Embracing the Melodrama Part II #52: Best Friends (dir by Noel Nosseck)

best-friends-lobby-3So, this is kind of a weird one.

If the 1975 film Best Friends is known for anything, it’s probably the poster above.  As you can see, it features two women, being watched over by a shadowy group of Native Americans.  That tagline reads: “She became the ravaged victim of a century of revenge!”

Now, it’s often said that the above image has absolutely nothing to do with the actual film.  That’s actually not quite true.  There is a very brief scene where a woman and her boyfriend are at a bar and the boyfriend goads her into doing an impromptu striptease.  Sitting in the audience are some glowering American Indians.  There is a minor confrontation but otherwise, that’s it.  Nobody becomes “the ravaged victim of a century’s revenge.”  Instead, it was simply a marketing plot, used to draw audiences to a film that might otherwise have struggled to have been seen.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Best Friends is a Crown International Production.

CIP_LogoAs for what Best Friends actually is — well, it’s not easy to say.  It’s a very odd and very dark film, one that deals with characters who are ambiguous in more ways than one.  It’s one of those films that would be forgotten if it hadn’t, by chance, been included in a few dozen Mill Creek box sets and yet, from what I can tell, it has made an impression on just about everyone who has seen it.

In many ways, it’s a film that could only have been made in the 1970s.  Pat (Doug Chapin) and Jesse (Richard Hatch) served in Vietnam together and have remained close friends in America.  Jesse is serious and centered.  Pat is wild and impulsive.  Jesse has rented an RV and plans to drive across America with his fiancée, Kathy (Susanne Benton).  Pat suddenly announces that he’s engaged to and maybe he and Jo Ella (Ann Noland) could join Jesse and Kathy on their trip.  Even though Kathy would probably rather not have to share the RV with Pat’s old air force friend and his overly unstable girlfriend, Jesse readily agrees.

Now, I know this all sounds like the setup for a celebration of bromance but Best Friends actually has something else on its mind.  From the minute that Jesse and Pat get in that RV, it becomes obvious that they don’t have as much in common as they once did.  Jesse has matured.  He’s looking forward to the future and he wants to spend his time with Kathy.  Pat, however, is still obsessed with the past and wants to spend all of his time with Jesse.

As they drive across the country, Pat’s behavior starts to become more and more obsessive.  He cruelly breaks off his engagement with Jo Ella and then appears to be personally insulted when Jesse doesn’t do the same with Kathy.  He even buys a motorcycle so that he can ride behind, in front of, or next to the RV, as if the idea of even being inside of Jesse’s domesticated world would contaminate him.

And, since this is a Crown International Picture, Pat isn’t hesitant about using violence to try to keep Jesse and Kathy apart…

So, what is Pat’s problem?  A lot of reviewers have suggested that Pat is in love with Jesse and they’re probably right.  What’s interesting is that, consider that he’s the film’s nominal hero, Jesse isn’t that sympathetic of character.  If anything, he comes across as being a wimp, a guy who says he loves his fiancée but still won’t stand up for her.  As the film progresses, Jesse’s inherent impotence becomes both more obvious and more annoying.  By the end of the film, after all of the tragedy has played out, you can’t help but feel that Jesse and Pat don’t deserve any better than each other.

Best Friends is a deliberately paced and rather haunting little film.  It’s definitely one of the best of the many films to come out of Crown International Pictures.

Hagler vs. Hearns “The War” Is A Real Fight

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So, it looks like the fight of the century between Floyd Mayweather, Jr and Manny Pacquiao turned out to be more of a whimper instead of a bang.

Now, this short, but sweet 3-round fight from April, 15, 1985 was (and is) what a great fight looks like. It’s the kind of fight Floyd will never put himself in and the sort of fighters he would duck and dodge until they’re on the downside of their careers then he would agree for the money fight.

Floyd is not, as he proclaimed a couple weeks ago, the greatest fighter ever. He’s no Muhammad Ali. He’s no Sugar Ray Robinson. He’s not even in the same league as Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #51: Walking Tall Part 2 (dir by Earl Bellamy)

Film_Poster_for_Walking_Tall_Part_2The 1975 southern melodrama Walking Tall Part 2 opens with a voice over telling us that we’re about to see more of the true of story Sheriff Buford Pusser, the Tennessee lawman who carried a big stick, battled the Dixie Mafia, and whose wife was killed in an ambush.  Pusser, we learn, died under suspicious circumstances shortly after the release of the film Walking Tall.

Mere hours before he died, Pusser had signed a contract to play himself in Walking Tall Part 2.  As a result of Pusser’s car “accident,” the film’s producers were forced to cast an actor as the lawman.  Now, it would have made sense to, once again, give the role to Joe Don Baker.  After all, he played the role in Walking Tall and I imagine that to most audiences at that time, he was Buford Pusser.  However, for whatever reason, Baker was not given the role for a second time.  Instead, the role was given to Bo Svenson and, while Svenson does not necessarily do a bad job in the role, he’s still no Joe Don Baker.  The difference between Baker and Svenson is the difference between someone being a redneck and someone just pretending.

The film opens almost immediately where Walking Tall ended.  Terribly wounded in the ambush that took his wife’s life, Buford is in the hospital and his face is covered in bandages.  Townspeople gather outside both his room and his farm and they wonder whether he’ll run for reelection as sheriff.  Someone else mentions that Buford has had massive facial reconstructive surgery.

Finally, the bandages are removed and we discover that Buford has turned into Bo Svenson.  Now, Svenson and Baker do have enough facial similarities that you can force yourself to believe that surgery could lead to Baker having Svenson’s features.  I mean, this isn’t like Mark Ruffalo taking over the role of Bruce Banner from Edward Norton.  At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder how reconstructive surgery could have led to Buford Pusser becoming a blonde or, for that matter, apparently growing by 5 inches between Walking Tall and Walking Tall Part 2.

Anyway, Buford’s out of the hospital and, of course, he’s reelected as sheriff.  One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that everyone in the world totally loves Buford Pusser.  I lost track of how many characters specifically walked up to Buford to tell him that he was a great man and a great sheriff.  Nobody complains about Buford’s habit of ignoring civil liberties while enforcing the law.  Instead, everyone cheers for him.

(And, just in case the viewer is uncomfortable with the sight of the very white Buford taunting the mostly black moonshiners that he spends the film arresting, Buford’s black deputy constantly says stuff like, “Buford, you’re my kind of sheriff!”)

The only people who don’t like Buford are the local crime lords.  They still want Buford dead so they hire a race car driver (Richard Jaeckel) to kill him.  The race car driver’s girlfriend (Angel Tompkins) attempts to hit on Buford but Buford has no interest in her.  Buford’s about enforcing the law and avenging his wife…

Walking Tall Part 2 is a pretty standard film.  Whereas the original Walking Tall had a raw and unpredictable vibe to it, the sequel is predictable and boring.  On the plus side, the film was made on location in rural Tennesee and some of the countryside is nice to look at.

As for Buford Pusser, he died before Part Two was released but the character would return in Walking Tall — The Final Chapter.