Vonetta McGee and Max Julien in 1974's "Thomasine & Bushrod."

Thomasine & Bushrod June 23, 2022

DIRECTED BY

Gordon Parks, Jr.

 

STARRING

Max Julien
Vonetta McGee
George Murdock
Glynn Turman
Juanita Moore

RATED

PG

RELEASED IN

1974

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 35 Mins.

F

or Thomasine and Bushrod (Vonetta McGee and Max Julien), the namesake characters of Gordon Parks, Jr.,’s lovers-on-the-run drama from 1974, robbing banks is a necessary tool for both survival and giving back. The decision to embark on a crime spree arrives without much forethought. After the couple, once a committed item, gets back together shortly after the film opens, Bushrod kills the white bank

robber — billed on “Wanted” posters as Adolph the Butcher (Jackson D. Kane) — who not long ago killed his sister. 

 

The act helps start a fire in Thomasine’s belly. With Adolph gone, why not continue the work (the bank robbing, not the killing) he had started? With no professional or domestic prospects very sturdy in a hellacious white-supremacist landscape where misogynoir and racist violence are inescapable (the film is set in the 1910s, in Texas, and includes early on an image of two Black boys hanging by nooses next to one township’s threateningly unwelcoming welcome sign), bank robbing becomes an appealing if obviously fraught mechanism to get by. 
 

Thomasine, who had been working beforehand as a bounty hunter, and Bushrod prove adept at it. Before long their faces are plastered on all the local papers. Vicious-criminal characterizations follow suit, though, to Thomasine’s mounting frustration, they tend to give most of their winnings to other people in need, usually Native Americans, impoverished whites, and other Black people. The earnings they do keep, though, help buy some autonomy in a country hellbent on robbing them of it. Thomasine and Bushrod is an unusual lovers-on-the-run movie far less interested in the robberies and resulting “action sequences” themselves (they’re mostly confined to stylish montage) and more the tastes of domestic normalcy these crimes are able to provide the couple. Any gratification, though, is of course temporary: the couple is never unaware that, with the law and most of the white populace determined to cash in on their downfall, everything could come crashing down only moments after a tranquil dinner together is enjoyed.
 

Unwelcome goofiness sometimes intrudes on the action. Late in the movie, a Jamaican character who becomes a sort of sidekick to the couple, Jomo (Glynn Turman), arrives, and threatens to derail the movie. He’s cartoonishly written (and performed by Turman) to the point of being a distraction, akin to a big-personality character added to a late season of a struggling sitcom willing to do nearly anything to preclude cancellation. And the general leadeness of Julien, who wouldn’t again act for several years (but did begin a several-year-long relationship with McGee starting the same year the movie came out), doesn’t match the passion and desperation making McGee’s performance so devastating. Her work here is among her best. But Thomasine & Bushrod remains one of the blaxploitation era’s best made, and most thoughtful — if vexingly underappreciated — works, substantially exploring what might result if a different iteration of Bonnie and Clyde weren’t made in their exact image. B+