Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 2.18 “Casting Director/Pentagram/A Little Ball”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

This week, we have a special, super-sized episode of Fantasy Island!

Episode 2.18 “Casting Director/Pentagram/A Little Ball”

(Dir by George McCowan and Michael Vejar, originally aired on February 17th, 1979)

This week, we get three fantasies, instead of the usual two!

Sister Mary Theresa (Lisa Hartman) is a nun who has been struggling with her faith even since the death of her mentor.  Her fantasy is a chance to meet the only mortal man that her mentor ever loved.  Colin McArthur (John Saxon) is tall, dark, handsome, and he loves animals!  Not only does he seem like the perfect guy but he’s also played by John Saxon.  Today, Saxon is best-known for appearing in horror movies and for playing B-movie villains and it’s easy to forget that he could also be quite a charming actor when given the chance.  That said, as charming as he is, Colin just can’t compete with God and Sister Mary Theresa once again dons her habit before leaving the Island.

Meanwhile, Felix Birdsong (Don Knotts) has spent his life fantasizing about being a big time Hollywood casting agent and he gets his chance when he comes to the Island and is put in charge of selecting the woman who will star in a film called The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.  Felix soon discovers that Hollywood isn’t as glamorous as he thought.  (Uh, yeah, no doubt.)  The film’s producer (Abe Vigoda) is a sleaze.  The film is being funded by a combination of gangsters and oil sheikhs (one of whom is played by Cesar Romero) and all of them expect Felix to select their girlfriends for the role.  Felix ends up very disillusioned, though you have to wonder what type of sheltered existence he experienced before coming to the island.  I mean, he’s shocked to discover that Hollywood can be a heartless place and that rich men have mistresses!  In the end, Felix announces that all 20 of the women will be cast as The Most Beautiful Girl In The World and that every single one of them will get the prize money.  Yay!  Of course, now the production is probably out of money so it’s not as if the film will ever actually be made.  Actually, if I was a contestant in a beauty pageant and the judge just declared a 20-girl tie instead of giving me the prize, I would probably think he was the biggest jerk in the world.  Boooo!  Felix, you jerk!

Finally, Jane Garwood (Florence Henderson, continuing the tradition of Brady Bunch cast members showing up on the island) is a television news reporter who recently gained a lot of attention for a report she filed on Satanic cults.  As a result of the report, a Satanic priest put a curse on Jane.  Jane laughed it off until all of the men in her life started dying.  Jane’s fantasy is to learn whether the curse is real.  Mr. Roarke’s solution is to become the new man in Jane’s life.  When he doesn’t die, Jane will see that the curse is not real….

Except, the curse is real!  The cult has followed Jane to the Island and now they’re not only trying to kill her but Mr. Roarke as well!  I have to admit that I’ve always assumed that Mr. Roarke was meant to be a supernatural being and I also assumed that he was immortal.  Apparently, that’s not completely true.  Still, despite the cult leader kidnapping Jane and dancing around with a cobra, Roarke is able to reveal that the cult leader is not only not a supernatural being but that he’s also Jane’s ex-boyfriend!

This episode was a fun mix of cartoonish comedy, sincere romance, and ludicrous melodrama.  It was entertainingly silly in the way that only Fantasy Island could be at its best.  I mean, with the exception of The Brady Bunch Hour, how many other shows would have the guts to give us Florence Henderson being menaced by a Satanic cult?  For that, you have to go to Fantasy Island!

Retro Television Reviews: Half Nelson Episode 1.5 “Diplomatic Immunity”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Fridays, I will be reviewing Half Nelson, which ran on NBC from March to May of 1985. Almost all nine of the show’s episodes can be found on YouTube!

L.A. …. you belong to me….

