The Sugarland Express (1974)

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Released 5-Jan-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1974
Running Time 105:24
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (52:19) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Steven Spielberg

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Goldie Hawn
Ben Johnson
Michael Sacks
William Atherton
Gregory Walcott
Steve Kanaly
Louise Latham
Harrison Zanuck
A.L. Camp
Jessie Lee Fulton
Dean Smith
Ted Grossman
Bill Thurman
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music John Williams

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes, One scene only.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

The Sugarland Express was Steven Spielberg's theatrical feature directorial debut. While Spielberg directed the movie Duel a few years earlier in 1971, which did get a theatrical release outside of the US (in Europe at least and even in Australia and New Zealand according to our readers with long memories), it was produced as a movie of the week for television and thus The Sugarland Express is widely considered Steven Spielbergís first feature film debut.

Early in the film we learn that Lou Jean has spent some time in prison and her 2 year old son Langton has been in foster care. When she tries to claim him back she finds that the Welfare Agency has deemed that her son should remain in foster care. While visiting her husband Clovis in a minimum security pre-release correction centre, just 4 month from parole, she convinces him, with the threat of divorce if he wonít, to escape with her and set out to kidnap their own child with the plan to flee to Mexico. After stealing a car they take Patrolman Maxwell Slide hostage and thus starts an unusual road-trip to Sugarland, the location of the foster care home where their son Langton is, closely followed by about half the Texas law enforcement community.

Spielberg manages to expertly mix both comedic and dramatic elements in this movie. I actually found the movie much more amusing on my second viewing than I did during my initial viewing where I think I was more taken by the dramatic and action elements. All these elements work extremely well and while I don't see this movie as a laugh out loud comedy, there are many amusing scenes and sequences in this film. The escape from the minimum security (very minimum - they walk out the front gate) Correctional Facility at the beginning is particularly amusing as are many of the antics of the police as they follow our protagonists across Texas. The Sugarland Express is also a fascinating drama about the incredible lengths a mother will go to to be with her child. There is also quite a lot of action in this movie which, while quite effective, is an area Spielberg would really refine in some of his later films.

The acting in the film is universally first rate, right down to minor characters with only a few lines. Goldie Hawn, fresh from a Best Supporting Actress Oscar win in her previous film Cactus Flower, is wonderful as the almost manic Lou Jean Poplin who wonít give up on her quest to get her son despite the obvious futility of her actions. William Atherton as her husband Clovis Michael Poplin is also excellent as the everyman reluctantly coerced into becoming her collaborator. Michael Sacks as Patrolman Maxwell Side has one of the more interesting character arcs in the film as his relationship with his two abductors evolves over the course of the film. The main cast is rounded out by Ben Johnson as Captain Harlin Tanner who tries to negotiate a peaceful outcome and to convince Lou Jean and Clovis they should surrender before things get worse.

This is a very enjoyable film made all the more impressive as it was Spielbergís debut feature film. It is clear that Spielberg applied much that he had learned earlier on Duel and whilst working on many television projects.

This film also marks the first of many collaborations between Spielberg and composer John Williams who provides the original music for this film. John Williamsí orchestral score provides an excellent underpinning to the on-screen action and adds greatly to the overall effect of the film. Iíve always been impressed by the way Spielberg and Williams use music and sound to heighten and support the on-screen action and their work here is no exception. Recurring music on harmonica throughout the film is most memorable and really placed the film's location and time very effectively.

The wonderful cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond of Texas in the late 1960s is glorious and contributes greatly to the overall experience of the movie.

Overall this is a highly enjoyable film. While Spielberg has gone on to produce superior work his talent is clearly exhibited in this film and this will make it of particular interest to fans of Steven Spielberg and for film buffs who wish to see the origins of Spielbergís work. Highly Recommended.

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Transfer Quality


This is very nice transfer from Universal and certainly extremely good for a film of this age. The image is, however, noticeably grainy throughout.

