Weekend Watch: Aloha, Bobby and Rose

Scott Jordan Harris

Scott Jordan Harris on why, of all the great films from 1975, Floyd Mutrux's hit is the most underrated

05 October 2018 15:39

Watching Aloha, Bobby and Rose it is easy to think that, if only it had been a big hit, its writer-director Floyd Mutrux would have had a spectacular career. But the film was a huge hit – shot for $600,000, it made $35million – and yet Mutrux had nothing like the career it promised.

1975 was a fine year for film. Aloha, Bobby and Rose was in the top ten at the US box office with JawsThe Rocky Horror Picture Show, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Dog Day Afternoon, and grossed far more than Nashville, Monty Python and the Holy GrailPicnic at Hanging RockBarry Lyndon and The French Connection II. Those films are all celebrated at least as much now as they were then, but Bobby and Rose has slipped from our memory.

Bobby (Paul Le Mat) is a mechanic in Hollywood. He races hot rods and was probably a hero in high school. When he meets Rose’s mother he stresses that he only works at the garage part-time, as if he does something more important with the rest of his day. He doesn’t. We meet him in a pool hall and he has a pool shark’s swagger, but is playing for more than he can afford to lose. We watch him take one shot. He misses. It is clearly part of the pattern of his life. Even so, he is hard to dislike.


Aloha, Bobby and Rose (Floyd Mutrux, 1975)

Rose (Dianne Hull) seems to have been waiting for Bobby all her life, or at least for the five years since the father of her son abandoned her. Her Volkswagen Beetle is cute and incongruous among the film’s cast of muscle cars, motorbikes and pickup trucks. She looks happier in Bobby’s Camaro. As we watch the couple ice-skate and drink beer, we believe they are falling in love but don’t quite believe they will ever fulfil their ambition of swapping Hollywood for Hawaii. Like the lead characters in Midnight Cowboy, Bobby and Rose dream of escaping from a city that others dream of escaping to.

And soon they have something urgent to escape. Showing off for Rose, Bobby pretends to rob a shop assistant. But the shop’s owner has a gun, and the joke goes wrong, and the pair are suddenly on the run. It is Bobby’s mistake that creates the trouble, but Rose’s that turns it tragic, and the pair are bound together as an accidental Bonnie and Clyde.

Reviewing Bobby and Rose for the New York Times in 1975, Vincent Canby wrote ‘The only tragic thing in a film like this is the quality of the stupidity the characters are forced to exhibit in order to keep the plot going.’ Canby was wrong. Aloha, Bobby and Rose is not an excuse for a plot dependant on stupid decisions: it is a study of the kinds of characters who make them.

Aloha, Bobby and Rose (Floyd Mutrux, 1975)

Almost everybody in the film is a fantasist, and much of what they say is a lie, but when Rose wails that she and Bobby ‘were only playing’ during the fatal incident at the liquor store she is telling the truth. The point is that the truth doesn’t matter: as Bobby tells her, there isn’t a jury in the world who would believe it. Many films show us characters who are doomed because they are deluded. What Bobby and Rose shows us is that some people are doomed whether they are deluded or not.

Canby’s review was typical of its time. Over the decades Bobby and Rose has experienced a remarkable reversal of fortunes. On its release it was dismissed by critics, but loved by the public; now it is acclaimed by critics, but rarely seen by anyone else. And that is a shame.

On the Venn diagram of 1970s cinema, Bobby and Rose sits at the intersection of Badlands (1973) and Mean Streets (1973); Love Story (1970) and Saturday Night Fever (1977); Vanishing Point (1971) and American Graffiti (1973). Its camera looks at Hollywood the way Taxi Driver looks at New York, and its soundtrack likely inspired those of several later films that have become classics.

Not even Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous made better use of Elton John music in a movie, and not even Quentin Tarantino made DJs introducing hits of the Seventies sound so seductive. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Tarantino say he loves Aloha, Bobby and Rose. In fact, I wish he would: that might prompt the popular revival it deserves.