Strother Martin Wednesday #2 The Ballad of Cable Hogue

Almost immediately after being featured in “The Wild Bunch”, Strother and his buddy L.Q. Jones found themselves cast in another Sam Peckinpah film, the somewhat comic, new western, “The Ballad of Cable Hogue.” Their characters here are distinctly more clever than Coffer and T.C., but in the end they are just as vile, although the character Jay plays almost gets a redemption arc, almost.

This story is mostly focused on the persistent Cable Hogue, played by Jason Robards, who is partners with Bowen (Strother) and Taggart (Jones) in some undisclosed enterprise that has left them in the desert without enough water in the canteen for the three of them. Basically, the other two get the drop on Hogue and abandon him in the desert, taking their mule and water and leaving him to die.

All of this takes place before the titles, and it starts Robards on his path, to success, love, and vengeance. The two antagonists do not return to the story until late in the last act. In the meanwhile, Jason Robards Title character carries on a one sided conversation with God, until he accidentally discovers a water hole in the wasteland, near enough to a stagecoach trail, to be of great value. The story then shows him becoming tentative friends with an itinerant preacher named Sloan, who is played by David Warner. Strother and Warner will be featured a decade later in the nature gone wild horror film “Nightwing”. Warner has an impressive list of credits and he continues to work, I last saw him in the sequel to Mary Poppins, but he did voicework in a Teen Titans cartoon recently.

I have actually written about this film before in a post on this blog, which was part of a Blogathon that I participated in. The subject of that post was actually Slim Pickens, who is billed immediately after Strother. While I do discuss Jay in that post, the focus was on Pickens, so the character of Bowen is mentioned mostly in passing. The really nice set off of Bowen’s character in the pre-title moments was the mocking song that the character sings as he and Taggart wander away from the abandoned Hogue. Much like the tune he sings off key in Butch and Sundance, Jay manages to bring an authenticity to a cowboy singing, that you will not find in a Roy Rogers or Gene Autrey film.

The second act of the film is mostly taken up by the romance between Cable Hogue and a local working girl named Hildy, played by the delicious Stella Stevens. Miss Stevens had a long early career as the sex appeal in a lot of films. TV movies and series, she was also a Playboy Centerfold. (I also just discovered she was in a long term relationship with the late Bob Kulick, who I met at the Kiss KruiseFest in October of 2019). Hogue, Sloan and Hildy have a variety of adventures and incidents in the middle of the film as the story meanders around the path that Hogue is following. It is enjoyable stuff but it is not what I wish to focus on right now.

Let’s get back to our subject for the day, “Bowen” the more feeble of the two backstabbers from the opening scene. You knew it was inevitable that these two would come back into Cable Hogue’s world, and they do so in a pretty funny way. They get off the stagecoach when it arrives at the way station and are surprised to discover that it is a thriving enterprise run by their old partner.

While they seem to have prospered in their time apart, it is clear that it is not a result of being on the straight and narrow. Slim Picken’s stagecoach driver regales them with the financial success that Hogue has enjoyed as a result of the waterhole. Hogue plays is cool and smiles as he thanks them for helping him find his way to riches. Of course he is laying a trap for them when he mentions that he doesn’t trust banks to keep his money and that his riches are in his possession at the station.

The two of them return on horseback, determined to rob Hogue and convinced by their previous encounter that they can get the best of him. Hogue suckers them into digging a deep hole in pursuit of his buried treasure, leaving inconsequential amounts of copper and silver coins as breadcrumbs to convince them to keep digging, when what they are actually doing is digging their own graves.

Cable gets the drop on them and drives them out of the pit with a few well chosen rattlesnakes lobbed into the hole with them. We then get a restaging of the opening sequence when Cable did have the upper hand but lost it, this time, will the result be different? It’s not to hard to imagine that it will be.

Cable wants to force them into the desert like they did to him, but complications do ensue and soon we get the chance to marvel at Strother and his incredible whining. Bowen reveals himself to be a craven coward and is hardly humiliated at acknowledging the fact. He whimpers like a whipped animal and crys up a flood in pleading with Hogue not to fulfill his plan for him. This is a strong sequence for Jay as he gets to play to his strengths, which were usually playing weakness. The prairie scum he so often portrayed, are almost pitiful wnen he turns on his voice and scrunches his face into desperate contortions.

It is not entirely surprising what happens next, because we have established that Cable, while not a Saint, is also not a wicked man. He gets an opportunity to punish his enemy in a passive aggressive manner by giving him responsibilities that he can probably never live up to, but for which he will spend the rest of his life trying to do.

All in all, “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” is a great showcase for Strother Martin. He plays vile in the opening, and pitiful at the end. While his screen time is limited, like all great character actors, he brings his A game and makes the most out of the role, and adds to the picture in just the way the director wanted him to.

