scene abruptly.

Quid is awakened by the noise of the garbage men, roused out of his sleep he finds Boswell his dingo nosing around the plastic rubbish bags placed on the curb by the cans.

The murderer in Rear Window gazes back at the protagonist from his window across the way.

He is sniffing the bags as if something inside has peaked his interest. With a reminiscence of Rear Window my favorite Hitchcock film, Quid has caught wind of an odd fellow, and soon starts to suspect him of something nefarious, something so heinous. With the clues being littered around for him to pick up like the scent of the garbage bags and Boswell.

We’re beginning to watch things unfold for the protagonist. We can see this seemingly unrelated event develop into a plot where something profound has happened, that will involve Quid very shortly.

He casually shaves his face in the truck, while the dingo gnaws and sniffs at the plastic rubbish bags. He scans the motel window where the Green Van Guy had picked up the hitchhiker that he should have picked up but didn’t.

He scans between the motel room, and then back down to his dog fascinated by ‘whatever’ is in those bags. Is it the remains of the girl? We are of course led to believe that. Hitchcock might have framed the scene in a much similar way I suspect. Robert Rusk threw one of his victims away in a potato sack and stuffed her on the green grocers truck.

We can see the growing curiosity in Quid, yield to a much more darkened expression. He is also being watched by the killer.Quid has made it into the killer’s field of vision. Marked himself now. Quid looks more concerned with each second that passes, He rolls down the window and calls to Boswell, to come away from the garbage bags, that he is now trying to tear open.

The garbage men come down the street heft the 2 large plastic bags into their dump truck and the scene cuts away to a rack of hanging pig carcasses, ready to be transported by Quid to Perth.

The meat, here used as symbolism of human remains and the fodder of senseless violence. Hitchcock often used motifs and symbols in his films to convey a social message or salient point about human nature. Often times ironic, with a gist of black humor and sometimes a touch or morbidity for good measure.

7 minutes and 50 seconds into the film, the titles finally emerge on screen, set over the rack of bloodied pig meat hanging neatly in a row on steel hooks.

Now the music composed and conducted by Brian May, comes in, harmonica atop a military rhythmic march ‘ da da da don’ on the snare with strings bowed quickly, with a Maurice Revel’s Boleroesque vibe to it. A butcher is pushing a pink pig carcass down the metal pipe via a steel hook in it’s flesh.

Quid plays his beloved harmonica while waiting to cart his Piggies to Perth!

The harmonica is joined with a visual of Quid holding the piece to his mouth and playing along with the film’s score.

He is inside the meat locker. This happy lyrical little march that leads us into the film officially. Is quirky and jolly and casts a more humorous net around the film’s initial dark and mucky quality.

Quid signs for his shipment of pig meat to carry to Perth. Flutes and Horns glide in to lighten up the air a bit more. Quid still holding the harmonica in his mouth while the entire exchange is taking place. He doesn’t take life too seriously. He moves to his own music.

As the horns pronounce themselves a bit more, he walks over to the load of meat and gives the rack a shove to fit all the carcasses inside the truck. He walks out the door of the plant, and passes the side of the truck which has an illustration of a pig in blue striped butchers shirt, holding a meat cleaver, that says ‘Pleased to MEAT you!’ He stops to take notice of it.

While driving down the long road ahead of him he sees a family driving. He begins to talk to himself and Boswell.

“Fred Frugal and his wife Frita… Frita Frugal…Bet ya she’s a real dragon.” We can hear the couple arguing about the directions.

“Poor guy, bet ya he’s an accountant or maybe a school teacher” Quid looks at them with one more studied glance, “No… an accountant” Quid can entertain himself, all he needs is a game and Boswell the dingo.

As the car towing the little camper passes Quid’s truck, the children in the back seat start making silly faces at him.  “Betta watch it kid, you might stay in the position for life.” He says gravely.