The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of exactly 2.35:1 which matches its original theatrical aspect ratio. The transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

The image sharpness varies a little bit but it was generally sharp and nicely detailed. Shadow detail was surprisingly good for a film of this age and only suffered a little during the occasional night shot such as at 55:52. Very occasional minor edge enhancement was noticed in some high contrast scenes such as on power poles at 81:04. There was no low level noise.

The colour palette for this film was a little muted with a slight tendency towards brownish hues, fairly common for films of the early to mid 1970s. While this tends to give the image a bit of a dated look, I believe this transfer is a rather accurate reflection of how audiences would have experienced this film in cinemas when it was first released. Colours were otherwise fairly well saturated and natural although I did notice a slight tendency for reds to be slightly over-saturated compared to other colours. Skin tones were generally natural.

For a transfer with a reasonable amount of film grain the transfer is surprising free for the most part of MPEG artefacts, thanks in no small part Iím sure to the high average bit rate of around 7.5 Mb/s. (Film grain by its random nature is notoriously difficult to compress well). I did however observe one unusual glitch at 91:57 where parts of a power pole intermittently disappeared during a short pan following a helicopter. Mild aliasing was noticed occasionally such as on some of the chrome grilles and details on the cars. Moire effects were also noticed on the weatherboards and shingles of the foster home such as at 32:06.

The print for this transfer was incredibly clean. I really had to search for the very occasional speck of dirt on this print. The other major film artefact was the previously mentioned film grain. This is more than likely inherent in the film source and not an issue with the transfer.

Only one subtitle track, in English, is available. This was fairly easy to read and matched the dialogue well.

The transfer is presented on a dual-layered disc with RSDL formatting. The well placed layer change occurs at 52:19 at a cut between scenes.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


The audio is provided in mono only, and while adequate tended to sound a little thin and a bit tinny at times.

The disc contains only one soundtrack, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack encoded at 192 Kb/s.

Dialogue was mostly clear and easy to understand, although quite a bit of dialogue is delivered via police radios and bull horns and these were occasionally a little harder to understand. Audio sync was generally very good although some scenes appear to have been looped in later, such as a scene at around the 82 minute mark. One character is heard saying ďItís your baby. Donít let no one take it away from you!Ē but her lips actually seem to have said the slightly longer ďItís your baby. Itís your baby. Donít let no one take it away from you!Ē

The sound quality of the John Williams music score fares a little better but seemed a bit limited in dynamic range by the mono soundtrack.

Since this is a mono soundtrack the surrounds were not used at all. My subwoofer only came to action very occasionally for music cues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


This is a bare-bones release featuring only the film.


The main menu is a static image and is 16x9 enhanced. There is a scene selection menu to access the 18 chapters and a menu to turn on the subtitles.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 1 DVD appears to be very similar to ours except it contains a theatrical trailer and has Spanish and French subtitles. Our Region 4 release is dual layered whereas the Region 1 disc is single layered. Reviews of the Region 1 release would suggest the transfers are very similar. Given the superior PAL formatting and the transfer being spread over two layers I'd give my preference to our Region 4 DVD.


The Sugarland Express is a very enjoyable film made all the more interesting as it is Steven Spielberg's debut theatrical feature film.

The transfer is really very good for a film of this age. The mono soundtrack is serviceable but is nothing exceptional.

Alas, there are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Gauntlett (read my bio if you're bored.)
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVPNS575-S Progressive Scan, using Component output
DisplaySony KVDR29M31 68cm PROGRESSIVE SCANNING. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderLogitech 5500 THX. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationLogitech 5500 THX
SpeakersLogitech 5500 THX

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Single Vs Dual Layer - Ozconnor REPLY POSTED
Duel theatrical release - wolfgirv REPLY POSTED
Great Review - damndirtyape182 (You want a Bio, I'll give you a Bio.) REPLY POSTED
"Duel" in NZ - Ron Stevens REPLY POSTED