Strother Martin Wednesday #1 Slap Shot

This Summer we are going to do some catching up on the Strother Martin Film Project. My attention has been a lot of different places over the last couple of years, but I have never abandoned my goal of doing a post for all the film projects that Strother “Jay” Martin was credited with. We may not get to the TV projects because they are simply innumerable and hard to find sometimes, but this Summer we will do something special with the films. Every Wednesday this Summer, I plan on putting up at least one new post. By the time Labor Day arrives we should have a dozen projects covered. We are kicking off the Summer Strother Celebration with a personal favorite and reportedly Paul Newman’s favorite film of his career, “Slap Shot”.

Strother as Hockey Team Manager Joe McGrath.

Only the great Paul Newman was listed in the opening credits, but Strother is first in the closing credits, making him second billed. George Roy Hill had used him in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, a small role but a great part. This was the final of six movies he made with Paul Newman and it is fittingly his biggest role in any of those films. He plays Joe McGrath, the penny pinching, publicity seeking, feckless manager of a small time hockey club that finds itself on the brink of collapse. This is a comedy, and the man at the center of a lot of the comic moments is Jay.

Joe tries to keep local interest in the team up by trying a variety of publicity stunts. One regular one is having the players model fashions at the local department store. None of the players are enthusiastic about doing so, and one, when given a particularly festive robe to model, threatens to open the robe and show his hockey stick to the crowd. Joe doesn’t think he will do it but as he is making a phone call, he hears the crowd response off screen and he reacts as you might expect, with a resigned sign and an exhausted pose. Strother has many opportunities in this film to do reaction shots that fit the moment.

I am famously not a hockey fan. I may have seen one complete game in on television in my life. However, hockey has always been one of my favorite subjects for a sports movie. I love “Mystery Alaska”, “Goon”, and especially “Miracle”. I first saw “Slap Shot” in a theater when it opened in the winter of 1977. Over the years I have recommended it as one of my favorite comedy films of all time.

To be fair, Jay is not the only funny character in the film. The movie gets stolen from everyone by the three Hanson Brothers, the young, immature Goons that Joe has acquired and the leading character, played by Newman, Reggie, decides to exploit to bring up the enthusiasm for the team.

McGrath: “I got a good deal on those boys. The scouts said they showed a lot of promise.

Their exploits on the ice and the way they interact with the other players is a key ingredient in the films success. They take over the top violence, combine it with a naivete of youth, and juxtapose it against the background of the decaying town and team.

There is also a semi-serious story intertwined in the film about the relationships of the two main players on the team. Reg is still in love with his wife but is so caught up in the hockey lifestyle that his separation from her and their impending divorce, doesn’t keep him from tomcatting around the league. He is also flirting in a playful way with the dissatisfied new bride of his star player, Ned played by Michael Ontkean. She is the young Lindsay Crouse, and her bitterness overflows and is ruining her relationship with her husband. Reg and his soon to be ex-wife intercede to try and repair the young couple before they go down the same trail they have traveled.

While the story is interesting, and the exploits of the team on the ice are hysterical, it is the subtle use of facial expressions by Strother Martin that reminds us that this is supposed to be a real world story. Sure there are some exaggerations at the right moment, but most of the time, Joe McGrath is a everyday guy, trying to cope with a bad situation, and failing on most days.

An especially nice moment occurs when McGrath is trying to get the bail reduced for the Hanson Brothers, and he offers a gift to the desk sergeant of a Charleston Chief’s Key Ring. It is a sincere gesture from a man who does not have the means to do any better for his players, who all hate him anyway for making them do the dumb publicity stunts he comes up with.

Strother’s best moment of his patented feckless frustration however, comes during the climatic championship game. The team has clawed it’s way to the game, the crowd is packed, and Joe has hockey scouts and executives at the game in hopes of securing his and the player’s futures. The other team has decided to out goon the Chiefs at the very moment, that Ned has guilted Reg into playing hockey in the traditional, sporting fashion.

McGrath: “Every scout in the NHL is out there tonight, with contracts in their pockets, and they’re looking for talent. For winners. OOOOOOOOOH. All my years of publicity. All the fashion shows and radiothons for nothing… They come here tonight… to scout the Chiefs… the toughest team in the Federal League! Not this! Buncha… pussies.”

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This was the apex moment of frustration, and the teams reaction is the catalyst for the conclusion, perhaps the least exciting end to a championship game ever. They basically back into a victory by flouting convention and getting a forfeit. As far as the team and the local fans are concerned, a win is a win. Time to celebrate

There is a lot more to say about the film, but of course we are trying to focus on Strother Martin’s contributions here and I think that pretty much covers it. One more on screen moment to highlight:

And roll Credits…

Love and Bullets (1979)

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This Charles Bronson action picture is the second film that Strother made with the international box office star. Their previous pairing in “Hard Times” is a vastly superior film, and this movie seems like a casual, not very well thought out program filler. It does have a few things going for it, including one essential moment for Strother Martin fans.