This is Quid’s condemnation of conformity to the stifling choke hold that marriage and so called civility can have on a man. Within the jibe at the kid’s bratty behavior, was a warning about trying to attain a lifestyle that can kill your spirit. Thus the open road and the truck driving with a dingo as your first mate.

In the other lane on the other side of Quid’s truck comes a blue station wagon filled to the brim with sporting balls. Soccer and footballs, basketballs  volley balls. You get the sense that Quid is the only ‘normal’ character in this film. A man alone in a troubled world, with quirky players on their own path, while he navigates the road alone with his wisdom and his wit. Characters that will re appear throughout the film, as if they are all on a prophetic journey together.

As the wagon pulls ahead, Quid remarks, ‘Now there’s a man with balls” The film’s sense of humor doesn’t want to take the narrative’s tale of murder too seriously. It’s more about the man, and how his role will play out in the story.

Subtle but adorable is the immediate shot of Boswell the dingo looking slightly unmoved by the pithy remark his guy pal Quid has just uttered. As if to say, ” Oh god, Quid really?” The camera does a close up of the back of the car window exposing the balls, as Quid adds, “Many balls.”

Music enters into the scene as the longer shot of the truck rolls down the beautiful Australian countryside. It’s starting to become a road movie proper.

Again, something that Hitchcock did with his leading men and ladies was that it wasn’t necessarily the thing that the characters were going after that was essential to the plot,  it was how the characters evolved or managed to navigate the obstacles or puzzles they were faced with.

While Keach is not as suave or urbane as Cary Grant or as elegant as Gregory Peck or Jimmy Stewart, Keach has a gruff likable everyman quality. And he too is faced with an enemy or a situation that he finds himself connected to by chance.

“There’s something in the Autumn that sends the gypsy blood astir.” Quid decrees his wanderlust. The open road and the impermanence of things is what feeds his soul. Not unlike James Stewart’s character L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies in Rear Window 1954. Although Jefferies was a journalist photographer. He traveled and didn’t want to be tied down to bourgeois life either.

“Hey Bossie there’s another one, maybe I oughta pick this one up and take her to Perth with me. Dazzling her with my stylish rhetoric and witty innuendo.” Boswell doesn’t react, “Oh maybe you’re right, it’s against regulations.”

The first appearance of Jamie Lee Curis as Pamela ‘Hitch’

He starts to bet with Boswell, a little road game he plays by picking cars on the road, but Boswell curls up uninterested in the banter. Quid tells him okay, “I don’t want to argue with you. That’s the trouble with you Aussies, you take your games much too seriously.”

The motorcyclist in red leather will re-appear again at The Roadhouse.

Another strange character comes onto the screen. Quid announces, “Ahoy, Captain careful” A little yellow car pulling a boat driving slowly in the lane ahead.

Quid starts laying on the horn, moving closer to the car to try and coax him out of the way but the stubborn driver won’t go any faster.

Boswell is looking out the side of the truck window. Quid looks around and asks if somethings wrong. He peers into his side mirror but has lost sight of the little yellow car towing the boat.

Suddenly the dark green van comes into view. “Well Well it’s our friend from the motel. Quid tries to move past the car pulling the boat in front.

Quid finally pushes the car aside as the van has now gained ground and is on his tail. The poor slob in the car towing the boat winds up getting pushed off the road momentarily, during this pursuit. Left behind, is as vista of road and desert. An open expanse, upholding that feeling of alienation and vast isolation.

Boswell starts to wimper a little, ‘What’s the matter buddy, something about that van you’re not telling me?” Bos whimpers a bit more.

We see the lower front end of the van in close up.

Wondering why he hasn’t tried to pass him yet, he says, “I wonder if he’s still got that young fox with him?”

The music filters in, it sounds a bit ominous. Strings held tightly and drawn out. That question of Quids is obviously known to us. She’s been garroted and placed in plastic rubbish bags.

As the green van pulls along side Quid’s cab, he can look down into the passenger seat and see a little cooler, or what they refer to as a ‘lunch box’ with a red lid. The camera is fixated on this item. Is the girl hitchhiker’s head in there?

