If the Eagle’s LYIN’ EYES was a film, it would most certainly be Harvey Hart’s BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN. The perverse and transgressive drama features an exceptional cast led by Michael Parks and Ann-Margret with supporting turns by Kim Darby, Brad Dexter, Brett Sommers, and David Carradine. The film has the Old Hollywood look of silky black and white, sharp camera work, and two beautiful movie stars, but with New Hollywood themes; homosexuality, adultery, apathy, and a man’s penchant for underage girls.
Michael Parks brings his all as a young man recently returned from a two-year stint in the Navy, tattooed with his love for Ann-Margret on his forearm, only to find that she had married a rich old man. Angst and apathy engulf Parks has he walks the streets of his old town, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers with David Carradine, he drifts in his home town, as he zigzags between jobs, all the while trying to avoid the nostalgically emotional traps Ann-Margret lays for him.
The more “controversial” themes of the film are mainly left to not just the viewer’s interpretation, but their intellect. It is not that Parks’ fondness for high school girls comes off predatory or aggressive, it is difficult to dissect if it something that is consciously doing or subconsciously. He isn’t a sexual predator, but it certainly is not a coincidence either.
Ann-Margret is wickedly fun in this film. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and my oh my, does she know how to arrange things. She’s the best kind of femme fatal; sexy, alluring, yet deep down inside of her lay a turmoil with no resolution, no end in site – she is destined to be vapid and hollow for eternity. She is magnificent in this role in a beautiful showboat of a performance.
BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN is the epitome of a “sleeper”, it’s a film that is underseen, and due to its racy subject matter, is a film that more than likely did not find its proper audience upon its release, and still has yet to find home video distribution in any region. While the film is tame, by today’s standards and those of other late 60s and 70s films – given the context, the film is well crafted and features a young Michael Parks whose on-screen charm and aesthetic would give James Dean a run for his money any day.