Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976)

Black comedy, about a ragtag ambulance company out of Los Angeles battling their competitors while picking up an eclectic group of needy passengers, could best be described as schizophrenic (quirky bordering on outrageous). It manages to match its silly, yet surprisingly catchy, title with a well-written script and an excellent cast. Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel make up an easy starring trio (another surprise), and Welch in particular seems extremely comfortable in the chaotic surroundings. Supporting players Allen Garfield, Valerie Curtin and Dick Butkis as the Texan are all fun, though there’s perhaps too much of live-wire Larry Hagman (having a permanent meltdown). Peter Yates directed, and while he’s quick on his feet he’s not always adept at managing the viewer’s responses through the morass; these entangled vignettes needed a bit more subtlety and class. Still, there are big laughs in the picture, a few tender moments, not to mention Los Angeles looking bright-and-shiny. I saw this in the theater in 1976, and the audience–probably having expected a full-on slapstick comedy–filed out looking bewildered. The movie wasn’t ahead of its time (“MASH” prepared us for this messy mix of dark laughs), but it seems to play better today than it did upon its release.