We are left to ponder this. This lunch box becomes the film’s MacGuffin
“In fiction, a MacGuffin is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist) is willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to pursue, often with little or no narrative explanation as to why it is considered so desirable. A MacGuffin, therefore, functions merely as “a plot element that catches the viewers’ attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction”

Alfred Hitchcock popularized both the term “MacGuffin” and the technique, with his 1935 film The 39 Steps.

As the cooler starts to rock back and forth, the gloved hand of the killer grabs it and holds it as if he’s got something in there that no one must know about. Why care about a bologna sandwich bouncing around after all!

All of a sudden a though occurs to Quid. ” Why does anyone get up at 5 O’Clock in the morning to watch the garbage collectors?”

As Quid drives down the long open road wearing the head harness that allows him to accompany Beethoven’s 5th on the harmonica, he notices carrion picking at something dumped on the side of the road.

He drives by, and the scene leaves us and it ever so briefly to be mentally digested for later. He switches to a local radio station that mentions a shocking discovery of a human hand. Trying to make the connection between a leg that was found at a tannery the past week.

Police say that there is a Jack The Ripper type murderer at large and claim that the two grisly items are probably unconnected.
Quid continues to hum a folksy little riff from his mouth harp.

A van with a JUST MARRIED sign painted on the back drives in front. Quid remarks ” Sucker” again we are reminded that he is a loner.

Suddenly a barrier of pink crepe paper causes Quid to bring his truck to a screeching smoking halt. Poor Boswell goes flying off the seat and rolls into the dashboard.

He’s been ambushed by a pushy woman who jumps into his cab wearing a pink scarf over a hair filled with rollers.

He tells her that he’s not allowed to pick up  hitch-hikers and she tells him that she’s not a hitch-hiker. that her husband has left her. “My idiot husband drove off and left me here.”

She continues to get seated in front, while Boswell stares up at her. She’s holding something that looks like pink toilet paper, rather than crepe.

“We can catch him if you hurry” Says Madeleine Day. She hopes she doesn’t get truck sick from sitting so high up. Her idiot husband Floyd calls her ‘Sunny’ as in sunny day. Sitting there with scarf covering rollers, appearing like a bourgeois cow.

Quid annoyed responds,  “Sounds like a wild and crazy guy your husband.” She tells him “oh that’s nothing we have a daughter named Doris Day, like the movie star.”

Quid tells her that he’ll take her as far as a town called Yellowdine, where there’s a road house and she can call the police from there. She starts spraying her hair, the aerosol can misting all over the inside of the cab choking Quid.

She asks if the dog bites. He tells her he’s not a dog, he’s a dingo.

“What on earth would you want to keep a Dingo! for?” “Well I like him, he’s nice, he doesn’t eat too much, he’s quiet.” She nudges Boswell with her foot.

“Dingo’s a kind of dog so what’s the difference?”

“A dog’s a parasite hybrid, he chases cars, he barks, he chases shadows and he eats his own feces. But a dingo, a dingo’s clean, intelligent. quiet. In fact he’s physically incapable of barking. In fact…that’s why they call him the silent dog.” Quid smiles, and looks down at Bos, “He’s an aristocrat… like me.”

Sunny asks if all truck drivers are as stuck up as him. He answers, ” Madam, Just because I drive a truck does not make me a truck driver.”

She comments about him probably not being married, he answers NO, as the truck passes the pretty hitch-hiker (Pamela)that he passed up a few miles back.

Sunny asks why he didn’t stop and pick her up. “Lady that Hitch is getting to Perth faster than you or I.”

“Well that’s no reason to call her a bitch.” ” No…! hitch as in Hitchhiker.”

“Well a gentleman would have picked her up with this maniac on the loose butchering girls.”

