Speedtrap (1977, directed by Earl Bellamy)


In a southwestern metropolis, a mysterious criminal is stealing cars and outrunning the police.  When the insurance company realizes that the cops are never going to be able to do their job, they decide to bring in an outside hire to solve the crimes.  They turn to a paisley-shirt wearing private investigator named Pete Novick (played by Joe Don Baker).  Novick’s a hard-drinking, hard-living P.I. who is going to solve the case no matter what.  Authority figures like police Captain Hogan (Morgan Woodward) hate him.  Women like cop Niffty Nolan (Tyne Daly) and psychic New Blossom (Lana Wood) want to have him.  Men like mechanic Billy (Richard Jaeckel) want to hang out with him.  You get the idea.  It’s a Joe Don Baker movie.

Speedtrap is basically one car chase after another, the majority of which are excitingly filmed and continue until almost every car involved has been destroyed.  Though the movie was directed by Earl Bellamy, it has the feel of a Hal Needham film as it keeps the characterization to a minimum and instead focuses on vehicular mayhem.  Speaking of Hal Needham, it’s also easy to imagine Burt Reynolds, in his B-movie days, playing the role of Pete Novick but not even he would have been as perfect for the role or the movie as Joe Don Baker.  Baker shambles through the movie, all the while keeping the same passive-aggressive grin on his face.  There’s nothing smooth about Joe Don Baker, which is why he was fun to watch in a movie like this.  Whether he’s having a one-night stand with a psychic (only in order to help for “totally relax” so that she can have her visions) or going out of his way to annoy almost every single person that he meets, he’s undeniably Joe Don Baker.  During one chase scene, an annoyed Novick snaps, “Beep beep my ass!”  Only Joe Don Baker could have pulled that off.

Eventually, the thief steals the wrong car.  This one has a suitcase in back that’s full of the mob’s money.  This gives Robert Loggia a chance to ham it up as a mafia don who wants Novick to capture the thief and then turn him over to the syndicate.  Novick, however, has even less respect for the mob than he does for the police.  The mafia subplot is a distraction but Timothy Carey plays Loggia’s main henchman and brings with him a few moments of genuine menace to the film.

Speedtrap has never gotten a DVD or Blu-ray release but it’s an entertaining B-movie and it deserves one.  How about it, Shout Factory?  A million Joe Don Baker fans are looking to you.

A Movie A Day #87: Free Grass (1969, directed by Bill Brame)


As everyone surely knows, before they appeared as Dr. Lawrence Jacoby and Benjamin Horne on Twin Peaks, Russ Tamblyn and Richard Beymer co-starred in West Side Story.  Tamblyn played Riff, the leader of the Jets.  Beymer played his best friend, Tony, who fell in love with Natalie Wood.  West Side Story is a classic that won several Oscars.  What is not as well known is that, in between West Side Story and Twin Peaks, Beymer and Tamblyn co-starred in one other movie, a hunk of psychedelic cheese called Free Grass.

By the late 60s, both Beymer and Tamblyn had tired of their clean-cut images and, like their characters in Free Grass, had become card-carrying members of the Hollywood counter-culture.  Beymer plays Dean, a motorcycle-riding drop-out from conventional society.  Dean meets and falls in love with buxom, mini-skirted Karen (played by Lana Wood, younger sister of Natalie).  When a riot breaks out on the sunset strip, Dean punches a cop.  With the Man now looking for him, Dean needs some quick cash so that he and Karen can escape to Dayton, Ohio.

(Dayton, Ohio?)

That’s where Russ Tamblyn comes in.  Tamblyn plays Dean’s friend, Link.  Link works for a drug kingpin named Phil (played not very convincingly by Casey Kasem, of all people).  Phil is willing to pay Dean $10,000 if he smuggles several pounds worth of grass across the Mexican border.  Dean agrees but soon finds himself being pursued by two narcotics agents, played by Jody McCrea and Lindsay Crosby (sons of Joel McCrea and Bing Crosby, respectively).  Because Dean is not willing to commit murder, Link plots to kill him.  But first, Link doses Dean with LSD, which leads to the de rigueur psychedelic 60s light show.