Bronson plays a Phoenix cop who heads to Switzerland at the behest of the FBI, to escort a potential witness against the crime boss responsible for bad things happening in Arizona. The witness is the ditsy girlfriend of mobster Rod Steiger, and she is played by Mrs. Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland. To be honest, the degree of action in the film is a little slight, with huge chunks of time devoted to a travelogue of the Alps and Geneva. The pair are fleeing hitmen sent by the mobster to silence her, and Charlie and Jill ride just about every kind of vehicle you can imagine would be used for public transportation. They travel in traditional street cars, inclinators, trains, car ferry trains, motorboats, river cruise ships, car and airplane. You might suspect the whole thing was an opportunity for the two stars to travel Switzerland on Sir Lew Grade’s dime.

One of the things the film has to offer is a big slice of character actors in the movie. None of them get big parts that break out but you will recognize a whole bunch of people. Michael V. Gazzo, from Godfather II breifly appears as a mob guy who sells out to the FBI (typecasting maybe?). Paul Koslo, who made a couple other films with Bronson is another mob hitman, supposedly watching Gazzo’s character. Henry Silva is the famous assassin hired by Steigers mobster to do in Ireland. Albert Salami, a TV fixture in the 60s and 70s is an FBI mid-level manager, and Bradford Dillman is his agent in Charge. Just to round things out, Billy Gray, the child actor from the “Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Father Knows Best”, plays a police officer in the opening moments of the movie.

Strother is Louis Monk, the attorney and  consigliere to the stuttering Rod Steiger. He is one of the men, who along with the other mafia bosses, talks Steiger’s character into having the woman he loves killed. Jay first shows up in a film clip of Ireland’s character testifying before a Senate Committee. He has a couple of barely audible words that he whispers in her ear.

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Rod Steiger overacts his conflicted situation at his lavish  desert mansion, frequently in his bathing suit and surrounded by the mobster flunkies. The choice to make him a stutterer reflects a real life case, and it is actually the one subtle part of his performance. As an illustration of the overblown character, he throws a tantrum while Monk and the other mob guys are at a buffet table next to the pool. He inevitably turns the table over in frustration.

In an earlier scene, that I assume was meant to be somewhat comic, he is in the bathtub, surrounded by a bunch of hardened crooks while they advise him about his situation. Strother bears the brunt of his irritation in this scene.

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So far Jay has a scene with two of the three leads, but what about the guy Italians refer to  as “The Ugly One” and the French call “The Holy Monster”?  Strother does end up having a scene with him and it is the main reason to watch the film. Lt. Congers is tracking down the money used to pay for the hitman, and he locates Monk at a swimming pool.

Those who know Strother Martin’s background know that he was a champion college diver and he started out in Hollywood as a swimming instructor for contract players. I have to speculate that it was this background and his three previous collaborations with director Stuart Rosenberg, that produced this setting. Jay as Monk, does an elegant dive off of a diving board and perfectly hits the water. He then gracefully swims across the pool, but as he starts back, Bronson’s Conger is there with a life hook on a long pole and he uses it to pull Monk underwater. What basically follows is the Bronson version of waterboarding with Strother as Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

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So, Charles Bronson walks through the picture, Rod Steiger hams it up, Jill Ireland is terrible I’m afraid, and Strother doesn’t quite get to steal the show, but he comes close with that one graceful dive.

Rooster Cogburn (1975)

Some sequels are simply not needed. The original “True Grit” was a success in 1969, and it won John Wayne a long overdue Academy Award. Six years later, his character from that film is revived, for one purpose only, to give two stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, an opportunity to work together. Although many other actors were considered in case John Wayne was incapable or a younger actress was available, the only reason to see this movie is the lone pairing of these two great stars.

The movie turns into a loose remake of “The African Queen” with Wayne in the Bogart role. While most of the film takes place on dry land in the old west, there is a sequence on a boat and that is where our featured actor appears. Strother plays “Shanghai McCoy” a sailor who has migrated into the interior and runs a ferry across a mighty river. The ferry is nothing more than a raft big enough to carry some horses, riders and maybe a wagon.

Rooster and Eula, the characters played by Wayne and Hepburn, actually Shanghai his ferry to take themselves downstream rather than merely across the river. Strother appears in only this one scene in the movie and his credit at the end of the film was not as a co-star but:

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Apparently Wayne complained about some of the dialogue in the film being awful, especially when they had to be repeated take after take. However, much of it has the antiquated cadence and inflection that was found in the original “True Grit” and was heavily praised in Charles Portis novel and the Coen Brothers version of the film.

McCoy: Do you know anything about rafts? There’s rough water down river.

Rooster Cogburn: I can ride. Can’t be much different.

McCoy: You ain’t no sailor. I can see that. Water is like a woman: sly and fickle. You gotta watch it every minute.

Rooster Cogburn: You a sailor?

McCoy: I was once. Shanghai McCoy’s my name. Been around the Horn, sailed the seven seas, seen everything, done everything, that’s how I know people are rotten. I’ve seen ’em all.

Eula: You’re wrong, old man. We’re made in God’s image, and goodness is in us. Even in you.

