This was only his third film and as far as I can tell, it is the first one that he has any lines. In “The Damned Don’t Die” he is an uncredited springboard diver (Noe there’s a surprise) and in “The Asphalt Jungle”, he appears in a lineup at the police station at the start of the film. Like those two earlier films, he is not given a screen credit for this movie, but I cannot understand why. His part is as the shortstop “Michael “Shorty” McGirk on the baseball team featured in the film, and he has more lines than any of the other players and a much more distinctive character as well. In fact, his part is pivotal to the plot.
The story starts with an eccentric millionaire who adopts a feral cat because of it’s independent streak. He becomes more attached to his cat than his horrible behaving daughter and leaves the cat his inheritance, including ownership of a professional baseball team. The team, which is struggling at the bottom of the league, is resentful at firts. The players are mocked by other teams with meowing sounds and bowls of milk. Ray Milland plays the publicist, who is guardian of the cat, and comes up with a scheme to motivate the players who are faking injuries as a work slowdown.
In a meeting with the team, he introduces the cat, and only two of the players touch “Rhubarb” the team owner. In the next room, checks are prepared and presented to the two players as overlooked pay that was due to them, and suddenly, since they were the only ones to have toched the cat, they see “Rhubarb as good luck. Strother is the first player to get this treatment, and his naïve “Shorty” is dewlighted and falls for the ploy, hook, line and sinker.
Naturally, the cat becomes a sort of good luck charm to the team, and they magically turn their season around with inspired play as they rub “Rhubarb ” for good luck during the games.
Strother’s character becomes an advocate for the cat among the team members. He persuades the other players of the cat’s “Lucky” qualities and has a couple of great lines. When the team was first malingering with the false injuries, Shorty claimed to have not just one but two Charley Horses. [Charley horse is another name for a muscle spasm.]. When he gets the unexpected bonus and the team goes back to playing, he says his horses have both gone back to the stable. Later, when the team members are pressuring Milland over how the cat should be handled during their playoff run, he suggests that the stable doors are opening again.
The team members all want Milland’s character Yeager, to marry the manager’s daughter Polly, played by Jan Sterling. Everyone knows however that Polly is allergic to “Rhubarb” and it might interfere with the cat being present at all of the games. So they get mixed up in disrupting a couple of marriage ceremonies in the process.
The plot has the disinherited daughter scheming against the cat. There are also a bunch of gamblers who are taking a beating by having to pay out repeatedly because the team is beating the odds due to the lucky cat, and they have their own plan. It does get a little convoluted, but Jay’s character is not really a component of those subplots.
Strother is full of his gee whiz comments and sparkly eyed facial expressions. Unlike the prairie scum, feckless business men that he would specialize in so often, here he plays a naïf, similar to his character in “Fool’s Parade“. He is full of open faced emotions and enthusiasm. There is nothing sinister, this part is comedy relief and plot advancement. Like I said, given his screen time, the number of lines he has, and that he is the most prominent of the baseball team characters, it is strange he doesn’t get a credit. We fans of Strother Martin will have to give him all the credit he deserves for this part
This film came out when I was just a year old, so I know I did not see it at that time. I am pretty sure I did see it in a theater at some point but the real reason I remembered it, and that Strother was in it, was that I had a paperback novelization of the movie when I was in Middle School and it had a picture of Jay in it. I’m sorry to say I have no idea if I still own that book, maybe out in the shed in California, but I do have access to the movie as do all of you who have Disney +.
His name does appear on the clever title credits, which included some animated elements of a furry mop dog chasing after a grasshopper and wiping each title card off as the dog runs by.
This is a children’s film featuring a boy who magically turns into a dog and overhears the plans of the spies in a house down the street from where he lives.
Strother plays “Thurm”, the inside man at a missile plant in the town where the events take place. He shows up at the door of a renown art scholar who has taken over as curator at the local museum. We don’t know why he is there at first, the scene simply shows him arriving and being escorted upstairs. Francesca is the daughter of the man and the object of interest to the two teen boys in the story, one of whom will soon be transforming.
Fred MacMurray and Jean Hagen are listed as the stars, but they are simply the names. Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran are the sons in the family and they have most of the action. Kirk was a child star who made several Disney films, including “Old Yeller”. He passed away just a year ago.