Slow-moving and ineptly directed, Free Grass is for fans of the 1960s counterculture only.  Russ Tamblyn provides the movie with what little energy it has but Richard Beymer apppears to be just as uncomfortable here as he was in West Side Story and Casey Kasem shows why he was better known as a DJ than an actor.  Lana Wood does look good in a miniskirt, though.  Otherwise, Free Grass shows why both Tamblyn and Beymer grew so frustrated with Hollywood that they were both in semi-retirement when David Lynch revitalized their careers by casting them on Twin Peaks.

James Bond Review: Diamonds Are Forever (dir. by Guy Hamilton)


I think it’s a well-known fact that the Austin Powers series was spoofing the spy film of the 60’s and 70’s with it’s main target for laughs being the iconic James Bond character and his international adventures of action and intrigue. The James Bond films with each successive entry became more and more fantastic as the megalomania of each new villain became more and more cartoonish and over-the-top and the gadgets themselves started entering the realm of science-fiction (for that time and era, at least) and back-of-the-comic-book ingenuity. I think the tipping point for the series that took James Bond from action thriller to spoofing it’s own past was with Sean Connery’s last official film as James Bond with Diamonds Are Forever.

To say that Sean Connery was truly getting tired and bored with playing the character James Bond on the big screen would be an understatement. His previous Bond entry with You Only Live Twice showed him pretty much disinterested with the role and one would almost think he was phoning in his performance. After that film Connery had announced his retirement from playing Bond, but after George Lazenby also retired from the role after just one film Connery was soon back for one more ride on the James Bond train.

Diamonds Are Forever once again pits James Bond against his arch-nemesis, the leader of SPECTRE and feline connoisseur, Ernst Blofeld. This time around the role of Blofeld was played by the actor Charles Gray and the film does a good job in explaining why the character has been played by so many different actors in each entry he appeared in. It is in this early sequence in the film that we begin to see that this latest James Bond entry had jumped the shark when it came to trying to keep things even remotely believable. It’s the film’s biggest flaw an, at the same time, what made it such an interesting, fun ride.

Even the plot of the film owes more to the spoofs of the Blofeld character by way of the Austin Powers films as Bond must try to stop SPECTRE from using smuggled South African diamonds from being used to create  weaponized satellite with a massive “laser” that SPECTRE will use to destroy the nuclear arsenal of every superpower then auction off the rights to be the only nuclear power to the highest bidding country. It’s pretty much the the basic foundation of what would be the plot for the first Austin Powers, but with this film filmmaker Guy Hamilton still tried to treat the script as something that was of the serious Bond when it was more 60’s camp through and through.

Diamonds Are Forever may be the weakest of all the Connery Bond films, but it’s groovy sensibilities that celebrated the 60’s (despite the film having been made in 1971) psychedelic, swinging lifestyle poked fun at Bond’s predilection as a suave and charismatic womanizer that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 60’s love-in. Even the action sequences was something that looked more humorous than thrilling whether it was Bond escaping SPECTRE henchmen on a moon buggy to the inept duo assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd looked more at home in an action comedy than a series that was known for serious action.

I would be remiss to not mention that this was the only time the Bond series had a redhead as a Bond Girl in the vivacious form of Jill St. John as Tiffany Case. I would also like to think that the other Bond Girl in the film, played by Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s younger sister), was also a redhead but I’m not entirely sure since most audiences probably didn’t pay too close attention to Plenty O’Toole’s hair color. Either way this would be the only Bond film that would cast what fellow writer Lisa Marie calls the 2%.

Diamonds Are Forever might not have been the sort of return Sean Connery envisioned for himself when he agreed to return as James Bond after taking a film off, but then again this wouldn’t be the first time he would retire from the role only to come back again. Yet, despite all it’s flaws (there were many of them) the film does entertain though probably not in the way it’s filmmakers hoped it would. I do believe that it was this film that finally brought in Roger Moore as the next Bond, but also convinced the film’s producers to tailor the Bond films using some of the humorous aspect of Diamonds Are Forever but tempered to accompany the action in the story.

James Bond will soon return in Live And Let Die….