Grab the Gator & Cocaine: Beaumont’s Own Texas Godfather
by Justin Norris
Truly, there is nothing cooler than seeing a town/city/state that holds a special place in your memory appear in a movie. The magic of recognition can elevate even the most forgettable or terrible films when that jolt of energy rushes through your body as you recognize the characters on film eating at the same McDonald’s you do. For this third entry of mine in collaboration with the Boomtown Film and Music Festival, getting the opportunity to watch a seemingly “lost” film from the ‘80s involving drug smugglers shooting and backstabbing one another over cocaine in the city of Beaumont (home of the aforementioned Boomtown Film and Music Festival and my college career — shoutout to the Lamar University Cardinals) was too good to pass up. That being said, while always fun to see the likes of the Jefferson Theater pop up on screen, it’s nice to have a genuinely solid time with Douglas F. O’Neon’s TEXAS GODFATHER (or SNO-LINE, depending on the copy you have), a film that is unashamedly cheesy.
Released in 1985 (and apparently immediately stowed away in someone’s VHS collection after that), TEXAS GODFATHER plays a lot like many other popular drug/crime films of the 1980s, revolving around New Yawk City transplant Steve King (Vince Edwards, who apparently starred in Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING years before) and his bid to control the cocaine business in some lowly, unknown town of Texas called Beaumont, home to never-ending sweat, bayou hillbillies (apparently), and bumping jazz halls and casinos. As with any other film that deals with men trying to make it to the top of the criminal empire, King runs into problems immediately, ranging from the likes of a roving gang of swimwear male model wild cards, led by their lusciously locked Bee Gee-esque ringmaster, to other criminal organizations both local and exotic (the latter of which led with bombastic gusto by Paul L. Smith). Also, ‘60s-’70s bombshell June Wilkinson shows up occasionally to act as King’s femme fatale in a role that heavily sidelines her potential. But with a name like TEXAS GODFATHER, it’s easy to overlook the film’s shallow character growth as you get lost in the Texas heat of gangsters trying to get the move on one another.
Being his one and only directing credit, the aptly named O’Neons nevertheless makes this little gangster flick memorable in its own flawed and eccentric ways. For one, the general cast of characters becomes surprisingly (and confusingly) packed as O’Neons tracks more or less every player in the cocaine business and their respective moves to come out on top (except, noticeably, the local police department, who are absent until about the last 10 minutes of the film). While every main character is just looking to gain money and or power, O’Neons in collaboration with screenwriter Robert Hilliard, give a little uniqueness to each group of characters, creating a nice contrast between the factions and even a bit of invigorating emotional attachment to our rotating band of criminals as they each get their moment to gain or lose the audience’s sympathy at the switch of a scene. Additionally, with a largely unknown cast aside from the aforementioned three, O’Neons gets some very entertaining turns out of his actors, who mostly seem to know that they are in a schlocky B-movie. The best batch of performances come from the mentioned gang of wild card model robbers, who play their characters with a nice mix of unironic aloofness and jock-like energy. Again, none of these performances are Oscar-worthy, but most if not all will keep your interest in one shape or form, with Paul L. Smith coming to gut-busting life in the film’s final third as he absolutely goes bananas in a shootout/escape scene that single-handedly lifts the film up a few notches. To say the least, an alligator and its tail may or may not be used as a weapon at one point.
As a whole, TEXAS GODFATHER makes one wonder just why this film kind of fell into a pit of irrelevancy. It’s not a bad movie at all, in performance or in production. Even being the first and only feature that he directed, O’Neons shows a very solid handle of framing and pace (despite the presence of one-too-many characters and side hustles) as the filmmaker, with assistance from Gary Thieltges’ cinematography, crafts an ‘80s drug/crime film with a unique setting that more or less utilizes the unassuming Southeast Texan charm of Beaumont. In fact, don’t be surprised to find some genuinely interesting cinematography on display here that sometimes evokes the look and mood of, dare I say, THE FRENCH CONNECTION. While I would’ve loved to have gotten just a tad more local flavor in the film’s setting of Beaumont without resorting to a generic Southern/bayou stereotype, it’s always cool to see a film that takes a well known genre and add a bit of unique locality to it. While I was only able to really recognize the locations of the Jefferson Theater and a random strip of highway that I often rode down to grab a midnight snack, I’m sure the locals who catch this film will get a kick out of seeing other, more low-key locations pop up.
By the time the film comes to a rather abrupt close, one is left with a surprising feeling of emptiness as you realize the film ends just as it looks to pick up some truly bonkers energy. It’s a shame that O’Neons never went on to direct anything else, he seemed to at least understand the basic tenets of entertaining filmmaking. Nevertheless, if TEXAS GODFATHER is what he leaves behind, I would say that’s a pretty good legacy. If you look past its faults, or maybe even embrace them, TEXAS GODFATHER becomes a pretty fun time and possibly even unforgettable.
You can read more of Justin Norris’ film reviews on Medium @ justinnorris12.medium.com