The real story behind Sugarland Express
Bobby Dent was driving through Port Arthur with his wife Fae, when a patrol car appeared behind him, red lights twirling at 2 AM in the morning. It’s never been determined what exactly the Dents were up to at that time of morning, but whatever it was, it was enough to cause Bobby to panic and try and outrun the squad car. He ended up crashing into a tree in the woods outside town.
Before the police could apprehend the couple, they disappeared into the woods where they located an empty cabin with a working telephone. After meditating on his situation for a few hours, Bobby called the operator and brazenly told her that he and his wife and been hitchhiking when they were beaten and robbed and they required transportation to a doctor or hospital. At 6 AM, a highway patrolman appeared at the cabin to assist the couple, but when he entered the cabin, Fae and Bobby pointed revolvers at him.
Without any plan of what they were doing next, the Dents took the trooper hostage and began driving to Houston, Fae holding a shotgun to his head in the backseat while Bobby pressed a Magnum against his side. Apparently the Dents did not realize driving down a busy highway in this manner was likely to create commotion, something O. J. Simpson would learn many years later when he made his panicky escape attempt. By the time they reached Houston, the caravan behind them numbered over 100 vehicles.
Jim Crone was the kidnapped officer and DPS Captain Jerry Miller in charge of the rescue. To his great credit, Miller refused to blockade or impede the Dents, and even allowed them to make refuel and bathroom stops without any interference. His only plan was to prevent the Dents from doing harm to anyone.
Along the way, Bobby and Fae decided to turn north so they could visit Fae’s two children from a previous marriage, who were living with their grandmother. Captain Miller made a deal with Bobby that Fae could see her kids for a few minutes and then get a 15-minute headstart to continue their escape. Bobby was gullible enough to believe him and when he opened the door to Fae’s mom’s house with Crone in front of him, Crone threw himself on the floor. Bobby took a shotgun blast in the chest as well as a few revolver rounds in the heart.
Fae dropped her weapon and sobbed, “They’ve killed him.”
The press took a photo of her staring at Bobby’s lifeless body right after the killing.
Fae ended up serving a few months in jail and was then reunited with her kids. Steven Spielberg was 30 when he made the film version of this story, although if you’ve seen the film, you’ll realize how much the story was twisted for cheap emotional effect.
Sugarland Express was Spielberg’s first feature and it bombed, although it’s a highly entertaining movie provided you don’t know the real story. In retrospect, I believe his rise to one of the greatest wag-the-dog producers of our time was ordained from the beginning. Certain people just have all the right connections to get sheep-dipped as a Knight in Shining Armor, and no matter what the outcome of their missions, their promotions will be assured, so it should come as no surprise he was handed a shark film next, and once again showed how effective his tricks could be, no matter if the content was somewhat shallow. Of all his films, Munich really stands out as the best for my taste, and it’s one of my top ten spy films.