“What maniac?” She replies, ” I don’t know the one on the radio, on the news.” Quid asks, “What else did they say about him…did they say what kind of rig he drove?” ” I didn’t say he was driving a rig.” Sunny starts to get nervous.

“How’d you know my husband was an accountant?” He tells her, ” it was just a guess.”

Quid takes a shortcut and they start to play a naming game. Animal Vegetable or Mineral. They start to bicker with each other.

He has to guess something that’s bigger than a bread box and that is an animal. After they rule out himself, the pigs a Kangaroo, and Emu and Lawrence of Friggen Arabia, she tells him…

“You give up…It’s that man back there” Just as the truck passes out of frame, the camera shows us a foot pushing a shovel into the ground to loosen the dirt, obviously about to bury something.

” I didn’t see any man back there.” Sunny says, ” Of course you didn’t because you were too busy arguing but there was a man back there standing beside a dark green van and he was digging a hole.”

There’s an element of dark humor and the irony of the accidental witness, the unknowing witness to a hideous crime. Quid is the only one so far who suspects or has an inkling that this green van man is possibly a dangerous sort.

Quid jams on the brakes of the rig. Jumps out and looks out toward the spot where Sunny saw the man. “What the hell was he doing?” Quid clamors. Sunny responds, “I told you digging a hole.”

He grabs his binoculars and she grabs her pink hairspray can as a weapon.

Now we have a close up on the plastic garbage bags and the infamous ‘lunch box.’

She asks what’s wrong and he shssses her.

The strings turn darkly, and suddenly the killer is in focus in the binoculars and staring right back at Quid. Quid starts whistling casually looking away from the killers gaze.

The killer Smith or Jones or Green Van Man revealed and in focus.

As the dark green van speeds away, Quid turns to Sunny, “What the hell was he burying?…”

“Is this another game?”

“Why does a man stop in the middle of nowhere and dig a hole”

“Maybe he had to you know… go to the toilet.”

“Lady you don’t understand… this same guy picked up a hitchhiker last night… then around 4:30 this morning he watched the garbage being collected outside the motel…and now he’s burying more garbage… doesn’t that seem to be a little weird to you, lady?”

“You truck drivers take drugs don’t you… you’ve got the ddts.”

Now the clear sound of desert, crickets and flies act as the natural backdrop. It’s the sound of desolation. Quid is now the man who is not to be believed.

“Cast to the wind thy ghastly sin.”  Quid spouts his quotations like a lost wandering poet, a disencumbered prince who roams with no use of a kingdom. A loner who is smarter than most people he meets, and needs no one except  Boswell, the quiet dog.

Sunny sits up in the truck, pink hairspray can in hand looking down in disbelief, while Quid’s body clenches itself. A man alone.

In reaction to his brief poetic outburst Sunny says “Pardon?”

“That’s it…the ghastly sin is dissipating, erased from existence!”

Again much like Stewart’s character in Rear Window, who knows the man across the courtyard has done something to his wife, but no one will believe him. He is alone with his suspicions, and the murderer is out there.

He continues, “And another thing… a body wouldn’t last a day out here with all the birds and the insects… ”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about sex!” he walks over to the rig, looking up at Sunny, “I’m talking about sex, stolen from a young girl in the back of a van or a seedy motel… and I’m talking about GUILT… terrible guilt… awful guilt…a guilt so terrible that it could only be obliterated by spreading the evidence all over the countryside…Jesus.”

Sunny begins to look more horrified from her high up seat of the rig.

“I think I’d like to get out here.”

“Wait a minute..don’t be silly… now listen… what exactly did they say about this guy on the news?”

” I don’t know what you mean, I don’t know anything.”

“Hey now come-on lady you’re supposed to be the authority on weirdos… come’ on help me out, it was something about Jack The Ripper, or a”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about a hunch that’s all.”

Sunny insists on getting out of the truck. Quid tries to tell her to wait. He tells her

“First, I’ve got a game”

“I don’t want to play”

“It’s animal”

“no!”

The sound of flies are buzzing around them.

