Captain Kirk vs. Sheriff Taylor: Pray For The Wildcats (1974, directed by Robert Michael Lewis)


The year is 1974 and there’s nothing more dangerous than being a hippie in Baja California.  That’s because psychotic business Sam Farragutt (played by Andy Griffith!) is on the loose.  Sam likes to describe himself as being a hippie himself.  “A hippie with money,” Sam puts it as he waves a hundred dollar bill in the face of a hippie without money,

Actually, there is one thing more dangerous than being a hippie in Baja California and that’s being an ad executive.  Once again, Sam Farragutt is to blame.  He’s willing to give his business to three ad execs but first they have to agree to go down to Baja and ride around with him on their motorcycles.  The three ad execs are Terry Maxon (former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner!), Paul McIllvain (former Brady Bunch star Robert Reed!), and suicidal burn-out Warren Summerfield (William Shatner!).  Warren is having an affair with Paul’s wife (Angie Dickinson!) but he’s still planning on committing suicide in Mexico.

However, going to Mexico gives Warren a new lease on life.  After Warren discovers that Farragutt is responsible for the death of two hippies, he becomes determined to make sure that justice is served.  Soon, Andy Griffith (!) is chasing William Shatner (!) across the Mexican desert.  Someone’s going to die.  Is it going to be Sheriff Taylor or Captain Kirk?

Pray For The Wildcats was a made-for-TV movie that aired the same year as Savages.  Both movies were a part of Andy Griffith’s attempt to change his image after playing the folksy Sheriff Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show.  Griffith is a good villain but the main appeal of Pray for the Wildcats is the chance to see William Shatner doing his thing.  Shatner has a juicy role here, playing a man who is at first suicidal and then righteously indignant.  He overemotes with the self-serious intensity that was Shatner’s trademark in the years before he finally developed a sense of humor about himself.  The movie itself gets bogged down with unnecessary flashbacks and dated dialogue but the spectacle of Griffith vs. Shatner makes it all worth it.

Slashed To Thrill: Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (Filmways 1980)


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Brian De Palma was a big deal back in the 70’s and 80’s, and his films like CARRIE, SCARFACE, and THE UNTOUCHABLES are still discussed. Yet works such as SISTERS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, OBSESSION, BLOW OUT, and BODY DOUBLE seem unjustly neglected today, and some critics deride him for his over the top sex and violence. DRESSED TO KILL finds De Palma in full Hitchcock mode, an homage to PSYCHO that The Master of Suspense himself cited as more like a “fromage”, but one I find still entertaining.

The film begins with a sizzling hot shower scene with Angie Dickinson as Kate Miller, remarried mother of  science nerd Peter  (Keith Gordon, CHRISTINE ). Kate has problems in her marriage and with her own mom,  not to mention being a nymphomaniac! She’s seeing psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine ), but seemingly getting nowhere. We follow her to  New York’s…

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Boldly Going Indeed! : PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (MGM 1971)


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Gene Roddenberry’s post-STAR TREK career  had pretty much gone down the tubes. The sci-fi series had been a money loser, and Roddenberry wasn’t getting many offers. Not wanting to be pigeonholed in the science fiction ghetto, he produced and wrote the screenplay for PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a black comedy skewering the sexual revolution, with French New Wave director Roger Vadim making his first American movie. The result was an uneven yet entertaining film that would never get the green light today with its theme of horny teachers having sex with horny high school students!

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All-American hunk Rock Hudson was in the middle of a career crisis himself. After spending years as Doris Day’s paramour in a series of fluffy comedies, his box office clout was at an all-time low. Taking the role of Tiger McGrew, the guidance counselor/football coach whose dalliances with the cheerleading squad leads to murder…

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Bravo for RIO BRAVO (Warner Brothers 1959)


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If there’s such a thing as the quintessential “John Wayne Movie”, RIO BRAVO may very well be it. Producer/director Howard Hawks created the perfect blend of action and humor, leading an all-star cast through this tale of a stand-off between the good guys and the bad guys. RIO BRAVO’s theme has been done over many times, most notably by John Carpenter in 1976’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Hawks himself remade the film, with Wayne again starring, as EL DORADO and RIO LOBO, but the original remains the best of the bunch.