Episode 1.5 “Diplomatic Immunity”

(Dir by Alan Cooke, Originally aired on April 12th, 1985)

Somebody is stealing luxury cars in Beverly Hills!  Detective Hamill (Gary Grubbs) is pretty sure that he’s caught the responsible party, a teenager who was seen near one of the cars when it was taken.  The teenager, who is in danger of losing his athletic scholarship, insists that he was just thinking about stealing the car but he didn’t actually do it.  Instead, the car was stolen by some guy who arrived on the scene via a limousine.  Why would a car thief be getting transported around in a limo?

That’s what Rocky Nelson (Joe Pesci) wants to find out!  Just as in the previous episodes, everyone tells Rocky to not get involved.  The police tell Rocky to stay out of the way.  Rocky’s boss, Chester (Fred Williamson), tells him that it’s not his concern.  Rocky’s landlord, Mr. Martin (Dean Martin), stops by the guesthouse to use Rocky’s phone and, though he doesn’t say not to get involved, it’s still pretty obvious that Dean Martin doesn’t care about the car thieves.

Only Rocky cares!  Actually, Kurt (Bubba Smith) and Beau (Dick Butkus) care as well.  In fact, in this episode, Kurt and Beau get almost as much screen time as Rocky.  They follow Rocky around, hoping to learn how to become better detectives.  As critical as I can sometimes be of Dick Butkus’s character on Hang Time, he was actually pretty funny on Half Nelson.  He and Bubba Smith made a good comedy team and they seem to be having so much fun together that it makes up for the fact that neither one of them had much range as an actor.  For instance, when Rocky goes to Beverly Hills High School to do some investigating, Kurt and Beau follow him.  Kurt and Beau claim to be two new teachers at the school.  “We got traded to this school from Harvard,” Beau says before Kurt explains that they got traded for another teacher and several draft picks.  It’s a dumb joke but Butkus and Smith sell it with their enthusiasm.

Eventually, Rocky figures out that the car theft ring is being led by a diplomat (John Saxon) from Central America.  Saxon pretends to be collecting money for charity but he’s actually just stealing cars and smuggling them out of the country.   Rocky’s investigative techniques are not particularly complex.  He “borrows” an expensive car from the studio and then hides in the trunk with his pitbull, Hunk.  When Saxon’s henchman (Lewis van Bergen) steals the car, Rocky and Hunk jump into action.  Hunk cripples the thief by biting his ankle and then Rocky and his dog run away as the car explodes.  “Run, Hunk, run!” Rocky yells.

Rocky, Kurt, and Beau manage to catch Saxon right before he boards a plane to leave the country.  The teenager is freed from jail.  As he leaves his cell, he complains about the incompetence of the cops.  Rocky yells at him for being disrespectful.  It’s the best scene in the show, just because it feels spontaneous.  It’s almost as if Pesci himself suddenly got mad and started yelling at the kid.

Rocky, Amanda (Victoria Jackson, who has been underused in every episode, with the exception of the pilot), and the rest of the Beverly Hills Security team throws a birthday party for Chester.  Dean Martin does not show up.  The end credits roll.

Half Nelson‘s main weakness is that, despite having an once-in-a-lifetime cast, the plots tend to feel somewhat generic.  It just doesn’t feel right to have actors like Joe Pesci, Fred Williamson, Dean Martin, and even Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith dealing with the type of boring cases that any 80s TV detective could have solved.  That said, compared to the previous episodes of Half Nelson that I’ve watched, this episode was okay.  Pesci got to show off his streetwise attitude and, as always, he seemed to be happiest when acting opposite Dean Martin.  John Saxon was stuck playing a one-note villain but it’s still always enjoyable to watch Saxon as he plots to do something bad.  This episode was enjoyable if not exactly memorable.

Retro Television Reviews: Linda (dir by Jack Smight)

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay.  Today’s film is 1973’s Linda!  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

If nothing else, Linda has a wonderfully opening.

Two couples are on the beach.  Paul Reston (Ed Nelson) is talking to Anne Braden (Mary-Robin Redd) about his troubled marriage and his plans to leave his wife.  Paul’s wife, Linda (Stella Stevens), is talking to Jeff Braden (John Saxon) and looking at the rifle that he’s just handed her.  It doesn’t take long to notice that Paul and Linda seem to be closer, respectively, to Anne and Jeff than to each other.

When Anne stands up and walks toward the ocean, Linda shoots her in the back.  When Jeff runs over to Anne’s body, Linda pulls the trigger again and Jeff collapses.  Stunned by his wife’s actions, Paul runs back to his car and drives into town to get the police.  (This is another one of those movies that could have only been made in the pre-smartphone era.)  When Paul and the police return, they find Anne’s body but Jeff and Linda are nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly, Linda and Jeff come walking down the beach.  Jeff is carrying a bunch of fish and a fishing pole.  They look shocked when they see the police.  Then, when Jeff sees Anne’s body, he accuses Paul of killing her and attacks him.  Paul is arrested and taken to jail.

As I said, it’s a wonderful opening, full of twists and entertaining overemoting.  In fact, it’s so good that it’s difficult for the rest of the film to keep up.  After being charged with Anne’s murder, Paul hires a folksy attorney named Marshall Journeyman (John McIntire).  Unlike everyone else, Journeyman believes Paul’s story that he’s being framed by Jeff and Linda.  Journeyman sets out to prove that Paul is innocent.

Of course, the audience already know that Paul is innocent because the audience saw exactly what happened.  Watching the film, it was hard for me to not to feel that the story would have benefitted by a little more ambiguity as to whether or not Paul was a victim or if he truly was the delusional madman that both Linda and Jeff tried to paint him as being.  We know from the start what Jeff and Linda are doing so the only question really becomes how Journeyman is going to trick them into revealing the truth.  Unfortunately, even getting them to do that turns out to be a bit too easy.  The movie suggests that Journeyman is a brilliant investigator but, in the end, it all really just comes down to the villains not being very smart.

That said, the film’s cast does a good job.  Ed Nelson is sympathetic as the confused husband and John McIntire brings so much homespun charm to Journeyman that I got the feeling that this film was probably designed to be a pilot for a possible series.  Best of all, John Saxon and Stella Stevens play the scheming couple.  Saxon gets to wear a swimsuit and dramatically shout to the Heavens as he pretends to be shocked over Anne’s murder.  Stevens smirks at every question and accusation and appears to be having a great time playing an old school femme fatale.  The cast makes this movie worth it.

TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Queen of Blood (dir by Curtis Harrington)

Queen of Blood (1966, dir by Curtis Harrington, DP: Vilis Lapenieks)

Here’s a question: what happens when Roger Corman buys the rights to two Russian science fiction films, decides to jettison basically everything but the special effects footage, and then hires experimental filmmaker Curtis Harrington to shoot an entirely new film around that footage?

You end up with the 1966 film, Queen of Blood!

Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. Queen of Blood is actually pretty good and director Harrington manages to smoothly integrate the Russian footage with the new footage. Basically, it works out so that you’ll see a Russian shot of the spaceship taking off or landing and then you’ll see a shot of John Saxon, Dennis Hopper, or Basil Rathbone sitting on a set and pretending like they’re in space.

The film opens with Dr. Faraday (Basil Rathbone) discovering that aliens have been transmitting a message to Earth. They’re sending an ambassador to meet with the Earthlings but the aliens’ spaceship ends up crash landing on Mars! Faraday arranges for an Earth spaceship, the Oceano, to go to Mars and rescue the ambassador.

Aboard the Oceano is a cast made up of a few familiar faces. John Saxon plays Allan, who is the de facto leader of the expedition and also engaged to marry Dr. Faraday’s assistant, Laura (Judi Meredith). A young-looking Dennis Hopper is Paul Grant, an astronaut. Don’t get too excited about Hopper being in the cast. Queen of Blood was made when Hopper was still trying to pursue mainstream film stardom so he gives a rather bland performance here. There’s a few scenes where you can tells that Hopper is on the verge of smirking at some of his dialogue but, for the most part, he plays the role extremely straight. Rounding out the crew is Anders (Robert Boon) and Tony (Don Eitner), neither one of whom would go on to star in Easy Rider, Blue Velvet, or Nightmare on Elm Street.

It’s a difficult journey. The Oceano keeps running into Russian-filmed turbulence on the way to Mars. When they do land, they discover that the ambassador (Florence Marly) is waiting for them to rescue her. She doesn’t talk much nor does she have any interest in eating Earth food. She does seem to like every member of the crew except for Laura. Of course, the ambassador’s defining trait is that she likes to drink blood….

All things considered, Queen of Blood works pretty well. While none of the performances are particularly memorable (though Basil Rathbone does bring some old school class to what is essentially a cameo role), Curtis Harrington does a great job creating and maintaining a properly ominous atmosphere. It takes a while for the crew to finally find the Queen of Blood but, when they do, Harrington gets every bit of creepiness that he can out of the character. The film even ends on an appropriately dark note, suggesting that the human race may be just too stupid to survive.

Queen of Blood is an entertaining B-movie. Watch it the next time you’re in the mood for some intergalactic blood-sucking fun!

Retro Television Review: Fantasy Island 1.1 “Escape” / “Cinderella Girls”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1996.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

Smiles, smiles, everyone….

Episode 1.1 “Escape/Cinderalla Girls”

(Directed by Don Weis, originally aired on January 28th, 1978)

Last week, while reviewing the Fantasy Island pilot, I commented on the fact that Mr. Roarke seemed to be a bit sinister, almost as if he took delight in the idea of mortals discovering that their fantasies weren’t as wonderful as they were expecting.

In the first regular episode of Fantasy Island, it’s made clear that, while Mr. Roarke may occasionally act like he doesn’t care, it’s only to teach a lesson.

When internationally renowned stage musician Gregory Udall (Bert Convy) requests that he be allowed to perform the world’s greatest escape, Mr. Roarke doesn’t appear to be the least bit concerned when Udall is transported to Devil’s Island, the infamous French island prison.  Devil’s Island was known for being escape proof.  It was also known for being harsh even by the prison standards.  75% of the people sentenced to Devil’s Island died before their sentence ended.  When Udall reaches the island, he discovers that the Warden (Reggie Nadler, best-known for playing the vampire in Salem’s Lost) doesn’t care whether he lives or dies.  He’s also told, by another prisoner named Ipsy Dauphin (Robert Clary), that Mr. Roarke regularly abandons people at the prison!

After Udall’s first escape fails, he is visited in the island’s infirmary by Mr. Roarke himself.  Udall says that he’s ready to give up and opt out of the fantasy.  Mr. Roarke informs him that failure is not an option.  He also suggests that Udall enjoy his cigarette because….


Fear not, though, Mr. Roarke is not evil.  Instead, he’s just giving Udall the extra push that he needs to not only successfully escape from the prison but to take Ipsy with him as well.  Udall not only gets his confidence back but he also saves another human being.  Mr. Roarke may have seemed harsh but it was only to make sure that everyone got something out of the fantasy.  As well, it’s revealed that Ipsy was not actually prisoner but was instead Fantasy Island’s head chef.

Mr. Roarke is far more cheerful in the episode’s other fantasy.  Georgia Engel and Diana Canova want to know what it’s like to be wealthy so they not only get makeovers but they also get a lot of new clothes.  Of course, being wealthy also means that they’ll be expected to bid at a charity auction that is being held on Fantasy Island.  (Apparently, Fantasy Island also doubles as a resort for people who don’t have fantasies but just want to spend the weekend hanging out by the pool.)  Georgia Engel ends up running away with a prince.  Diana Canova falls in love with an idealistic doctor who is played by John Saxon.  Does the doctor care that she doesn’t actually have any money?  Fortunately, it turns out that the doctor is poor himself.  Yay!

