Five Easy Pieces

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This article is about the 1970 American film. For the composition by Igor Stravinsky, see Five Easy Pieces (Stravinsky). For the Chinese TV series, see Five Easy Pieces (1980 TV series).
Five Easy Pieces
Five easy pieces.jpg
original movie poster
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Produced by Bob Rafelson
Richard Wechsler
Written by Bob Rafelson
Adrien Joyce
Starring Jack Nicholson
Karen Black
Cinematography László Kovács
Edited by Christopher Holmes
Gerald Shepard
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
September 12, 1970
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.6 million
Box office $18.1 million[1]

Five Easy Pieces is a 1970 American drama film written by Carole Eastman (as Adrien Joyce) and Bob Rafelson, and directed by Rafelson. The film stars Jack Nicholson, with Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Ralph Waite, and Sally Struthers in supporting roles.

The film tells the story of a surly oil rig worker, Bobby Dupea, whose seemingly rootless, blue-collar existence belies his privileged youth as a piano prodigy. When Bobby learns that his father is dying, he goes home to see him, bringing along his girlfriend, Rayette (Black), a waitress. Nicholson and Black were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances.

The film was selected to be preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 2000.


Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) works in a California oil field (shot in and around the city of Taft in the San Joaquin Valley) with his friend Elton (Billy "Green" Bush), who has a wife and baby son. Bobby spends most of his time with his waitress girlfriend, Rayette (Karen Black), who has dreams of singing country music, or in the company of Elton, with whom he bowls, gets drunk, and has sex with other women. Bobby has evidently not told Elton that he is a former classical pianist who comes from an upper-class family of musicians.

Rayette gets pregnant and Elton is arrested for having robbed a gas station a year earlier. Bobby quits his job and leaves for Los Angeles where his sister, Partita (Lois Smith), also a pianist, is making a recording. Partita informs him that their father, from whom Bobby is estranged, has suffered two strokes. She urges Bobby to return to the family home in Washington state, to visit their father.

Rayette threatens to kill herself if Bobby leaves her, so he reluctantly asks her along. Driving north, they pick up two women headed for Alaska, one of whom is obsessed with "filth". The four of them are thrown out of a restaurant when Bobby gets into an argument with a waitress who refuses to accommodate his special order. Reaching his destination, Bobby, embarrassed by Rayette's lack of polish, registers her in a motel before proceeding to his family home on an island in Puget Sound.

He finds Partita giving their father a haircut, but the old man seems completely oblivious to him. At dinner, Bobby meets Catherine Van Oost (Susan Anspach), a young pianist engaged to his brother, Carl (Ralph Waite), a violinist. Despite personality differences, Catherine and Bobby are immediately attracted to one another and make love in her room.

Rayette runs out of money at the motel and comes to the Dupea estate unannounced. Her presence creates an awkward situation, but when Samia, a pompous family friend, ridicules her, Bobby comes to her defense. Storming from the room in search of Catherine, he discovers his father's male nurse giving Partita a massage. Now more agitated, he picks a senseless fight with the nurse, who knocks him to the floor.

Bobby tries to persuade Catherine to go away with him, but she declines, believing he does not love himself, or indeed anything at all. After trying to talk to his unresponsive father, Bobby leaves with Rayette, who makes a playful sexual advance that he angrily rejects. When Rayette goes in for some coffee at a gas station, he gives her his wallet and then abandons her, hitching a ride on a truck headed north.


Recital music[edit]

The five classical piano pieces played in the film and referenced in the title are:


Box office[edit]

According to Variety, the film earned $1.2 million in North American rentals in 1970.[2]

By 1976 the film had earned $8.9 million in rentals in North America.[3]


The film opened to positive reviews; it holds an 86% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 44 reviews.[4]

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four:[5]

The title of Five Easy Pieces refers not to the women its hero makes along the road, for there are only three, but to a book of piano exercises he owned as a child. The film, one of the best American films, is about the distance between that boy, practicing to become a concert pianist, and the need he feels twenty years later to disguise himself as an oil-field rigger. When we sense the boy, tormented and insecure, trapped inside the adult man, Five Easy Pieces becomes a masterpiece of heartbreaking intensity....The movie is joyously alive to the road life of its hero. We follow him through bars and bowling alleys, motels and mobile homes, and we find him rebelling against lower-middle-class values even as he embraces them. In one magical scene, he leaps from his car in a traffic jam and starts playing the piano on the truck in front of him; the scene sounds forced, described this way, but Rafelson and Nicholson never force anything, and never have to. Robert Eroica Dupea is one of the most unforgettable characters in American movies.

He named the film the best of 1970, and later added it to his "Great Movies" list.[6]


The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Karen Black), Best Picture, and Best Original Screenplay. Nicholson lost to George C. Scott, but was nominated several times before getting the Award for the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Award Category Recipient(s) Outcome
43rd Academy Awards Best Picture Bob Rafelson and Richard Wechsler Nominated
Best Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Karen Black Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Carole Eastman and Bob Rafelson Nominated
28th Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture - Drama Bob Rafelson and Richard Wechsler Nominated
Best Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Director Bob Rafelson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Karen Black Won (Tied with Maureen Stapleton for Airport)
Best Screenplay Carole Eastman and Bob Rafelson Nominated

Home media[edit]

On November 16, 1999, Columbia TriStar Home Video released the film on two-sided DVD-Video, featuring both fullscreen (4:3) and widescreen formats.[7]

Grover Crisp of Sony Pictures conducted a 4K restoration of the film, and it was screening theatrically in DCP by 2012.[8][9]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in November 2010 as part of the box set, "America Lost and Found: The BBS Story." It includes audio commentary featuring director Bob Rafelson and interior designer Toby Rafelson (originally recorded for a Criterion laserdisc), Soul Searching in “Five Easy Pieces,” a 2009 video piece with Rafelson, BBStory, a 2009 documentary about the BBS era, with Rafelson, actors Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, and Ellen Burstyn, and directors Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom, among others, and audio excerpts from a 1976 AFI interview with Rafelson.[10]

On June 30, 2015, Five Easy Pieces was released as a stand-alone DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Five Easy Pieces, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 29, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p. 11
  3. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976, p. 44
  4. ^ "Five Easy Pieces". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 29, 2012. 
  5. ^ Roger Ebert. "Five Easy Pieces". Retrieved 29 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Roger Ebert. Five Easy Pieces Movie Review March 16, 2003
  7. ^ "FIVE EASY PIECES AND THE LOSS OF SEXUAL INNOCENCE COME TO DVD". September 1999 Headlines. September 27, 1999. Retrieved 19 June 2015. 
  8. ^ "Five Easy Pieces". Park Circus. Retrieved 19 July 2015. 
  9. ^ "Leading repertory cinema Film Forum to showcase Digital Cinema Packages". Film Journal International. 10 February 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2015. 
  10. ^ "Five Easy Pieces". The Criterion Collection. 
  11. ^ Gary Tooze. "HD-Sensei: Five Easy Pieces [Blu-ray]". DVDBeaver. 

External links[edit]