Color, 1975, 97 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by David Berlatsky
Gary Conway, Angel Tompkins, Michael Dante, George Memmoli, Timothy Scott, Jack Waltzer, Ken Renard
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Moviegoers in the '70s sure seemed to need a lot of catharsis judging by the seemingly endless appetite for films about revenge, vigilantism, and renegade lawmen, encompassing films like Death Wish, Dirty Harry, Rolling Thunder, and Taxi Driver. A studio pickup that quickly seemed to fall through the cracks was The Farmer from Columbia Pictures, a passion project for star and producer Gary Conway. Known to TV watchers from Burke's Law and Land of the Giants, Conway's career is highlighted by an enthusiasm for exploitation films ranging from his early starring roles in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and How to Make a Monster through Black Gunn and even writing two of the American Ninja films for Cannon. The Farmer is really something else though, a gore-spattered take on the familiar trope of a common man of the American soil who's pushed over the edge and has to take matters into his own hands. Part nostalgia piece and part blood-boiling payback film, it's a solid example of its type that deserved better than the oblivion that greeted it for several decades.
On a train with fellow officers back to his farm home in Georgia after the end of World War II, decorated soldier Kyle Martin (Conway) starts off on a volatile note when he intercedes to help a black passenger who's being refused alcohol. Kyle gets assaulted and tossed off the train for his trouble and makes the rest of the journey on foot back home where he's reunited with trusted farmhand Gumshoe (Renard). Unfortunately he's also informed that a "one-man farm can't make money" and that the bank plans to foreclose, Kyle's veteran credentials notwithstanding. When gangster Johnny (Dante) is stuck in a nasty car crash by the farm, Kyle saves him and receives $1,500 in gratitude -- but it's still not enough. Soon after, Johnny ends up in a nasty confrontation with rival mobster Passini (Phantom of the Paradise's Memmoli) and his thugs who end up permanently blinding Johnny by pouring acid in his eyes. After getting off to a bumpy start, Kyle starts getting close to Johnny's girlfriend, Betty (The Bees' Tompkins), which soon takes a romantic turn. Realizing he could use the farmer's financial desperation to his advantage, Johnny offers a much larger sum if Kyle will turn amateur assassin and take care of Passini and his men, a development that soon turns into a bloodbath on both sides.
At least for its first hour, The Farmer has a deceptively low-key tone and would work well with the sinister, folksy drive-in films of Charles B. Pierce or S.F. Browrigg. However, the last 40 minutes takes a brutal turn with a slew of brutality and a suddenly propulsive electronic score by onetime lounge music titan Hugo Montenegro overtaking the soundtrack. It's easy to see how the film had some issues with the MPAA, and apart from a few minor hiccups (most notably a parade sequence whose payoff was obviously compromised due to lack of coverage), the film delivers everything it promises. That includes a very satisfying twist ending that stands out in sharp relief to the usual American film formula at the time, a nice touch that also contributes to this film standing apart from the pack.
For reasons never made entirely clear, The Farmer never hit VHS or DVD back in the day and didn't even make the rounds on TV, though that makes sense given the high level of violence. The trailer for the film started popping up on Code Red DVDs going back to its earliest days in 2006, but its failure to materialize for many, many years made it one of genre fans' most frustrating "where is it?" announced titles along with Family Honor and The Kindred. Against the odds, The Farmer finally made its first appearance on any physical media format in 2022 from Scorpion Releasing, available via Diabolik or Capstone Films. The Blu-ray edition (which is region free despite the "Region A" on the packaging) features a scan from the original negative and looks excellent without any visible damage, rich color, and solid detail throughout. Early on the film makes extensive use of process shots for dissolves, slow motion, optical zooms, etc., which results in some footage looking a little lower quality by default; that's inherent in the negative. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is also very good with nice dynamic range throughout, and a second track is included featuring the isolated music score with a small handful of sound effects trickling through. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided for the main feature, and also included are the Columbia theatrical trailer and bonus ones for Trackdown, Aloha, Bobby and Rose, Prime Cut, A Small Town in Texas, Rollerball, The Mechanic, and The Killer Elite.
Reviewed on January 29, 2022.