Given its premise, I wanted to like it, but it is just plain terrible, greatly impeded by its low budget and hackneyed direction. Joe (Peter Boyle, who while competent here, is unable to do anything with such a poorly written role) is a cartoon caricature of the Angry Blue Collar White Guy circa 1970, when welfare abuse and affirmative action were really cooking.
Dennis Patrick (as the wealthy WASP Bill Compton) gives one of the worst performances I’ve ever witnessed an actor make. Audrey Caire plays Joan Compton, the snooty, fur-wearing WASP wife, who looks down upon Joe and his Edith Bunker-like wife.
Written by a 180-IQ, manic depressive Jew (Norman Wexler) and directed by the second rate John G. Avildsen, the film is sociologically significant for its theme of white backlash against Great Society programs (as manifested in the 1970s heyday of systematic abuse). Joe and Bill team up for a bloodlust killing rampage against sexually licentious, faux-Zen, junkie hippies, not before hypocritically first tasting the fruits of such licentiousness themselves.
As written, the character of Joe predates Archie Bunker (Jewish activist Norman Lear’s contemptuous depiction of the white Christian working class), but is written so over the top — the American flag & “Honor America” poster in his man cave on prominent display; his gun collection; his use of ‘racist’ language; his doting and submissive wife; etc. — that he makes Bunker seem like a moderate.
When Bill first meets him in a bar, Joe goes on a long diatribe that – much like Dirty Harry’s lines, albeit courser and more direct – draws the ire of liberals while conservatives are more likely to silently nod in approval:
The niggers are getting all the money. Why work? You tell me, why the fuck work, when you can screw, have babies, and get paid for it? Welfare. They got all that welfare money. They even get free rubbers. Think they use them? Hell, no. The only way they make money is making babies. They sell the rubbers, and then they use the money to buy booze…
All those social workers are nigger-lovers. You find me a social worker who ain’t a nigger-lover and I’ll massage your asshole… I ain’t queer.
I sweat my balls off 40 hours a week in front of a fucking furnace, and they get as much money as I do, for nothing. They got them living in hotels at $50 a day… $1,000 a month.
Now they want charge accounts. Charge accounts! I ain’t even been inside Macy’s, and they want charge accounts!
All you gotta do is act black, and the money rolls in. Set fire to the cities, burn a few buildings, you get paid for it…
If you can’t read, you got a better chance of getting hired.
And the kids, the white kids, they’re worse than the niggers. Money don’t mean nothing to them. Motorcycles, marijuana, $5 records…
My kid ain’t dumb. Couldn’t get into college ’cause they let the niggers in first. That’s how they’re saving the cities. They keep the smart niggers busy wrecking the colleges.
Joe then articulates the disastrous effects that ensues when upper class white bohemianism trickles down to the lower classes:
And don’t tell me about communists. How can a kid be a communist? Kids are idealistic… The rich white kids. The worst, hippies… The cars, the best colleges, vacations, orgies… Christmas, Easter… They go to someplace, like a fancy resort, and have orgies… Easter orgies. The day Christ rose, they’re all screwing one another. And the poor kids and the middle-class kids, they’re all copying the rich kids. They’re all going the same goddamn “screw America” way.
Lastly, if you enjoyed the climactic scene of David Fincher’s superb movie Se7en, where Gwyneth Paltrow’s head winds up in a box, then you’ll similarly enjoy the ending of Joe, which was the first movie role of a young, 24 year old Susan Sarandon.