Strother’s part in this film is relatively minor, but he did show up more than I had remembered. Once the spy subplot kicks in he is in several shots.
He arrives with a widget from “Section 32”, yes even Disney Kid’s pictures can have a MacGuffin in them. The dog overhears the plot to steal this secret and the rest of the story revolves around MacMurray’s dog hating mailman, trying to convince the authorities to believe he got his information from his son the dog. The daughter gets dragged away by the spies as they try to escape with the stolen secret.
There is a chase scene with the dog driving a hot rod and later a police car, trying to catch up with the spy ring before they get away. Actually, the talking dog effects are pretty good and the mix of puppets, real dogs well trained and even a guy in a dog suit, works just well enough to keep us from groaning at the silliness of it all.
The crooks end up trying to escape by boat, which gives the hero dog a chance to knock Strother into the water, jump on the boat and foil the escape as well as rescue the girl.
For us, the final important shot is one that is befitting a former diving champion. Strother is struggling in the water to get back up on the pier to be taken into custody by the police.
“The Shaggy Dog” is not a great movie but it is kind of fun for the family. Strother would usually remain a supporting character but those characters would have better lines and development as his career went along. This was one of the earliest films I could brag about to my friends that my cousin Strother Martin was in, at least they would have seen it.
So we are halfway through the 12 entries I committed to for the Summer with this post, and we have our first repeat co-star with Strother, Paul Newman. Most of you know that Jay was in at least six films that starred Newman, he was in a like number with John Wayne. Strother also worked with Lee Marvin several times and this is an entry that put the three of them together.
Newman plays an amiable cowboy type, trying to scrape together a living trading horses and cattle at the margins of the Southern border. A contemporary film (at least for 1970), the world of horses and cattle is different from what you might have seen in a traditional western, but there were still snakes in the story and Strother gets to play one of them.
Strother is Bill Garret, a cattle broker with a shady reputation who is working with middle-man Stretch Russell, played by Wayne Rogers. Stretch is hooking up Newman’s Jim Kane with Garrett to arrange a deal for cattle to be used in rodeos, a market Kane know next to nothing about. Rogers, Strother and Newman were all in “Cool Hand Luke” back in 1967, directed by the man who also directed this film, Stuart Rosenberg.
Jim has been warned by his Uncle to stay out of the deal because Garrett is known as a slick operator, but Kane has committed his life to following his first instincts and decides the job is probably worth it. He felt OK with Garrett and decides to trust him. He is a little cautionary however as the deal is being struck, and the following exchange takes place:
Jim Kane: Boy, if anybody cheats me, I’m gonna hit him with a Stillson wrench and shove him in a coal hopper
Bill Garrett: [chokes on his scotch-on-the-rocks] Well, if you’re gonna talk like that…
Jim Kane: Hmm?
Bill Garrett: [nervously; shuffling away a bit more] Well, if, ah, if you’re gonna talk like that, I’m, I’m-a just gonna move down the line.
I’ve heard it said that acting is really reacting, and Strother is a master of the reaction shot as you can see in the above image. Suddenly he goes from the confident business man with all the answers to a squirming suspect, defensively counter attacking as a way to get out of an uncomfortable situation. Still they proceed with their arrangement, conducting business in Garrett’s Cadillac.
Garrett proudly shows off his money-belt as he and Kane agree to the arrangement in his mobile office. It is an odd character moment, but it does increase the curious nature of Jay’s character. As is often the case in his roles, Strother’s character has an inflated opinion of himself, but he regularly reveals his insecurities in moments like this. At the end of the story, the knowledge that Bill Garrett keeps a stash in a money-belt becomes a point of action in the story.
For at least the third time in this summer blog series, Strother Martin appears in the opening and closing acts of the film only. Most of the movie takes place in Mexico, where Kane connects with his old friend Leonard, and the two of them try to acquire the cattle and move them North, while encountering the exotic business practices of another culture. Hector Elizondo appears in this sequence as a Mexican businessman that the two encounter. Leonard thinks he understands it all, but he frequently gets it wrong, and Kane just does what he thinks is right, but that does not always go down well in this world.