As you may have guessed, the first episode was a strange mismash of tones.  On the one hand, you had a silly but sweet story about two friends who wanted to pretend to be rich.  On the other hand, you’ve got a harsh prison story featuring Reggie Nadler as a desiccated villain and uber-70s actor Bert Convy as a stage musician.  It really shouldn’t work but it does, largely because the idea of the island is so appealing and Ricardo Montalban seems to be having fun in the role of Mr. Roarke.  Plus, who can resist John Saxon pretending to be from Texas?

The premiere episode got Fantasy Island off to a good start!  Would that continue next week?

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Fast Company (dir by David Cronenberg)

Released in 1979, Fast Company is a Canadian film about fast cars and the fast-living people who drive them.  Lonnie Johnson (William Smith) is a veteran drag racer who is so good at his job that his nickname is “Lucky Man.”  He rarely loses a race.  He’s never without an adoring fan or two, though he always remains loyal to his girlfriend, Sammy (Claudia Jennings).  Lonnie is so lucky that, even when one of his cars explodes, he walks away without even a scratch.

Lonnie and his protégé, Billy (Nicholas Campbell), are being sponsored by Fast Company, an international oil consortium.  The money is okay but Lonnie is getting old and he would like to step back and spend some more quality time with Sammy.  Unfortunately, the team boss is Phil Adamson (John Saxon) and the viewers knows that Phil is a bad guy because he’s played by John Saxon and, instead of driving to the races, he pilots his own private plane.  When Lonnie starts to rebel against Phil’s management, Phil schemes to not only replace him and Billy with rival driver Gary Black (Cedric Smith) but he also plots to repossess Lonnie’s prized car!

Okay, so it’s kind of a silly and predictable film.  In fact, there’s really only two reasons why Fast Company is remembered today.  

One is because it was the last film to feature B-movie star Claudia Jennings before her death in a traffic accident. Jennings was nicknamed the “Queen of the B movies” and, over the course of her brief career, appeared in a lot of films about fast cars.  She gives a likable performance as Sammy, even if the film’s script doesn’t really give her much to do.

Secondly, this film was directed by David Cronenberg.  This was Cronenberg’s first time to direct a film that he hadn’t written.  This was his first job as a “director for hire” but, interestingly enough, it was while directing this film that Cronenberg first worked with some of his most important future collaborators, including cinematographer Mark Irwin and actor Nicholas Campbell.  Cronenberg directed Fast Company in between Rabid and The Brood and Fast Company might as well take place in a different universe from either of those films.  To be honest, there’s not much about this film that would lead anyone to suspect that it had been directed by Cronenberg if they hadn’t already seen his name in the credits.  Cronenberg’s signature style is really only evident when the camera lingers over the scenes of the mechanics working on the cars.  In those scenes, there’s a hint of the Cronenberg that everyone knows, the Cronenberg who is fascinated by both the relationship between man and machine and how things work inside the body of both the driver and the car.

For the most part, Fast Company is a typical 70s racing film, one that was made for drive-in audiences and which makes no apologies for that fact.  (Nor should it.)  There’s a lot of shots of denim-clad Canadians cheering as their favorite driver crosses the finish line.  William Smith brings a world-weary dignity to the role of Lonnie Johnson but, while John Saxon is always fun to watch, Phil Adamson is so evil that he threatens to throw the tone of the film out of whack.  The light-hearted scenes of Lonnie, Billy, and head mechanic Elder (Don Francks) don’t always seem to belong in the same movie with scenes of John Saxon scheming to cheat and risk the lives of his drivers.  

In the end, though, the important thing is that the cars are fast and so is this quickly paced movie.  I’m enough of a country girl that I have to admit that I have a weakness for fast cars that leave a cloud of dust behind them.  On that level, I enjoyed the film and really, that’s the only level that matters when it comes to a film like Fast Company.

