Joe (1970 film)

Joe is a 1970 American drama film written by Norman Wexler and directed by John G. Avildsen. It stars Peter Boyle, Dennis Patrick, and Susan Sarandon (in her film debut).[4][5]

Film poster
Directed byJohn G. Avildsen
Produced byDavid Gil
Written byNorman Wexler
StarringPeter Boyle
Dennis Patrick
Audrey Caire
Susan Sarandon
K Callan
Patrick McDermott
Music byBobby Scott
CinematographyJohn G. Avildsen
Edited byGeorge T. Norris
Distributed byCannon Group (USA)[1]
British Lion Films (UK)
Release date
  • July 15, 1970 (1970-07-15)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$26 million[2][3]


Advertising executive Bill Compton, his wife Joan, and daughter Melissa are a wealthy family living in New York's Upper East Side. Melissa has been living with her drug-dealing boyfriend. After Melissa overdoses and is sent to a hospital, Compton goes to her boyfriend's apartment to get her clothes. He confronts and kills the boyfriend in a fit of rage. At a nearby bar he hears factory worker Joe Curran ranting about how he hates hippies, and Compton blurts out that he just killed one. Joe reacts favorably, but Compton says it was a joke.

A few days later, Joe sees a news report about a drug dealer found slain a few blocks from the bar. He calls Compton and meets him. At first Compton is wary that Joe may be attempting blackmail, but Joe assures him that he admires Compton for killing the drug dealer. They become friends, and Compton and his wife have dinner at Joe's house with his wife. Melissa escapes from the hospital and returns to the family apartment, where she overhears her father discussing the murder. She storms out of the apartment house, saying to Compton, "What are you gonna do, kill me too?" Compton tries to restrain her, but she breaks away.

Joe and Compton search for her, and meet a group of hippies at a bar in downtown Manhattan. They join the hippies at an apartment, where the hippies share their drugs and girlfriends with the pair. They then abscond with drugs brought by Compton, which he had taken from the drug dealer, as well as Joe's and Compton's wallets. Joe beats one of the girls until she tells him that their boyfriends often spend time in an upstate commune. Joe and Compton drive to that commune, with Joe bringing rifles. In a confrontation at the commune, Joe and Compton kill all the hippies there, and Compton unwittingly kills his own daughter.


Reception and legacyEdit

The film has garnered both critical acclaim and box office success. Produced on a tight budget of only $106,000,[citation needed] it was a sleeper hit and grossed over $19.3 million in the United States and Canada,[2][3][6] making it the 13th highest-grossing film of 1970. Joe received mostly positive reviews from critics, earning an 82% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes from 11 reviews.[7] Norman Wexler's screenplay received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.[8]

Variety wrote, "It sounds like heavy stuff, but scripter Norman Wexler has fleshed his serious skeleton with both melodrama plotting that sustains interest and the grittiest, most obscene dialog yet to boom from the silver screen. It works."[9] Howard Thompson of The New York Times wrote, "The sad, disappointing thing about 'Joe' is that a devastating, original idea cynically slopes into a melodramatic, surface fiasco."[10] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "a landmark film because of the issues and social norms it justifies. It is a dramatic, if not always sophisticated, documentary of a growing portion of the national mentality."[11] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "an immensely sophisticated piece of film-making," adding, "The plot is laced with implausibilities and the movie full of scenes which are heavily contrived but which play well because they are swept along by the plausibility of Joe himself."[12] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a fascinating, tendentious picture—a topical murder melodrama and social parable, done in that vivid, loaded, paranoid style which seems to have become a tradition in record time but which remains exciting to watch, even if you question the drift and outcome of the parable."[13] Penelope Gilliatt of The New Yorker wrote, "In the end, 'Joe' sells us short. It shows us clashing archetypes, promises us something of large mind, and then stammers platitudes that lead theatrically every which way."[14]

