Dusty and Sweets McGee


1h 31m 1971
Dusty and Sweets McGee

Brief Synopsis

A semi-documentary featuring real addicts re-living their lives on-screen: junkies dealing, shooting up, overdosing, and squealing.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Release Date
Jul 1971
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 23 Jun 1971; New York opening: 14 Jul 1971
Production Company
Laughlin, Fraker, Mutrux Productions
Distribution Company
Warner Bros., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Los Angeles, California, United States; Los Angeles--San Fernando Valley, California, United States; Los Angeles--Venice Beach, California, United States; los angeles, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Synopsis

As a Los Angeles weekend begins on a Friday afternoon, a young girl cooks breakfast for her boyfriend, after which they shoot up heroin. That night, the band Blues Image plays at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, while outside several drug deals take place surreptitiously. Beverly and Mitch, who call themselves Dusty and Sweets McGee, make enough money to support their heroin habit by selling drugs on the streets. Another addict discusses what it is like to be a "common, ordinary dope fiend," stating that all day, every day, is about procuring or shooting heroin and the hunt for money to support the habit. City Life, a flashy dealer who does not do drugs, buys a top-of-the-line car stereo system in the hopes of attracting more women. At Pink's Hot Dog stand, the boy and girl buy hotdogs, appearing to the policemen behind them in line as a normal young couple. Meanwhile, a concert violinist has his Mercedes detailed, while in Hollywood, a bisexual hustler explains that he originally became a prostitute to finance his heroin addiction but now is clean. He hopes to build up a loyal clientele and move off the streets, but states that he is acquainting himself "with life in its most fundamental aspects┬┐dependence and freedom." That night, the violinist purchases a large amount of heroin from some businessmen, paying $40,000 in cash. Mitch and Beverly sell some dope and shoot up the rest, then argue in their San Fernando Valley hotel. Beverly wants Mitch to get his life together, but he blames her for nagging him, and finally she embraces him and agrees to postpone the conversation. At the same time, Nancy, another addict, sits on a bare mattress in an empty room discussing her several overdoses. After one, she was arrested and while detoxing in jail realized that she had been using $400 worth of drugs each day. On Saturday morning, the addict and a friend enter a convenience store, where the addict creates a diversion so his friend can steal food without attracting attention. As City Life and his young sidekick recount rambling stories, in a laundromat bathroom the addict and his friend begin the laborious process of shooting up. After the addict injects himself in his ankle, he accidentally flushes the needle down the sink, prompting his friend to grow anxious and angry. In one part of town, Mitch sells heroin to the boy and girl while in another the violinist picks up the hustler. The boy and girl argue in their home, the boy alternately adoring and angry with the girl because he wants to kick his habit but cannot. Immediately afterward, they shoot up, the boy injecting the girl in her thigh and later into her mouth. As Saturday night begins, Mitch and Beverly do the same in their hotel, fighting over who can shoot up first, and who uses more dope. The next day, the addict recounts his many stints in the city jail and how he has been repeatedly beaten by policemen. Meanwhile, City Life woos a new girl friend, while Mitch and Beverly relax in a park, laughing about the time she overdosed, and dreaming of having enough heroin to sell and live off the profits. They buy some drugs from City Life, then sell it to Nancy on the Venice Beach boardwalk. At a park later, as City Life and his sidekick talk about the recent laws that invade privacy, Mitch and Beverly sell more drugs and the hustler recalls his inability to build a relationship. After an aimless Sunday night, the boy and girl shoot up joylessly, while the addict and his friend follow the violinist, who is driving through Beverly Hills. The violinist meets two men by the side of the road to buy dope, and after the men drive off, the addict and his friend pull up, shoot the violinist and steal the drugs. At the same time, the police chase down Mitch and Beverly and arrest them roughly, and the girl revives from her drug stupor to find the boy dead from an overdose. Begging him to awaken, she weeps over his body.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Release Date
Jul 1971
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 23 Jun 1971; New York opening: 14 Jul 1971
Production Company
Laughlin, Fraker, Mutrux Productions
Distribution Company
Warner Bros., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Los Angeles, California, United States; Los Angeles--San Fernando Valley, California, United States; Los Angeles--Venice Beach, California, United States; los angeles, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Only the film's title is listed before the film. The rest of the credits are listed after the film ends, and include several enigmatic credits, such as "Cruisin'" or "Deal maker." The credits for "Fouad's boys" refer to the assistants of Fouad Said, the owner of Cinemobile, who donated equipment to the production. Many of the cast and crew are listed by first name only. The re-recording credit reads: "Francis, Lennie, Tex, C.A.S." In the cast credits, cinematographer William A. Fraker, who also appeared as the violinist, is listed only by the name "Cameraman," and his character name is identified as "Big time dope dealer."
       Dusty and Sweets McGee uses what a Los Angeles Times article called a "recreated documentary" format, consisting of scripted scenes in which mainly non-professional actors reconstructed real-life situations and dialogue that were recorded earlier. Some characters are shown speaking directly to an unseen interviewer. Most scenes are very short or interweave snippets of several sequences. Many reviewers commented on the disconcerting realism of the images of characters injecting themselves with drugs; according to Filmfacts, the syringes were filled with a vitamin B12 serum prepared by a doctor. The film ends with still images of each character in happier times.
