The Sugarland Express
1974. Universal Pictures, Universal Home Video, Color, Aspect Ratio 2.35 : 1, 110 minutes, Rated PG
Release Date: April 5, 1974
The Sugarland Express is available at Amazon.com on DVD and VHS.
Movie Synopsis: A young woman, fearful of losing her baby to the authories, breaks her husband out of prison, and together they kidnap a police officer and are pursued by a pack of lawmen in a slow-speed highway chase in the south of Texas.
Cast: Golden Hawn, Ben Johnson, William Atherton, Michael Sacks, Steve Kanaly, Louise Latham
Director: Steven Spielberg
Thoughts on the Movie:
I first saw this movie in the theater, back in the day, and it truly was explosive on the big screen. Its almost as good watching it at home on DVD. You get caught up in the young couples combination of naivete and ignorance and find yourself pulling for them, not the cops. But thats usually the case in films like this one. This road movie is among the best of the genre. Golden Hawn proved without a doubt that she is a fine actress, and having Ben Johnson play the sheriff in hot pursuit, really provides the film with the grit and reality level it needed to work.
Its unfortunate that Steven Spielbergs first feature film didnt receive the attention and praise it deserved, because it is very, very good. And isnt it odd that the media-blitz that occurs over the incident in this movie that was made over 30 years ago, is completely akin to what happens over such news events today? Maybe it can all be chalked up to that timeless thing called human nature. ~Jean
Beauford H. Jester State Prison, Sugar Land, Texas (see Map)
The pre-release facility was located in the Jester III Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division, located at 3 Jester Road, Richmond, Texas. It seems things have changed a lot with this part of the Texas prison system since The Sugarland Express was filmed in 1974, because this is no longer a pre-release facility. The pre-release facility appears to now be at the Central Unit, located at One Circle Drive, Sugar Land. This is most likely a movie location you wouldnt wish to visit, but it was used in the opening sequence of the film, when Lou Jean Poplin breaks her husband, Clovis, out of prison in order to go after their young son, Baby Langston.
Above Right: Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn) walks toward the pre-release facility in Sugar Land, Texas, where her husband is being detained in the opening scenes of The Sugarland Express.
About Sugar Land, Texas:
Sugar Land, Texas (population 79,943, elevation 100 feet; 29° 35 58 N, 95° 36 51 W) is located in northeast Fort Bend County, 25 miles southwest of Houston on US 59 and US 90A.
The land in and about the city of Sugar Land was originally owned by the Mexican government and was granted to Samuel M. Williams through Stephen F. Austin. There were several factors which governed Williams receiving this grant, among them was the fact that he spoke Spanish, was well educated and wrote a fine Spencerian hand. Williams called this land Oakland Plantation because there were many different varieties of oaks on the land: Pin Oak, Post Oak, Water Oak, Red Oak and Live Oak. During this period of time, land grants were measured from one oak to another.
Right: Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn) confronts her convict husband, Clovis (William Atherton), about her plan to break him out of prison, in a scene from The Sugarland Express.
Sugar Land is part of the Houston metropolitan area and is one of the fastest-growing cities in Texas. Founded as a sugar plantation in the early mid-19th century and incorporated in 1959, Sugar Land is known as one of the most affluent cities in the state. It is home to the headquarters of Imperial Sugar, and the companys main sugar refinery and distribution center was once located in the city. As a nod to this heritage, the Imperial Sugar crown logo can be seen in the city seal and logo.
As a company town from the 1910s until 1959, Sugar Land was virtually self-contained. Imperial Sugar Company provided housing for the workers, encouraged construction of schools, built a hospital for the publics well-being, and provided businesses to meet the workers needs. Many of the original homes built by the Imperial Sugar Company remain today in The Hill area and Mayfield Park of Sugar Land, and have been passed down through generations of family members.
During the 1950s, Imperial Sugar wanted to expand the town by building more houses. This led to the creation of a new subdivision called Venetian Estates. The subdivision featured water front homesites along Oyster Creek and other manmade lakes. In 2003, the Imperial Sugar Company refinery plant and distribution center was put out of operation, but its effect on the local economy was minimal, since today, Sugar Land has much more of a reputation as an affluent Houston suburb than the blue-collar, agriculture-dependent town it once was a generation ago. However, the Imperial Sugar Company maintains its headquarters in Sugar Land.
Lodging & Dining:
Best Western Sugarland Inn. 6330 E Riverpark Drive, Sugar Land, Texas
Located just 14 miles outside of Houston, Texas, this Sugar Land area hotel features 60 well-appointed guest rooms. This new Texas hotel is conveniently located less than five miles away from a variety of great shopping and dining at the Sugar Land Town Square, the First Colony Mall, and The Fountains mall.
Right: Ben Johnson plays the Sheriff who goes in pursuit of the Poplins in the 1974 movie, The Sugarland Express.
Ragin Cajun. 16100 Kensington, Sugar Land, Texas
Serving all the Cajun favorites: Gumbo, Jambalaya, Crawfish, Po-boys, and Red Beans & Rice. Other menu offerings include shrimp and crawfish salads, grilled fish fillets, and a grilled Angus cheeseburger.
Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins and Steven Spielberg won the Award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival.
Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins and Steven Spielberg were nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen.
Steven Spielberg was nominated for the Palme dOr at the Cannes Film Festival.
Californias Panavision Corporation chose this movie for the launch of its then-new Panaflex, a compact camera that enabled Steven Spielberg to shoot complex shots inside a patrol car. And The Sugarland Express was the first movie to feature a tracking shot (front seat to back) and a 360-degree pan with dialogue from within a car. Other locations used for The Sugarland Express are: Del Rio, Floresville, Pleasanton, and San Antonio, Texas.
The name of the town Sugar Land is two words, and is misspelled in the title of The Sugarland Express.
The Sugarland Express is based on the events of May 1969, when fugitives, Robert and Ila Fae Dent, kidnapped Department of Public Safety trooper Kenneth Crone, took possession of his car, and led police law enforcement officials on a chase from outside Port Arthur, Texas, through Houston, up to Navasota, and on to Wheelock, where Ila Faes mother lived. At one point, a motorcade of more than 150 police cars and reporters joined the pursuit. FBI agent, Bob Wiatt (who retired in 2004), confronted them at the mothers home and was forced to shoot Robert Dent (who was armed) in the neck, killing him. Wiatt then wrestled Ila Fae to the ground and handcuffed her.
Right: A young Steven Spielberg directing his first feature film, The Sugarland Express.
The prison pre-release center used at the beginning of the movie is the real center located near Sugar Land, Texas, where the true story began.
This was the first theatrical feature film directed by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg shot The Sugarland Express in the first half of 1973, after proving himself on the tube with several Night Gallery episodes and some TV movies, notably the acclaimed road-trip nightmare, Duel.
The Sugarland Express marked the beginning of Steven Spielbergs friendship and working relationship with composer John Williams.
The hijacked Texas Department of Public Safety patrol car featured in the film is a 1973 Dodge Polara, which Steven Spielberg bought after the filming, bullet holes and all.
The 1974 price of regular gasoline at the ARCO station at where the hijacked Texas DPS cruiser stops is 31.9¢ per gallon. Patrolman Slides salary is $620 a month, although, he says, I take home a lot less.
Although the events of the film occur over a couple of days, in reality the whole thing was over within just a few short hours.
Unable to find a child (who looked like he might be the offspring of Goldie Hawn and William Atherton) to play Baby Langston, co-producer Richard D. Zanuck cast his own son, Harrison Zanuck, whose mother is Linda Harrison of Planet of the Apes fame.
Character Quote: Baby Langston...! ~Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn)