Revenge can be brutal, especially when you’ve been framed.
Joe Don Baker plays Ron Lewis, a surly nightclub owner and gambler who wins a small fortune, witnesses a crime, and nearly gets shot all in the same night. When he reaches his house, he’s planning on calling the police but he’s confronted in his own garage by a sheriff’s deputy who tries to kill him! In a lengthy and brutal scene, Ron beats the deputy to death and gouges out his eyes. Even though Ron was only acting in self-defense, he’s charged with murder. Told that there is no way that he’ll be able to win an acquittal, Ron pleads guilty to a lesser charge and is sent to prison for four years.
While he’s in prison, Ron befriends a mob boss (John Marley, who famously woke up with a horse’s head in his bed in The Godfather) and the boss’s number one hitman, Vince (Gabriel Dell). While Ron is in prison, a group of men assault his girlfriend (country singer Conny Van Dyke) and tell her not to ask any questions about the events that led to Ron being framed.
After serving his sentence and getting into numerous fights with the guards, Ron is finally released. When Vince shows up and tells Ron that he’s been hired to kill him, the two of them team up with an honest deputy (Brock Peters) and set out to find out why Ron was set up and to get revenge.
Framed is a brutal movie, Ron and his friends hold nothing back in their quest to get revenge. Whether he’s shooting a man in cold blood or hooking someone up to a car battery in order to get information out of him, there’s little that Ron won’t do and the movie lingers over every act of violence. Several pounds overweight and snarling out of his lines, Joe Don Baker may not be a conventional action hero but he’s believable in his rage. He’s the ultimate country boy who has been pushed too far and now he doesn’t care how much blood he has to get on his hands. However, because Baker does seem more like an ordinary person than a Clint Eastwood or a Charles Bronson-type, he retains the audience’s sympathy even as he splashes blood all over the screen. As violent as his action may be, they always feel justified.
Baker’s performance and the believable violence are the film’s biggest strengths. It’s biggest weakness is a plot that revolves around an elaborate conspiracy that doesn’t always make sense and some notably weak supporting performances. Ron’s revenge may be brutal but it takes a while to get there and the first hour gets bogged down with Ron’s struggle to adjust to life in prison. John Marley does a good job as Ron’s prison mentor but then he abruptly disappears from the movie.
Before making Framed, Baker and director Phil Karlson previously collaborated on Walking Tall. Framed is far more violent than that film was but its plot doesn’t hold together as well. However, if you’re just looking for a violent action film that features Joe Don Baker doing what he does best, Framed delivers.