       According to Filmfacts, writer-director Floyd Mutrux originally planned Dusty and Sweets McGee as a book on young drug addicts, but after taping thirty-seven hours of interviews with dealers and addicts, decided instead to transform the material into a film. As noted in a May 1971 Show article, Mutrux began researching the film in 1970 and later condensed the material down to the several principal characters, allowing "a story to suggest itself from their experiences." Mutrux made his feature-film debut with Dusty and Sweets McGee. He went on to write such films as Freebie and the Bean (1974, see below), American Me (1992) and Mulholland Falls (1996).
       The following information is included in Filmfacts: The film's title was inspired by the name stenciled on the side of Beverly's stolen duffel bag, Patrick Sweets McGee. The real violinist had agreed to play himself in the picture, but was murdered six weeks before filming began, at which time Fraker, the film's director of photography, took over the role. Laszlo Kovacs, Jimmy Crabe and Vilmos Zsigmond helped Fraker shoot the footage of the Whiskey-A-Go-Go nightclub on the Sunset Strip, although only Fraker and Kovacs are listed onscreen.
       As noted in several contemporary sources, Dusty and Sweets McGee was shot on location throughout Los Angeles, including Venice Beach, downtown and the San Fernando Valley. A December 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item added that the filmmakers shot some scenes at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios. As noted in the Los Angeles Times review, much of the footage was obtained "secretly and on the run." Billy Gray and Russ Knight were the only professional actors in the cast. Many of the actors were chosen from the real-life street people Mutrux interviewed. A November 1970 Los Angeles Times article stated that Harry Nilsson had originally been hired to create a score for the film, but the filmmakers then decided that juxtaposing the gritty images with pop songs from a "Solid Gold Weekend" radio show would make more of a jarring impact.
       The Los Angeles Times article also noted that none of the cast or crew was paid a salary for the project, but many were promised a percentage of profits, and that the unions authorized a minimal crew to keep expenses down. In the many articles that reported on the film's original budget, the figures cited ranged widely, from $42,000 to $350,000. A June 1971 Variety article outlined the film's financing, stating that principal photography had cost $57,000, the crew consisted only of eight members, and that Michael J. Parsons put up much of the original financing and owned thirty percent of the finished film, while Fraker, Mutrux and producer Michael S. Laughlin each owned ten percent. Warner Bros. purchased the picture for $800,000, according to the article, most of which paid for fees, clearances and post-production costs necessary to make the film suitable for wide distribution. Laughlin asserted in the Variety article that the film would have been less expensive in the long run if it had been made in a more conventional manner.
       Filmfacts conveyed that the film was re-edited after an initial trade screening. Mutrux and Fraker stated in many contemporary articles that they made the film in the hope of dissuading future drug users, and the November 1970 Los Angeles Times article noted that Fraker, who had already transitioned from cinematographer to directing films, returned to the camera for this film because he felt the subject was such an important one. Despite this, some reviewers criticized the film for glamorizing the drug culture, although many singled out Fraker's photography for praise.
       Although some contemporary accounts stated that the film's non-professional actors were sober at the time of production, Nancy Wheeler died of an overdose just after the film was completed, while Beverly Eckert, who played "Dusty," died of an overdose in 1972. As noted in Filmfacts, the film resulted in Clifton "Tip" Fredell reuniting with his family, from whom he had been estranged for ten years. Even though Gray's character does not take drugs in Dusty and Sweets McGee, some reviewers erroneously claimed that the actor, made famous by his role as "Bud" in the long-running 1950s television series Father Knows Best, was a real-life addict. This impression May have been fostered by a brief scandal in 1962, when Gray was arrested for the possession of marijuana seed and residue. In 1997, as noted in People, Gray successfully sued Leonard Maltin for stating in his original review of the film that Gray was an addict and for repeating that information in his Movie and Video Guide. In 1998, Maltin printed a retraction of his allegation.
       Hollywood Reporter reported in July 1972 that gaffer Joe Smith, assistant to the producer Lee Wenner and key grip Dick Moran were suing Laughlin and Dusty and Sweets McGee, Ltd. for punitive damages and a share of the film's profits, having been promised a one-half percent interest in the picture. The producers stated that there were no profits to share. The disposition of the suit is unknown.
       In a 1993 interview reported on by the Village Voice in 1996, Mutrux stated, in opposition to his earlier statement, that he was not trying to make an anti-drug movie. That article explained that Warner Bros. removed the film from theaters shortly after its release. Dusty and Sweets McGee remained unseen for over twenty years, receiving its first revival in 1993 in San Francisco. In 1996, the Village Voice noted that many subsequent pictures were influenced by the film's style and subject matter, including George Lucas' American Graffiti (1973, ).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Re-released in United States July 25, 1996

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Re-released in United States July 25, 1996 (Nuart; Los Angeles)