“It’s bigger than a bread box.” He walks back over toward where the dark green van was peering through his binoculars again.

“But it’s small enough to fit in a plastic rubbish bag.”

“That is a sick game, a human being is not an animal I know what you’re thinking and it wouldn’t fit in a rubbish bag!” Sunny is talking very disturbed at this point.

“Oh yes it would, if you cut off the damned head!” He continues to peer through his binoculars. Sunny starts screaming “Stop it!” as she flings herself out of the cab.

He watches as she runs away crying, petrified by Quid’s little supposition. He runs after her shouting
“Hey lady… lady!… lady stop!”

In classic Hitchcock style, the insertion of ‘fear of heights’ and precarious places and edges in which people can fall to their deaths!

Suddenly, Sunny comes upon a rocky cliff that reaches far down to a rugged shoreline. Almost falling off the edge. The music becomes epic, heraldic, ushering in a change in mood. She might have fallen to her death. This music is more in line with a typical Hitchcock score.

The camera pulls back and the two are framed in the vastness of the landscape as the music gets bigger and crashes down around them with horns, strings and cymbals.

We have gone from the claustrophobic isolation of the verbal meltdown on a patch of fly infested side of the road, hot and sweltering desert plain., to the vast openness of a looming cliff side.

The two seem like insects in the camera’s eye. The blue and wispy clouded sky hovers over them. The scene pulls back even further until we cannot see either Quid or Sunny standing on the edge of the great cliff. We only see a wider landscape with swelling ocean tides, the two are swallowed up by the scenery, they are gone for now by the immenseness of the Australian wilderness.

Cut back to Quid, “Now lady… I am not going to hurt you I promise. Listen you stopped me on the road remember?… I’m just a truck driver. I know I talk a lot and I’m given to flights of the imagination, but there’s no need to be afraid of me.”

Horns stab the scene, and Sunny steps closer to the edge. The camera frames her feet on the outer most edge of the rocks. Her little black shoes seem too small to keep a good grip on the ground. He pleads for them to go back to the truck.

She starts to confess, telling him that Floyd and her never wanted any trouble. They were the couple mentioned on the radio that were on the run , the ones who had fled because of the meat strike. This is why Quid had to cart the meat across the country when he wasn’t originally scheduled. A much different Sunny speaks, “When the police came they said the strike was Floyd’s fault.”

So here he has picked up someone who on the surface seemed like an ordinary house wife, yet she has secrets to hide herself. She tells him that they have their own problems, and that they don’t need anybody else’s. And she begins to tell him that she didn’t see any man back there.

“Understand.”Sunny growls.

So she won’t corroborate Quid’s story if and when he goes to the police about the guy at the motel in the dark green van. He’s on his own.

“No vans… or lunch boxes or anything to do with police.” She adds.

As he manages to grab her before she falls off the cliff, she whispers to him, “And no more games.” Quid tells her,  “alright, no more games.”

The scene cuts to The Roadhouse. “Hello I’m trying to get in touch with the nearest police station.”

We hear whistling. “Hello my name is Quid and I’m calling from the Roadhouse in Yellowdine.”

He tries to talk on the phone, the bar is a box of noises with video games, pinball machines, television,  people talking over him. It is not a place where he can quietly call the local police. It’s a frustrating drawn out scene, as he tries in vane to communicate his story to a faceless person on the other end of the phone.

He tries to raise his voice, has to repeat his name several times. Amidst the back drop of a wall mural that depicts the brutal period of colonialism. Unsavory characters light up cigarettes as Quid futilely tries to communicate. He tries to give the news about the killer, the camera pans to an elderly couple being served at a table watching the television.

His voice keeps getting louder, begging to be heard.

“I’d rather not get into it over the phone if you don’t mind”  As we hear his voice, the camera pans over to a man sitting at the bar, wearing red leather. He is the biker that Quid passed on the road earlier on in the film.