When Peter Boyle saw audience members cheering the violence in Joe, he refused to appear in any other film or television show that glorified violence. This included the role of Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle in The French Connection (1971). The role would earn Gene Hackman the Oscar for Best Actor. Boyle nevertheless played a ruthless gangster in 1973's The Friends of Eddie Coyle and in 1974's Crazy Joe (not a sequel) and a not-so-ruthless gangster in the comedy Johnny Dangerously. He also appeared in the violent drama Taxi Driver. "Joe" inspired the creation of other tough, working class characters in 70s films and TV shows, including the character of Archie Bunker on the TV show All in the Family.[15]

In the 1980s, there were rumors that Peter Boyle might appear in a sequel to Joe. Citizen Joe, the sequel, would follow Joe as he tried to rebuild his life after spending 10 years in prison and would also deal with his grown up kids who held more liberal beliefs. Cannon Films periodically took out ads for unmade sequels to Joe. In 1980, Cannon promised Joe II then, in 1985, announced the coming of Citizen Joe: The man has changed but the times have not... . He's back.[15] The film never materialized.[16]


Norman Wexler was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 43rd Academy Awards.

Real-life parallelEdit

Ten weeks before Joe was released in the United States, a real-life mass murder with similarities to the movie's climactic scenes occurred in Detroit, Michigan. On May 7, 1970, a railroad worker named Arville Douglas Garland entered a university residence and killed his daughter, her boyfriend and two other students.[17]

During pre-trial deliberations, Judge Joseph A. Gillis saw Joe and strongly advised both the prosecution and defense teams to do the same. He then carefully screened each member of the jury pool and excluded any who had seen the movie. He also forbade any seated juror from watching the movie or discussing it with anyone who had seen it.[18] Although he brought with him multiple weapons and extra ammunition, Garland received a light sentence.[17]

Before and after sentencing, Garland received hundreds of letters from parents across the country who expressed sympathy with him. It was also reported that during the first weeks after his sentencing, he received no letters expressing outrage or condemnation of his actions.[19]


Joe also featured an original soundtrack, introducing artists such as Exuma with the song "You Don't Know What's Going On", Dean Michaels' "Hey Joe" (not a version of the song made famous by the Leaves, Jimi Hendrix, and others), and other original songs by Jerry Butler and Bobby Scott.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Maçek III, J.C. (2 August 2013). "From the Zombie Hoards to the Successfully Bankrupt: The First Year of 'The Next Reel'". PopMatters.
  2. ^ a b "Box Office Information for Joe". The Numbers. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Box Office Information for Joe". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
  4. ^ Nystrom, Derek (2004), "Hard Hats and Movie Brats: Auteurism and the Class Politics of the New Hollywood", Cinema Journal, Vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 18–41.
  5. ^ Perlstein, Rick (2008). Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-4302-5.
  6. ^ "Ernie Sands Slant: Let 'Joe' Arrive As Surprise Item". Variety. September 23, 1970. p. 6.
  7. ^ "Joe, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  8. ^ Oliver, Myrna (August 26, 1999). "Norman Wexler; Oscar-Nominated Writer". The Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ "Film Reviews: Joe". Variety. July 15, 1970. p. 14.
  10. ^ Thompson, Howard (July 16, 1970). "'Joe,' an East Village Tale, Arrives". The New York Times. 40.
  11. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 21, 1970). "Movie Review: Joe ***½". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 15.
  12. ^ Champlin, Charles (September 24, 1970). "Hatred Seethes in 'Joe'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 12.
  13. ^ Arnold, Gary (August 20, 1970). "Parable of 'Joe'". The Washington Post. C1.
  14. ^ Gilliatt, Penelope (August 15, 1970). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 66.
  15. ^ a b Hoberman, J. (July 30, 2000). "FILM; Off the Hippies: 'Joe' and the Chaotic Summer of '70". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Bergan, Ronald (14 December 2006). "Peter Boyle Scene-stealer who put on the Ritz as a monstrous foil to Young Frankenstein". The Guardian.
  17. ^ a b Pevere, Goeff (18 June 2010). "How Joe and Patton could, 40 years on, play again today". Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  18. ^ Time Magazine, "Crime: Joe and Arville" 07 December 1970. Accessed 2009-09-09.
  19. ^ "The Nation: Sympathy". Time. Jan 25, 1971.

External linksEdit