(director/writer: David Lynch; screenwriter: from the novel by Barry Gifford; cinematographer: Frederick Elmes; editor: Duwayne Dunham; music: Angelo Badalamenti; cast: Nicolas Cage (Sailor Ripley), Laura Dern (Lula Pace Fortune), Diane Ladd (Marietta Fortune), Willem Dafoe (Bobby Peru), Harry Dean Stanton (Johnnie Farragut), Isabella Rossellini (Perdita Durango), W. Morgan Sheppard (Mr. Reindeer), Crispin Glover (“Jingle” Dell), Gregg Dandridge (Boy Ray Lemon), Grace Zabriskie (Juana), J. E. Freeman(Marcello Santos), Marvin Kaplan (Uncle Pooch), Freddie Jones (George Kovich), David Patrick Kelly (Dropshadow), Sherilyn Fenn (Julie Day), Jack Nance (Bozie Spool), John Lurie (Sparky); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Steve Golin/Monty Montgomery/ Joni Sighvatsson; MGM; 1990)

“Should be perceived as a wicked comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This perverse and over-the top violent road movie, which features multiple double-crosses and should be perceived as a wicked comedy, was the winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990. Director David Lynch (“Eraserhead”/”Blue Velvet”/”The Elephant Man”) seduces us with his bumpy car ride across the heart of the dark Southern American pop culture scene. It’s based on the novel by Barry Gifford.

It opens with Elvis-imitator Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) confronted by a black guy with a knife (Gregg Dandridge) in a dance hall in Cape Fear, an island located between North and South Carolina, who threatens to kill him on orders from his girlfriend’s deranged mom, but instead Sailor brutally kills the attacker by slamming his head against the wall and receives a 2-year jail sentence for manslaughter. After serving his sentence, Sailor returns to court his now 20-year-old screwed-up girlfriend Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern), who was sexually abused as a child by her family’s business associate (Marvin Kaplan).

Lula’s witch-like mom Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd, Dern’s real mom) disapproves of the romance, and Sailor decides to break parole and go with Lula by car to start over in California. The rich widow Marietta, overly possessive of her daughter and suffering from insane temper tantrums, gets her current boyfriend Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) to see if he can bring her daughter back from New Orleans, where she was spotted. While Johnny is gone Marietta starts fearing that when Sailor worked as a driver for the gangster Marcello Santos (J. E. Freeman), Marietta’s then lover, he witnessed her hubby doused with kerosene and fatally set afire by Marcello, and decides she wants the boy out of the way so that these dark family secrets will not be revealed. Marietta thereby hires Marcello to kill Sailor, and he hires a New Orleans bordello-dwelling perverse hit man, Mr. Reindeer (W. Morgan Sheppard), to carry out the killing of both Johnny and Sailor. The jealous Marcello insists, despite Marietta’s objections, that Johnny is to be slaughtered if he’s to kill Sailor. In a brutal ritual-like killing at a car crash site, Johnny is disposed of. Meanwhile the suspicious couple, anticipating there’s a hit contract out for them, flee to Big Tuna, Texas, and stay at a run-down motel with the crazed hit man, whose teeth are rotting and who sports a creepy pencil-thin mustache and a menacing tone, the ex-marine Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe). The couple don’t realize he’s there to knock off Sailor, as the over-confident Bobby talks the broke Sailor into robbing a bank with him in the next town and uses his untrustworthy girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini) to drive the getaway car. She worked for Marcello when Sailor was his driver.

But the robbery is botched and Bobby is killed by the police and Sailor is arrested. Discharged after doing a five-year stretch, it ends on a happy romantic note with Sailor singing “Love Me Tender” and finding redemption by reuniting with Lula and meeting for the first time his five-year-old son.

The innocent-like Sailor, deemed a Wizard of Oz character, walking down “The Yellow Brick Road” travels in his Elvis-like snakeskin jacket, which he tells us with a straight face is “a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.” The free-spirited sex bunny couple, given to either fucking or wildly dancing at a moment’s notice, and the assortment of colorful eccentrics throughout the film, who are tossed into the pic to give it a bizarre appeal–one that exploits violence, sleaze and kookiness to gain favor with the public.