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The plot itself is pretty basic. When disgraced deputy Dude (called Borrachon, Spanish for ‘big drunk’) walks into a saloon looking for booze, no-good Joe Burdette tosses a silver dollar into a spittoon for kicks. Sheriff John T. Chance stops Dude from embarrassing himself, only to receive a whack in the head for his efforts. Dude goes after Joe and a fight breaks out, and Joe kills…

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Let’s Get Physical: Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK (MGM 1967)


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Lee Marvin  was one tough son of a bitch both onscreen and off, awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded by a machine gun blast in WWII.  The ex-Marine stumbled into acting post-war, and Hollywood beckoned in the 1950’s. His imposing presence typecast him as a villain in films like HANGMAN’S KNOT, THE BIG HEAT , and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. A three season stint in TV’s M SQUAD brought Marvin more acclaim, and he solidified that with his Oscar-winning role in CAT BALLOU, parodying his own tough-guy image. Marvin was now a star that could call his own shots, and used that clout in POINT BLANK, throwing out the script and collaborating with a young director he had faith in, John Boorman.

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POINT BLANK is a highly stylized revenge drama centering on Marvin’s character of Walker. The nightmarish opening sequence shows how Walker was left for dead on deserted Alcatraz Island by…

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Horror on the Lens: The Norliss Tapes (dir by Dan Curtis)


Today’s Horror on the Lens is The Norliss Tapes, a 1973 made-for-TV movie that was also a pilot for a television series that, unfortunately, was never put into productions.

Reporter David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) has disappeared.  His friend and publisher, Stanford Evans (Don Porter), listens to the tapes that Norliss recorded before vanishing.  Each tape details yet another paranormal investigation.  (Presumably, had the series been picked up, each tape would have been a different episode.)  The first tape tells how Norliss investigated the mysterious death of an artist who apparently returned from the grave.

For a made-for-TV movie, The Norliss Tapes is pretty good.  It’s full of atmosphere and features a genuinely menaching yellow-eyed zombie monster.

Enjoy!

 

Film Review: Big Bad Mama (1974, directed by Steve Carver)


Big_bad_mama_movie_posterToday is Angie Dickinson’s 84th birthday.  One of Angie’s best remembered films is Big Bad Mama, an entertaining and fast-paced gangster film that was produced by Roger Corman.

The year is 1932 and the setting is Texas.  Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) is a poor single mother with two teenage daughters (Susan Sennett and Robbie Lee) to support.  When Wilma’s bootlegger lover, Barney (Noble Willingham), is killed by the FBI, Wilma takes over his route.  Wilma wants her daughters to be rich like “Rockefeller and Capone” and soon, they graduate from bootlegging to bank robbery.  During one robbery, they meet and team up with Fred (Tom Skerritt).  Wilma and Fred are lovers until Wilma meets alcoholic con man, Baxter (William Shatner).  With Fred and Baxter competing for her affections and her youngest daughter pregnant, Wilma plans one final job, the kidnapping of a spoiled heiress (Joan Prather).

Big Bad Mama is one of the many Bonnie and Clyde rip-offs that Roger Corman produced in the 70s.  (Corman also gave us Bloody Mama and Crazy Mama.)  Big Bad Mama is a typical Corman gangster film, with fast cars, blazing tommy guns, Dick Miller, and plenty of nudity.  Angie was in her 40s at the time and, justifiably proud of her body, her full frontal nude scenes created a lot of publicity for the film.  William Shatner also strips down for the film and his sex scene with Angie is just as weird to watch as you would expect it to be.

The whole film changes as soon as William Shatner makes his first appearance.  He may be speaking with a Southern accent and he may be playing a sniveling coward but he is still William Shatner, with all that implies.  Watching Shatner, it is hard not to imagine that Big Bad Mama is actually a lost Star Trek episode where Kirk goes back in the past and meets special guest star Angie Dickinson.  Far more effective is Tom Skerritt, who is thoroughly believable as a Dillinger-style bank robber.

In the style of Bonnie and Clyde, Big Bad Mama presents its outlaws as being counter-culture rebels.  Every authority figure that Wilma meets — from a preacher played by Royal Dano to a corrupt sheriff to Dick Miller’s incompetent FBI agent — is presented as being hypocritical and arrogant.  Angie plays Wilma as a strong-willed and sexually liberated woman who refuses to allow anyone to tell her how to live her life or raise her daughters.  In the gang, both Fred and Baxter are subservient to her.  Big Bad Mama’s tag line was “Hot lead!  Hot legs!  Hot damn!” and that is a perfect description of Angie Dickinson’s performance.

Happy birthday, Angie Dickinson!

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