Again, the reoccurring characters in the film also seem to exude an air of suspicion around them, as if no one can be trusted, throwing in their presences as if red herrings. We only see his back, but we feel that something isn’t quite right with his presence there. He sneezes.

The camera rotates around the room, now focused on a young man buying cigarettes from a machine. The television seems to get louder. Quid is back where he started trying to explain his name and MEAT. It’s an exercise in frustration, and a very Hitchcockian dynamic is set forth, in the sense that he is an alienated man amidst outsiders who can not and will not help him.

It’s a really well done scene. We hear the youth pounding on the machine for his cigarettes, a man is now cueing up at the pool table and is in view, and now we hear Quid shout “PIGS” as it is obvious that nothing he says is getting through.

It’s nonsensical and senseless and a funny moment that is meant to frustrate ‘us’ as well. It’s absurd and it’s painful, in it’s brash disconnectedness to humanity.

Again we hear a pin ball machine making it’s noise, the boing boinging of the synthesized musical notes as Quid yells… “I’m carrying MEAT MATE!” He now spells it out.

“M.E.A.T. as in MEAT” The camera has come full circle around the room. It has shown us the various characters mulling about, and now we are back to Quid standing on the pay phone in the corner, still trying to communicate.

“Well it has to do with a guy in a dark green van.”

As the pool players wage their bets, Quid shouts, “WHAT” as he covers one ear and listens with the other.

He tells them that he’s trying to, if they would just hold on and listen for a second. He holds the phone, and asks one of the guys in the room “Excuse me… have any of you fellas seen a guy in a dark green van?” Quid is met with looks that could kill. It might as well be DELIVERANCE, for Quid is out of his element and in bad territory here.

The noise worsens as someone puts the jukebox on and electric guitar and bad rock and roll, deafens even the last bit of quiet left in the room. Quid returns to the phone, but it’s futile.

He turns and asks them to turn down the music, they ignore him, and when he returns to talk to the person on the phone, he has been asked his name again, “WHAT! It’s QUID… Q…as in Quarter master U as in Utopia, I as in ice-cream, what? I.C.E.C.R…Oh Jesus… no I cannot stick around I’ve got to get my porkers to Perth, now…no no it’s QUID…D as in Death to young girls, you creton!”

He slams the phone down, only for that instance is there silence in the room to allow for his last utterance to be completely heard. The irony that the one nasty thing he says, is now finally listened to…everybody in the room is at attention and all eyes are on Quid.

As he leaves someone asks if that’s his dingo. There’s a bounty on them in this district. He’s warned that he wouldn’t want to break the law. The roadhouse men look at him. He starts to get worried and runs out calling for Boswell.

Madeleine Day is now soliciting a ride from the biker in red leather, telling him about her husband Floyd, giving him the same spiel.

Quid calls out for Boswell, Boswell is okay but he’s been injured.

Aside from the Jack The Ripper in a dark green van, Quid is surrounded by barbaric people with no evidence of a soul. He is alone and in a hostile environment. A stranger in a strange land.

Just as his eyes are diverted from the crowd of people from The Roadhouse looking on , we hear a motor start up and we now see that the green van has been parked up the road, as if waiting and watching Quid. He was probably the one who hurt poor Boswell.

Are all the townspeople of Yellowdine aware of who the killer is, and complicit, or are they just as dangerous in their lack of empathy, are they soulless?

The Road Game is not the word play or little distractions to make the travel time go faster, it is about survival in this hostile landscape filled with people who don’t like outsiders, and some who are not what they appear to be on the surface.

“Son of a bitch!” Quid takes off in his rig after the killer, who speeds away in his green mean machine.

A little Hitchcock tongue in cheek as we see during the pursuit, the painted logo on the truck… The pig in blue striped butchers shirt and red bow tie wielding a hatchet.

Utilizing the same small cast of odd characters, the van cuts off the same yellow car towing the boat again. The poor slob finally decides to take a stand, slows down and blocks Quid from passing. He winds up crashing his vehicle and allows the van to get away from Quid.