McCoy: Amazing! I never took you for a Bible-thumper.

Rooster Cogburn: Hold it. She is what she is ’cause she wants to be. That’s the way you take her. Like me.

McCoy: You’re wastin’ your time preachin’. You too, Sister. I’m a ship that can’t be salvaged.

When you put those words into the mouths of some of the great actors of the previous century, you get some sparkling moments. While some actors in the film appear to be barely making an effort because after all, who will be paying attention to their performance? Strother dives in with his usual gusto and nasally quality of voice and once again matches up well with the actors he is playing opposite of.

Jay made a half dozen pictures with the Duke and Wayne highly respected him. As far as I can tell, this was his lone role opposite Ms. Hepburn, and it does not seem as if he was planning on taking it lightly.

McCoy: You’re shippin’ out with a strange crew, captain.

Rooster Cogburn: I’ll match their mettle against most.

McCoy: I’m glad it’s your ship, not mine. Women can no more keep their mouths shut than a yellow-tailed catfish.

Rooster Cogburn: [pats McCoy’s stomach] Got to agree with you there.

In the original “True Grit” Strother appears as Col Stonehill, a more erudite conversational partner. He ends up on the losing end of matching wits with Kim Darby. His role in this film is much earthier and directly coarse, but still full of sideways insult and his peculiar vernacular.

The film is handsomely mounted with glorious locations that look beautiful on screen. Every time there is a wide vista, you will wish that they made movies like they did in the old days. That said, the story is repetitive and it meanders quite a bit as it gets to the key set piece near the end. John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn, shooting the rapids and firing a Gattling gun at their enemies. Bogie would be proud.

The movie is full of well known character actors including Anthony Zerbe, Richard Jordon, Paul Koslo, Jack Colvin and others. It is however, as usual, Strother Martin who stands out and makes the movie worth watching at least once.

Jay also has a line that many of us might identify with, especially these days:

Rooster Cogburn: You ain’t very hospitable.

McCoy: I ain’t got an ounce of goodwill in me, and that’s a fact. I hate everybody. I’m a cantankerous old man, and I know it. I like myself better’n anyone I ever met, that’s how come I took this job – to be alone with me!

There is a character who knows himself.

 

Up in Smoke

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Strother is only in this movie in the first five minutes and his scene is only ninety seconds long. It is however a memorable 90 seconds. He gets to rant at Tommy Chong and do several of his patented “frustrated man” bits.

The film is a notorious stoner movie that ushered in the whole genre in a major way. This was a Paramount release and it was directed by Lou Adler, a music producer who was also partially responsible for bringing us the Rocky Horror Picture show. The “script”, such as it is, was made up of pieces of business from the comedy duo Cheech and Chong . They’d had several successful comedy albums and were moving to the big screen with this lazy shaggy dog story of a film.

The plot, if you can call it that revolves around two hippie types who meet, get high, end up transporting drugs across the border and then participate in a battle of the bands. There are a few songs along the way, most of which celebrate the High Life. The battle of the bands however does feature a credible rock song presented by their faux band “Alice Bowie”.

We are treated to frequent jokes about dog poop, urination and gross foods. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of counter-culture film that teens and college students made popular in the 1970s, paving the way for the sex comedies of the eighties and the gross out films of the 1990s.  Stacy Keach appears as the recurring character from their albums Sgt. Stedenko, an ineffectual LAPD Narcotics officer, who is hot on their trail.

There are a lot of scenes of our stoner heroes driving around Southern California in 1978, so if you have some nostalgia for that time and place, as I do, then you might find something else to recommend this movie. I’m sure I saw this at the Vogue Theater on Hollywood Blvd, and I’m also sure I took my future bride with me. My Dad’s friend Ed Linde was the projectionist for several theaters in the Hollywood area, and I’m pretty sure we saw this as his guests.

So, like I said, there is not much here for a cinephile, but if you party, maybe you will enjoy jokes about ODing on LSD and dropping burning embers into your lap. If you are simply a fan of the great Strother Martin, let me just give you this and save you another 85 minutes of your life.

 

A Star is Born (1954)

So imagine my surprise when I watched the Judy Garland version of “A Star is Born” and our blog subject showed up. He is in the film for less than a minute but what a nice early part. He plays the delivery boy who doesn’t recognize Norman Maine and calls him Mr. Lester. Here are a couple of pictures of him in the scene. When the podcast look back I was watching these films for goes up, I will add a link for you .20181006_190748

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The Brotherhood of Satan

Jay got his first leading role in this low budget horror film put together by his friend and fellow actor L.Q. Jones. He is not the hero, rather he is the main antagonist, that is if you are not going to give the devil his due. Strother plays Doc Duncan, the retired Doctor who is catering to the needs of the small town that is trapped in a hellish nightmare of murder and child abduction. No one has gotten in or out of the small town for three days…until.

