Mother, Jugs, & Speed is a 1976 comedy drama set in 1970’s Los Angeles. Some of the stars include Bill Cosby as “Mother”, Raquel Welch as “Jugs”, Harvey Keitel as “Speed”, Allen Garfield as Harry Fishbine, Larry Hagman as Murdoch, and Dick Butkus as “Rodeo”. The producers are Tom Mankiewicz (Hot Pursuit) and Peter Yates (Breaking Away). The film is directed by Peter Yates.
The film’s story centers around a private ambulance company called F+B. Harry Fishbine, the owner, is always out to make a quick buck, legally or illegally. F+B is in a contract dispute with rival Unity over territory in Los Angeles, where the first ambulance company to the scene gets the glory. For example Mother, the veteran driver for F+B, arrives with his partner Leroy to a junkie’s apartment to pick up a stiff. They inform the woman that they can’t remove the body until it is pronounced dead officially. The two drivers leave without the body but not before Mother finds a drug kit and hides it in the junkie’s bed. Then, they go on to pick up another stiff at a nearby restaurant while the Unity company arrives to take the body in the apartment. Mother and Leroy return there twenty minutes later and claim the stiff as theirs. The other drivers don’t believe him until he shows them where he hid the drug kit and that his partner had slashed two of their tires on their rig. The next morning, a new driver arrives, who is actually a cop suspended for allegedly giving drugs to kids. He partners up with Murdoch, a hypersexual driver also working for F+B, whose former partner had just gotten rabies from falling through a stairway during a call. The two seem to hit it off until Speed, Mother’s nickname for the new driver, catches Murdoch trying to rape an unconscious patient. Meanwhile, Mother and Leroy answer a call about another junkie. When they get there, Leroy goes to the door as the junkie pulls a gun on him, demanding drugs. Leroy says that they don’t carry drugs, but she doesn’t believe him. Then she shoots him as Mother looks on from across the canal. Mother, saddened by the death of his partner and friend, returns to the F+B station where Murdoch has just won a bet regarding how many stiffs the company will take in that night. But another driver informs him that they forgot to count Leroy. After saying Leroy doesn’t count Murdoch, out of guilt, gives Mother all the money. He takes it as an insult and attacks Murdoch. Murdoch is fired and Speed is left to partner up with Mother until Jugs, the female switchboard operator, tells Fishbine that she is now qualified to become a driver herself. After initially refusing, Fishbine puts her with Mother and Speed. One night, when Mother is away, Speed and Jugs get a call about a woman in labor. They arrive at a hospital only to be informed that it doesn’t take obstetrics. The two young drivers are forced to go to a nearby medical center, but the woman has the baby right in the back of the rig. Jugs is unable to stop the bleeding after the baby is born and the mother dies. She is deeply affected by the event and only heads back after Mother counsels her. The next day, a hearing takes place at the courthouse about which company will receive the contract for the territory. When they are told that neither will get it, the owner of Unity suggests the two companies merge. But before anything is done, Unity receives a call about a gunman and his partner holding a woman hostage at the F+B station. Both companies head over to the headquarters where they discover that Murdoch and his driving partner, who are both stoned, are holding Mrs. Fishbine at gunpoint.
One specific feature of this movie that I found interesting was presence of feminism is some of the scenes, specifically Second-wave feminism. We witness this through the female lead Jugs, played by Raquel Welch. She refuses the sexual advances of the male drivers while studying to become a certified ambulance driver. When Jugs finally shows Mr. Fishbine her certification, he refuses to employ her because she is a woman and orders her back to the switchboard. Later on when she threatens to sue F+B, Fishbine finally allows her to partner up with Mother, who is in favor of women drivers but not in his rig, and Speed. During the contract hearing towards the end of the film, Harry Fishbine proudly acknowledges her as a female driver after the city counselman compliments the Unity company for hiring minorities.
Although many critics tend to say that Mother, Jugs, & Speed is not one of Bill Cosby’s best films, I must respectfully disagree. His performance of the character “Mother” Tucker is exceptional. Mother is the veteran driver at F+B and, for the most part, is respected. He believes that rules were meant to be broken but despite this, he shows compassion towards his patients and coworkers, especially after his partner Leroy is killed. Mother has a cheap sense of humor and is quite fond of scaring nuns by turning on his siren just as they cross his path, a habit (no pun intended) that Harry Fishbine tries desperately to break him of. In short, he mixes his comedic and dramatic sides brilliantly.
To wrap, Mother, Jugs, & Speed is a comedy with many dramatic moments interspersed, sometimes without warning. The film will keep your mood changing throughout.