The fool is not so lucky and winds up crashing the car and his precious boat!

Now for the third time in the film, finally Jamie Lee Curtis enters the film formally. ‘Third time lucky” he tells Boswell. And Quid picks her up. Now we get to see her face. She is wearing a floppy hat with a jaunty feather in it, and a surprised look that he’s actually stopping this time.

“Aren’t you kinda young to be hitchhiking out here all by yourself?”

“Aren’t you kinda old to be picking me up?”

“It’s not a pick up, it’s just a lift… I don’t usually pick up hitchhikers”

‘What makes me the exception?”

“I don’t know… I guess I kinda felt sorry for ya.”

“I didn’t know there were any chivalrous truck drivers”

He smiles and Boswell pokes his head into the front seat where she pets his head.

“Oh no, what happened to your dingo.?”

“You didn’t happen to see a guy in a green van?”

“Yeah, why?” , she continues…”I wonder why he didn’t try to pick me up?”

“You sound a little disappointed that he didn’t… Hey how old are you anyway Hitch?”

“Old enough, how old are you!?” ” Old enough to be your father”

“My father’s 67”  Quid says, “Oh”

“Hey maybe he makes love to them first”

“Hitch does your 67 year old father know that you accept rides from Truck Drivers?”

“My name isn’t Hitch”

“Does your mother know that you’re gone?” ” She’s dead…my father lives with a whore.”

“So you ran away?” “No, I walked away.”

“Don’t you think it’s a good idea and let him know where you are?”

“I mean maybe that’s how he gets his rocks off!”

“Your father?”

“No…your Mr.Smith or Jones… You know the Boston Strangler was on a sex trip. Or maybe he makes love to them afterwards.” ” Oh come’on”

“Why do you think he does it?” “I don’t know, I really don’t know!… I don’t know that he does!… let’s not get carried away about this.”

“Are you kidding, it’s the most fun I’ve had all afternoon”

As the wide open spaces of Australia are shown once again, we hear Quid ask ‘Hitch’ to play a game!

“Okay, I’ve got a game.” “Okay… scrabble?”

“Let’s call it the Smith or Jones game.” “Sounds interesting”

“Alright now, let’s assume there is a method to his madness, that every he does is for a logical purpose right?… okay now…He’s just killed a girl.”

“Did he make love to her first?”

“I don’t know, what’s the difference?”

“It makes a lot of difference…in order to play the game properly we oughta know what he thinks of women!”

“It’s my game.” ” Okay Sherlock.”

“It’s the method we’re interested in… now he just killed this girl… now how does he destroy the evidence?”

“Cuts it up.” ” Yeah but why?” ” So the pieces won’t be found.” ” Yeah but pieces don’t prove anything, um you could put an arm or a leg out with the garbage and it doesn’t prove anything.”

“That’s ridiculous” ” Yeah but it’s the law… I mean you could lose an arm or a leg and not necessarily be dead right.” ” Yeah… but.” “But if you lose your TORSO, you are definitely DEAD, but.”

“You lose your torso I think you’ve had it.”

“But…one torso is pretty much like another…” ” Oh foul, you lose a turn”

” I don’t think its so important what he does, it’s why, I mean… what does he think about women?” ” You’re kidding.” ” No!… I mean wouldn’t you like to know what he’s thinking, get inside his head?”

“(Huff) I’d be glad to get inside his friggin lunch box”

Watch the entire movie and see what happens for yourself!- MonsterGirl

4 thoughts on “Road Games (1981) – “Cast to the wind…thy ghastly sin” for the Best Hitchcock Movies (That Hitchcock Never Made) blogathon July 7-13

  1. I’ve only ever seen clips of this film (thanks to the documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, about Australian B-movies), but it looks intriguing enough I want to check it out one of these days. And you did a nice job illustrating how it compares to Hitchcock. I look forward to your post on the Karloff “Thriller” episode as well.

    Like

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