Fever Pitch (1985, directed by Richard Brooks)

It takes a great director to come up with a movie as bad as Fever Pitch and, in his day, Richard Brooks was a great director.  Among Brooks’s films as a director you’ll find titles like Blackboard Jungle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elmer Gantry, The Professionals, and In Cold Blood.  These were all films that took risks and broke new ground and which were willing to defy the conventions of the time.  Brooks was a director who told hard-boiled stories that dealt honestly with real-life issues.

Unfortunately, as often happens with great filmmakers, Brooks struggled to remain relevant as he got older.  Hollywood’s sensibility eventually caught up with Brooks’s sensibility and then moved past it.  While Brooks remained an interesting director, his final films often seemed to be the work of a grumpy old man who just wanted all those young people to stay off his lawn.

Fever Pitch, Brooks’s final film, stars Ryan O’Neal as Steve Taggart.  Taggart is a sports writer for The Los Angeles Herald Examiner.  He’s been writing a series of stories about a compulsive gambler named Mr. Green.  The stories are so popular that his editor (John Saxon) has no problem giving Taggart $10,000 so that Taggart can then give the money to Mr. Green so that Mr. Green can continue to gamble.  What anyone, especially the editor of a major newspaper, should be able to figure out is that Mr. Green is actually Steve Taggart.

Taggart takes the money to Las Vegas, where he hits the casinos while also researching the root causes of gambling.  On the one hand, Brooks includes a lot of scenes of Taggart listening to real people explain the history and the dangers of gambling, often in the most didactic ways possible.  (Hank Greenspun, the legendary publisher of The Las Vegas Sun, appears as himself and shows why he became a publisher and not an actor.)  On other other hand, MGM not only produced the film but allowed it to be filmed at the MGM Grand Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.  Fever Pitch is anti-gambling film that also doubles as a commercial for a casino.  It’s like an anti-smoking film that gives everyone in the audience a free pack of Camels.

Steve hooks up with an unbelievable wholesome prostitute played by Catherine Hicks.  He also has to deal with several shady characters, including a veteran gambler named Charlie (Giancarlo Giannini) ad a debt collector named The Hat (played by William Smith).  Taggart is obsessed with gambling but he doesn’t seem to be very good at it, as he keeps getting beat up and threatened.  Eventually, he goes to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting and he seems to be ready to admit that he has a problem and that it’s keeping him from being a good father to his daughter.  That might seem like the ideal place for the movie to end but instead, Taggart has to try his luck with just one last slot machine.

Fever Pitch is doomed from the minute Ryan O’Neal starts his narration.  Nothing about O’Neal suggests that he could be capable of writing a hard-hitting expose about the life of a compulsive gambler.  In this film, he doesn’t even come across like he would be capable of reading it. O’Neal is too passive of an actor to be a convincing gambler and his wooden performance clashes with Brooks’s attempts to create a hyperkinetic feel to the Vegas scenes.  While everyone in the film is lecturing him about the dangers of gambling, O’Neal sit there with same blank look on his face.

A critical and a commercial failure, Fever Pitch was Brooks’s final film.  He died seven years later, leaving behind a legacy of important movies that cannot be tarnished even by something like Fever Pitch.

Snatched (1973, directed by Sutton Roley)

Three women have been kidnapped and are being held prisoner in a lighthouse.  Robin Wood (Tisha Sterling), Kim Sutter (Sheree North), and Barbara Maxvill (Barbara Parkins) are married to three wealthy men and the kidnappers (one of whom is played by the great Anthony Zerbe) assume that the husband will be willing to pay whatever is necessary to get back their wives.  Paul Maxvill (John Saxon) and Bill Sutter (Leslie Nielsen!) are willing to put up the money but Duncan Wood (Howard Duff) scoffs at the idea of paying a million dollars just to see his adulterous wife again!

