The Sugarland Express

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"The Sugar Land Express" also was the nickname of the American football player Kenneth Hall.
The Sugarland Express
The Sugarland Express (movie poster).jpg
Original film poster
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by Richard D. Zanuck
David Brown
Screenplay by Hal Barwood
Matthew Robbins
Story by Steven Spielberg
Hal Barwood
Matthew Robbins
Starring Goldie Hawn
Ben Johnson
William Atherton
Michael Sacks
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond
Edited by Edward M. Abroms
Verna Fields
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • April 5, 1974 (1974-04-05)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million
Box office $12.8 million

The Sugarland Express is a 1974 American neo-noir drama film co-written and directed by Steven Spielberg in his theatrical feature film directorial debut.[1] It stars Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, William Atherton, and Michael Sacks.

It is about a husband and wife trying to outrun the law and was based on a true story. The event partially took place, the story is partially set, and the movie was partially filmed in Sugar Land, Texas.[citation needed] Other scenes for the film were filmed in San Antonio, Lone Oak, Floresville, Pleasanton, Converse and Del Rio, Texas.[citation needed]

The Sugarland Express marks the first collaboration between Spielberg and composer John Williams. Williams has scored all but two of Spielberg's directed films since (Twilight Zone: The Movie and The Color Purple being the only two exceptions).


In May 1969, Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn) visits her husband Clovis Michael Poplin (William Atherton) to tell him that their son will soon be placed in the care of foster parents. Even though he is four months away from release from the Beauford H. Jester Prison Farm in Texas, she forces him to escape to assist her in retrieving her child. They hitch a ride from the prison with an elderly couple, but when Texas Department of Public Safety Patrolman Maxwell Slide (Michael Sacks) stops the car, they take the car and run.

When the car crashes, the two felons overpower and kidnap Slide, holding him hostage in a slow-moving caravan, eventually including reporters in news vans and helicopters. The Poplins and their captive travel through Beaumont, Dayton, Houston, Cleveland, Conroe and finally Wheelock, Texas. By holding Slide hostage, the pair are able to continually gas up their car, get food via the drive-through, and stay at motels. Eventually, Slide and the pair bond and have mutual respect for one another.

The Poplins bring Slide to the home of the foster parents, where they encounter numerous officers, including the DPS Captain who has been pursuing them, Captain Harlin Tanner (Ben Johnson). A pair of Texas Rangers shoot and kill Clovis and the Texas Department of Public Safety arrests Lou Jean. Patrolman Slide is found unharmed. Lou Jean spends fifteen months of a five-year prison term in a women's correctional facility.


Film characters Lou Jean Poplin and Clovis Michael Poplin are based on the lives of Ila Fae Holiday and Robert Dent, respectively. The character Patrolman Slide is based on Trooper J. Kenneth Crone.

In real life, Ila Fae Holiday did not break Robert Dent out of prison. Dent had been released from prison two weeks before the slow-motion car chase began.[2]

Steven Spielberg persuaded co-producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown to let him make his big-screen directorial debut with this true story. A year later, Spielberg's next project for Zanuck and Brown was 1975's blockbuster hit Jaws.


The actual kidnapped patrolman, J. Kenneth Crone, played a small role in the film as a deputy sheriff.


The Sugarland Express holds a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.2 out of 10 from 25 reviews.[3]


The film won the award for Best Screenplay at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.[4]


  1. ^ "The "Sugarland Express" Gang". TexasMonthly September 1, 2001. Retrieved 2013-03-14. 
  2. ^ Haile, Bartee. The real story behind ‘The Sugarland Express’, Conroe Courier, May 4, 2012.
  3. ^ "The Sugarland Express Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 18, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Sugarland Express". Retrieved 2009-04-26. 

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