This is a tough one because the film, while it has some good qualities, is not particularly good itself. It seems that there were a number of movies that were horror based in this period that depended on shock rather than narrative to bring people into the story. There are simply gaps in the way things happen in this movie that frequently leave you scratching your head and wondering what if going on.

To illustrate, the opening of the movie is an attack on a car, with people inside who we never see, by a tank that crushes the car but may also be a toy. This sort of thing happens again later in the film so the device becomes a lot more understandable as we go along, but without context, that first scene is confusing. It takes us ten minutes of activity with the most boring  people in the story, a father/daughter combination with a new girlfriend along for the ride, before anything else interesting happens.  Brother 1

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The one thing we know for certain, is that this little girl is going to be a part of the story because several other children were present in the opening when the tank finished and a boy about nine, stepped out of the crushed car ruins and joins them as they silently stand there, oblivious to what has just happened.

The family who are traveling from an outing, encounter the accident and try to go to the nearby town to get some assistance. But before they see the crushed vehicle we are treated to the longest most boring car trip ever. The music on the radio is old fashioned and no one in the car speaks to each other until they come upon the ruins of the other car.  Charles Bateman who bears a slight resemblance to the Kennedy Clan, is the father on this journey, and his performance is the most wooden in the whole film. His daughter K.T. is forgiven, as she is a child and  was not expected to do much except for one scene. Bateman however is in the whole movie and every time he is on screen he slows things to a crawl. Only moderately better is Ahna Capri as the fiance. She has a couple of moments during a dream sequence when she is effective, but otherwise her character is a bit of a drip and a whiner as well.  These are our main protagonists and they leave a lot to be desired. Three other characters do supplement the “good” side of the story, including writer/producer L.Q. Jones as the local sheriff, but they don’t get the time or plot points need to make the movie better. In the end, the movie has to count on the villain and the evil cult to bring some life to the picture. Fortunately, they have Strother Martin as the best weapon in the story telling arsenal.

Doc Duncan first appears as a pill pushing small town medic, who is as tired, frightened and flustered as all the other residents are. He, the sheriff and the deputy are about all there is by way of a civic structure for the town. At least they are the only ones who seem to be acting in an “official” capacity during the crisis. Brother 4

As Doc Duncan, Strother is all “aw shucks” and scatterbrained with a healthy dose of skepticism built in. He is reassuring to his patients and kind to the child of the man he sends home with a bottle of pills, telling young Joey to take care of his dad. He is supportive of the Sheriff and seems willing to help out in any way he can. This is the sort of role Jay was noted for. He is a working guy, not particularly gifted, but with enough personal authority for a small time set up. He was usually a toady or if in charge, a bureaucrat. Of course there is a coven of witches operating in the town, and he secretly is the high priest of Satan in the coven. That is where the performance really shines.

A lot of actors “ham” it up in parts like this. When stars get a juicy villain role, they often go overboard as Gary Oldman and Dennis Hopper showed on more than one occasion.  Strother however was a character actor. He played a cult leader in a Paul Newman film just a couple years earlier in “Harper“.

That role was almost comicBrother 8 relief in the film, in this story however, his role is the central and most interesting part of the story. Martin plays it cool and subdued for the most part. It is not until the climax of the film when an orgy of violence is called for, that he starts foaming at the mouth. For most of the scenes where he is addressing his fellow coven members, he has an oddly formal cadence and pronunciation. It is as if William Shakespeare was writing dialogue for a TV horror drama and Strother Martin decides to deliver it as if it is the western prose of Charles Portis from “True Grit”. As the acolytes gather and judge one of their own, he spews some of the most inane verbiage you can imagine but he sells it in a way that sounds completely legitimate.

The rest of the coven is made up of a dozen very elderly people. They greet one another at their first meeting warmly, with one exception. A younger women is joining the group, but since a coven is made up of thirteen, someone is going to be out of the loop. Brother 9

We don’t quite know what it is that Dame Alice as she is referred to did to betray Satan. It sounds as if it had something to do with baptizing her child. Anyway, she is out and the younger “Phyllis” is in, and the whole crowd of oldsters takes her out of the picture with a suggested beating that we mercifully are not given close ups of.

We discover that the purpose of the children’s disappearance is to provide new vessels for the corrupt souls of the elderly witches. They needed one more girl which is why the family gets in and K.T. of course disappears. Ultimately, it becomes a war by the few townspeople who think they have figured out what is going on, against this invisible force.

The town folks and our couple are not very effective at preventing further disappearances.

Brother 31Of course they have the duplicitous Dr. Duncan working against them from the inside. His rational laughing away of the local priest’s theory is one of the things that slows the good guys down. The priest has gone through a number of obscure texts that he happens to have in his collection and the images from those books tip him off as to what is going on. Those images also provide some of the scares in the middle part of the film. Many of the drawings are disturbing and sometimes the film makers tint the images for a subliminal effect when shown at a quick pace.