It sounds like the set-up for a Ransom of Red Chief-type of comedy but Snatched is actually a very serious and intelligent thriller, one that will definitely keep you on your toes as you try to keep up with who is working for who.  Kim is diabetic and is growing weaker every minute that she’s being held in the lighthouse.  Paul, Bill, and police detective Frank McCloy (Robert Reed) try to get Duncan to pay his share of the ransom but Duncan is convinced that his wife has been cheating on him and he refuses to pay for her.  On top of that, it turns out that one of the wives might be in on the scheme.  When she tells the kidnappers that she’s actually the one who came up with the plan, is she just trying to protect the other wives or is she telling the truth?  It leads to betrayal and a surprisingly downbeat ending.

Snatched is a well-produced made-for-TV movie.  The mystery will keep you guessing and the cast is made up of a collection of old pros.  Leslie Nielsen, cast here long before he reinvented himself as a comedic actor, is especially good as Bill Sutter and John Saxon gives one of his better performances as Paul.  Even Robert Reed gives a good performance.  Snatched is a classic made-for-TV mystery.

War Hunt (1962, directed by Denis Sanders)

In the last days of the Korean War, Pvt. Roy Loomis (Robert Redford) is assigned to an infantry unit that’s serving on the front lines.  Loomis is an idealist who believes in always doing the right thing and who believes that he’s truly fighting for the American way of life in Korea.  The company’s commander (Charles Aidman) is more cynical.  As he explains it, the job of the soldiers is not to win the war.  Their job is to stall the advance of the enemy long enough to let the politicians and the diplomats get what they want out of a peace settlement.  The soldiers are merely there to be sacrificed.

Loomis soon finds himself in conflict with Pvt. Endore (John Saxon).  Endore spends his night sneaking around behind enemy lines, killing soldiers, and gathering intelligence.  No one goes with Endore on these missions and Endore makes it clear that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the other solders in the unit.  Because Endore usually returns with valuable intelligence, he’s allowed to do what he wants but it becomes clear that gathering intelligence is not what motivates Endore.  Endore loves war and killing.  In the United States, he would probably be on death row.  In Korea, at the height of the war, he’s a valuable asset.

Charlie (Tommy Matsuda) is an orphan boy who has been adopted as the company’s mascot.  Both Loomis and Endore have a bond with Charlie.  Loomis wants Charlie to go to an orphanage after the war so that he can hopefully be adopted and maybe brought over the United States.  Endore, however, plans to stay in Korea even after the war ends and he wants to keep Charlie with him.  He wants to turn Charlie into as efficient a killing machine as he is.

This low-budget but effective anti-war film may be best known for featuring Robert Redford in his first starring role but the film is stolen by John Saxon, who is frighteningly intense as Endore.  Endore is so in love with war that he continues to fight it even after the Armistice is declared.  Saxon plays him like a cool and calculating predator, a natural born killer.  He’s an introvert who rarely speaks to the other members of the company.  Even though he helps them by killing the enemy before the enemy can kill them, it’s clear that Endore doesn’t really care about the other members of the unit.  He just cares about killing.  He’s close to Charlie because Charlie is too young to realize just how dangerous Endore actually is.

Along with Saxon and Redford, War Hunt also features early performances from Tom Skerritt, Sydney Pollack, and Francis Ford Coppola.  (Coppola, who goes uncredited, plays an ambulance driver.)  Pollack and Redford met while they were both acting in this film and Pollack would go on to direct Redford in several more films.  One of those films, The Electric Horseman, would reunite Redford and Saxon.  Again, they would play adversaries.

Last night, when I heard John Saxon had died, I tried to pick his best performance.  I know that most people know him from his horror work and his role in Enter the Dragon.  Those are all good performances but, for me, Saxon was at his absolute best in War Hunt.


4 Shots From 4 Films: Special John Saxon Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Rest in Peace, the great and iconic John Saxon.

Here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Evil Eye (1963, dir by Mario Bava)

Enter the Dragon (1973, dir by Robert Clouse)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, dir by Chuck Russell)

Hellmaster (1992, dir by Douglas Schulze)