 

 

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By the way, the friendly but inept deputy to L.Q. Jones is played by fellow producer Alvey Moore. He was a comic character actor best remembered as Mr. Kimble from the “Green Acres” television show, which is a far cry from this. Brother 11

A few of the killings in the film feature toys that are favorites of the children who are being possessed. The toy tank for instance in the beginning but there is a weirdly disturbing murder by a doll. It’s not clear that the doll actually strangles the parents but they are definitely powerless against it and the clever use of shadow at one point built up some dread, which may be undermined a little bit later by a shaky image of the doll’s face close up.

We also got some foreshadowing of a death as a little boy wanders away while his Dad is napping, right next to a figure of a knight on a horse with it’s sword raised above it’s head. You can see what is coming for the day. Again we got a nice shadow effect and then a slightly less effective but still gruesome view of the aftermath.

 

 

While the frights are not very powerful, the film does get a lot of mileage out production design and clever camera work. The Temple of the Satanists is located in a black room where the vivid red archways of alcoves stand out and the Satanic interpretation of an ankh hovers over the dais that Strother “preaches” from at the end.

 

 

The best and most disturbing visual images occur at two other spots in the film. The fiance Nicky falls asleep in the Sheriff’s office and has a disturbing dream based on the images she encountered in the ice house of the town earlier in the evening. All the dead have been deposited there, some of them in pieces. In the dream sequence she sees’ K.T. laying down and covering herself up in the ice house and reveals her own face when she pulls back the cover on one of the bodies there. The green fog rising up from the ice adds to the surreal look of the nightmare scene.

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The most memorable visual from the movie is a completely different nightmare. We see the children at play in a room decorated for a party but the cake and decorations are disturbing. The fact that they are being served by hooded figures is also a bit of a quirk. The most clever part of the scene besides the set decoration is a shot that pans away from the doorway where Strother is standing in a morning coat and tie, and then the camera pans along the table where the children are eating and enjoying the toys, and suddenly, Dr. Duncan is standing behind them from out of nowhere. It was one directorial flourish that Bernard McVeety can be proud of from this otherwise clunky film.

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The climax of the film features a whirlwind of Satanists being killed in order for them to accept their new bodies. This is where Strother goes over the top as is called for by the script. There are hooded figures that help carry out the killings with flaming swords and more ritualistic posing and spouting by our star.

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Especially disturbing a a shot that implies that Doc is naked under his cloak. It is a brief shot but not something that is likely to compete with the Burt Reynolds pose from Cosmopolitan.

For a little personal history: I saw this at the Garfield Theater down the street from where we lived at the time. I was thirteen and I went by myself. When you bought a ticket, you were also given a pack of seeds that were supposed to represent the seed of Satan I guess. I did plant them in a window box and they sprouted some bean vines that did not last long. I wish I had held on to the package, my memory is that it was illustrated with the silhouette image from the movie poster.   It would make a cool souvenir of a movie that is largely forgotten. [Found a link today, the day after I posted this, which explains the bean seed link: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/favism-fava-beans ]

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Here is a link to the Forgotten Films Podcast that I did with Host Todd Liebenow concerning this film.


Click Here for Forgotten Films

 

Hollywood Consumer has a few words about the film in her Horror month wrap up a couple of years ago.

 

TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: Slim Pickens

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August 28 Entry in the 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Bloggathon, hosted by Journeys in Classic Film

We have a special guest star for this entry on the project, character actor Slim Pickens.  The annual TCM Summer of Stars programming usually features the glamorous idols of the Golden Age of Hollywood; John Wayne, Ginger Rogers James Cagney and others. Once and a while, those scene stealers from  a classic film will be featured. Actors like Charles Coburn, Thelma Ritter and Edward Everett Horton brought many program pictures to life with their unique presence. Character actors also make the leads look good when they are used in the right way.  Like Strother Martin, our guest today is best known for his roles in Westerns, but has an iconic moment in a film that was not his primary oeuvre. What we are going to do today is start with the two films our guest and the subject of this blog have in common, then we will look at two roles that Slim Pickens is probably best known for, and finally we will finish up with a couple of performances that are most typical of his output.

The Slim Pickens/Strother Martin Crossovers

These two accomplished character actors appeared in only two films in common, at least as far as I could discover. The first of these is “The Flim-Flam Man” a 1967 comedy set in rural Georgia. George C. Scott is the star as Mordecai Jones, a legendary con artist who takes on Michael Sarrazin as an apprentice. The two of them have several escapes from locals that they have taken and there is a convoluted love story in the plot as well. Martin and Pickens are two of the rubes that the pair takes advantage of. Unfortunately they share no scenes with one another. Strother plays a storekeeper who buys an illegal punch out gambling board from Scott, at a bargain price, and then gets taken for all the prizes by Sarrazin.

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This sequence is only a couple of minutes long but it has the usual Strother Martin touch and George C. Scott hams it up throughout.  Slim Pickens scene is only slightly longer but it occurs almost immediately after the previous con. Scott and Sarrazin see Pickens character exiting a bar, and Mordecai declares, “There’s our mark, a belt full of tobacco money and a belly full of beer”.  Flim Flam 4

This con is a “pigeon drop”, similar to the con perpetuated by Robert Redford and Robert Earl Jones at the start of “The Sting”. Pickens is shown a lost wallet, Sarrazzin picks it up, and Scott swoops in with a solution to divvying up the money.

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Slim sticks close to the caricature he is supposed to be playing, a greedy, belligerent hick who thinks he is going to take the other two but ends up losing his wad of cash. This is a role he plays much younger than most of his parts. Even when he was young, Slim Pickens seemed to be playing the wizened old hand. His distinctive voice and laconic delivery perfectly conveys the stereotype for this role.

The second film these two have in common is “The Ballad of Cable Hogue“.

This is a Sam Peckinpah film that was made right after the pivotal “The Wild Bunch”. Both Strother and Slim worked for Peckinpah several times in their careers. This may be a fairly odd film from the notorious director, It has the patina of a comedy and a gentle love story at it’s center, but ultimately it is about how revenge can distract you from what is important in life.

Jason Robards is Cable Hogue, a miner who is betrayed by his partners when they are stranded in the desert without enough water between them.

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Strother plays Bowen, who along with his same partner from the Wild Bunch, L.Q.Jones as Taggart, leave Hogue in the desert while they sing a morose song about how they got the best of him. They even accuse him of being a coward because he did not shoot them when he had the chance. Hogue struggles for four days but ultimately finds water in a spot that no one believe water existed. Lucky for him it is also on the stagecoach trail and that is where Slim Pickens comes in. Pickens plays Ben Fairchild, the driver of the stage. When Hogue sets up a watering station on the road between two desert towns, Ben becomes a regular visitor. They also become friends and Pickens big scene is providing the Flag that Hogue sets up to mark the station for all kinds of travelers.

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In the end of the story, Bowen and Taggart encounter Hogue once more but this time he has the drop on them. This is really the section where Strother get to do his thing. He is a truculent child who whimpers when circumstance go wrong for him. Slim and Strother have two brief scenes where they appear together but there is not much dialogue between them. Pickens is an avuncular cowboy who has made friends with the entrepreneur Cable Hogue. It’s not a major part but it is typical of the cowboys he usually played. Slim Pickens Cable

These two great actors have only three scenes together so it’s nice that we can enjoy them on the screen at the same time at least a little bit. Both of them would work with L.Q. Jones again and Strother would make another picture with co-star David Warner several years later. My favorite piece of trivia gleaned from the research I did on this post is that this was the only film that Slim Pickens brother appeared in. They had both worked in the rodeo circuit where they picked up their professional names. Slim was born Louis Lindley, and got the name Slim Pickins because that was all folks in the rodeo  thought he was going to make. The trivia that I enjoyed is that his brother took the name “Easy. ”

Slim Pickens is listed Number 126 and Strother Martin Number 170 on an IMDB list of The Top 198 actors (supporting role) in the golden age of Hollywood.

Slim Pickens Best Known Roles

With more than a hundred and seventy credits in his filmography, it would be a monumental task to see all of his roles and try to give them some kind of ranking. It is however safe to say that if you were trying to identify Slim Pickens to someone unfamiliar with his name, there would be two films that would immediately be named for that person. Let me prove this to you, go to Google and on images, [or click here] type in his name. The first two images will be from these two movies.

Just as Strother Martin is well known for the quote from “Cool Hand Luke”, Slim Pickens is remembered for an image in a classic Stanley Kubrick film.

Dr.-Strangelove

Major “King” Kong is the commander of the bomber group that heads off to blow up the Soviets in “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”.  Originally, this character was to be a fourth part for Peter Sellars in the film. The story is that Sellars did not quite master the Texas accent and when he broke his ankle during production, Kubrick replaced him with Pickens. Slim saw only those parts of the script that involved his character and he played them straight without knowing the film was actually a comedy.

In addition to the “yahoo” as he rides the bomb to it’s destination, Pickens had several lines that are droll comments on military thinking. As he goes through a checklist of items in the planes survival kits he comments:

Major T. J. “King” Kong:

“Survival kit contents check. In them you’ll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days’ concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.”

Originally the city he named was Dallas, but after the assassination of President Kennedy, they looped in “Vegas” to avoid being insensitive.

Slim Pickens had worked regularly before this film, but after it’s release, he himself said his paychecks and dressing rooms got bigger. As an actor, he was largely cast to play himself. The character was modeled on a famous test pilot who did wear cowboy boots and sported a stetson but the accent and general demeanor were Pickens through and through. According to one story told about the shoot, James Earl Jones, who had a small part as a member of the crew, did not realize that Pickens wasn’t acting until he encountered him off camera and heard him speaking in the same voice as Kong.

The second role for which our subject is best known is as the ramrod cowboy henchman of Harvey Korman in “Blazing Saddles”.  Taggart is the boss of the railroad crew who docks men’s pay when they pass out from the heat and values the hand truck more than the black railroad workers. When Clevon Little’s character Bart, swings a shovel at the back of Taggart’s head, the plot begins to thicken.

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While sometime cast for comic effect, he was not perhaps well known as a comic actor. Pickens however did not just need a good line of dialogue to sell the humor in a film. This Mel Brooks farce gave him ample opportunity to show off his comic chops in a variety of ways. There are two great reaction shots that Taggart has that get as big a laugh as the material that sets it up. The first takes place in Hedley Lamar’s office, as Korman gets carried away with a small statue that is nude, Taggart notices and does the only thing an underling can do in that situation, he keeps his mouth closed and holds his nose. slim-pickens-blazingsaddles-2

Speaking of holding his nose, in probably the most notorious scene in the film, as the audience is laughing at the sound effects and cowboys around the campfire, Pickens again gets a second chance to do a double take as he reacts to the atmospheric conditions surrounding his tent.

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“I’d say you had enough” [Beans, for those of you who have never seen the film]

I’m sure everyone will agree that a film like this would probably not get made in today’s business. The language and situations that the Taggart character is involved with would raise so many to protest that he’d have to be cut from the film. There is the continued use of the “N” word by a racist character, done primarily for comic effect. You also have the suggestion that raping all the women would be a good time. To cap it off, his last scene involves abusing characters that are mincing homosexual stereotypes. Pickens lived and worked in a different world than exists today. I’m sure he’d just say

“Piss on you, I’m working for Mel Brooks.”

Assorted Additional Roles

There are three other films that I’d like to mention for various reason. The first is an example of Pickens being used sparingly but effectively because of type casting. Joe Dante’s “The Howling” is filled with character actors, most of whom have minor parts in the film. John Carradine shows up as a creepy old man [at this time he was in fact an old man]. Kevin McCarthy, a Dante favorite, is a news producer, Patrick McNee has a more substantial role as a psychologist, but guess what part Slim Pickens gets.  If you guessed Sheriff, you should collect a prize. Out of the hundreds of film and TV roles Slim Pickens appeared in, he was a local Sheriff more often than any other type. His cowboy drawl probably accounts for the fact that even in a contemporary horror like this, he seems to be at home on the range, and Sheriff with a cowboy hat still works in in modern times.

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As I said, it’s not a major role but it is indicative of how Pickens was largely perceived by Hollywood. Even though he was usually cast as a peace officer, sometimes he played a good ole boy on the wrong side of the law. “White Line Fever” is a “B” movie from the 70s that was marketed based on the Citizen’s Band Radio craze of the time. Mob guys get a hold of the trucking business in the southwest and Pickens plays a flunky for another well known western actor L.Q. Jones. As a kid I always remembered that Pickens was in this film, but not because his performance was excellent. In fact it was one of the few times I felt as if he were phoning it in. The reason it made such an impression however is that Pickens character Duane Haller, is murdered by his bosses in a disturbing and unusual way.

Duane is lured out onto the open highway bWhite Line Fever 3y a woman who works for the company as well. There, he is surrounded by three big rigs that force him to the side of the road. The thugs in the truck, drag him from his vehicle and then stretch him across the highway.

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One of their trucks runs over Duane at very high speeds. It was a horrifying minute from a minor film but it was effectively staged with shots from behind the character, in front White Line Fever 5of the character and from above as the big rig runs him down. His distinctive costume and hat are briefly shown fluttering down the road after contact has been made.                       White Line Fever 6 Pickens only gets a quick reaction shot but you can see from these pictures how well the scene played out.

In the seventies, he worked frequently in big budget films and low budget features. A brief listing will give you some idea of how prolific he was: “The Getaway”, “Rancho DeLuxe”, “The Apple Dumpling Gang”, “The White Buffalo”, “The Swarm”, “Beyond the Posieden Adventure”, “1941”, and “The Black Hole” are just a few of the films he made and made better with his involvement.

In my view, his best on screen performance was in Sam Peckinpah’s “Pat Garrett and Pat GarretBilly the Kid”. Once again he was cast as a cowboy and a Sheriff, but he was a cantankerous lawman who claims that he will only cooperate with James Coburn’s Pat Garrett, if he gets paid. However, once he gets one of the Kid’s gang locked up and his wife who serves as a deputy joins him, he returns the gold dollar to Garret and rides out on a fateful mission.

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There is a shootout with the gang and most of them are killed, Sheriff Baker is mortally wounded and he walks over to the nearby river bank with his wife close behind and sits down to contemplate his life as he dies.

It is a wordless sequence that is made incredibly poignant by the presence on the soundtrack of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin on Heaven’s Door”, which was written for this film.

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It is a heartbreaking moment and Pickens makes us feel the full weight of this loss without his trademark drawl. For the five minutes he is in this lengthy film, his moments are the most indelible ones, and they are a great example of the on screen impact that today’s TCM star had on the movies that he shone in.

The Shootout and aftermath can be watched here:

 

The SUTS Programming for Slim Pickens