When the problems pile up high on the trail, and the cattle end up quarantined, just as a herd of horses that Kane had brought up from Mexico before the deal, Kane has to go looking for Stretch and Garrett to make amends with his expenses. This is where it gets around to the slippery nature of the characters. Neither has outright lied to Kane, they instead use their professional relationship as a shield to try and indemnify themselves from the bad luck. Newman is having none of it and he and Leonard start to play it a little rough to get satisfaction.
Garrett tries to pass it off as the tough luck that everyone has now and then, but his brush off does not deter Kane from pursuing him. In a confrontation in a hotel room, the four principles all face off with one another in what is certainly a moment of great star power.
Kane tries to keep it simple,…”You owe me money!” A little rough housing occurs and Newman ends up straddling Jay on the floor, looking for the money-belt and the $517 he feels is still owed to him.
Garret is a master of passive-aggression, he deigns himself as the wronged party. He wonders who Marvin’s character is and why he is being physically abused.
Jim and Leonard never get their money, and they spend what is left of the film, visualizing how they might have gotten some revenge on Garrett, but it is all talk. There is really not much to the plot, there is no real resoulution and no moral to the story. This is simply a shaggy dog story about a group of losers, tring to make due with the schemes they come up with. No one is really evil, even Jay’s character is just craven, not dangerous or cruel. He is just looking out for himself and that’s what everyone in the film is doing, but not very well.
Strother does not get a title credit, heck only Newman, Marvin and the Film Title are listed at the start of the movie. Strother and Wayne Rogers shared a frame during the end credits, and that makes Jay the third lead. The second frame here is a little unique, it does list Strother as a Co-Star and this frame is from the trailer, so there must have been some cashet to his name.
Let me start with an apology for the images on todays edition. I watched this on Amazon Prime and the edit they have is simply awful. I saw some other images on-line that looked better, but none of them featured Strother, and I’m not sure I want to buy a copy of the film on DVD.
“The Deadly Companions” is the first of the three films that Strother did with Director Sam Peckinpah, and it was Peckinpah’s feature debut after directing a number of TV Western episodes. Frankly, it is not a very well made film. It seems like a learning experience for the director, but in his defense he was unhappy about the lack of control he had over the project, so maybe there was a better film in his head.
The premise of the film has ex-union soldier Brian Keith, stalking a Rebel soldier who had tried to scalp him five years earlier during the Civil War. After luring the unsuspecting “reb” into a plot to rob a bank, they get to the bank too late, another group has already started and a shootout occurs. In the cross fire Keith accidentally shoots and kills an innocent, and he tries to salve his conscience by helping transport the body across Apache territory to be buried in a far off abandoned town.
The previous entry in “Strother Martin Wednesdays” was “McClintok!”, which included Maureen O’Hara in the cast. This film was a few years earlier and it is the first time Jay shared the screen with O’Hara. She plays a dance hall girl who has a tragic past and present and it is she who must cross the territory to complete the burial. Strother is the Parson in the town and he has only three scenes, but as usual, he makes the best of them.
After he walks in to the bar, which is serving as the church for Sunday Service, he greets the three strangers and Kit, the character played by O’Hara, as new congregants, and admonishes the men to remove their hats. That confrontation is complicated by Steve Cochran’s character pressing advances against Kit and her standing up to him. The Parson admires her fortitude and largely ignores the tut tutting of the townswomen who don’t approve of Kit.
As the story progresses, Kit is determined to transport the body to the abandoned other town for burial in a cemetery where she has loved ones. The town Mayor and the Parson arrive at the funeral parlor to try and dissuade her from undertaking the journey. The townsfolk apparently feel a bit of remorse at their treatment of Kit after the tragedy, and seem to be trying to make amends.
Sometimes Jay’s voice can sound like it is uttering platitudes, but he modulates it really effectively to make sincerity the emotion that comes through and this is one of those scenes where he manages to do that.
Much like “The Ballad of Cable Hogue”, Strother is in the opening section of the film and then reappears in the closing act. Unlike that other Peckinpah film, Jay’s part in the last act is not central to the events but he does have one very good line that helps close the film and satisfy the emotional reconciliation with the town and O’Hara and Keith’s characters.
After arriving with the posse chasing after the two bank robbers that had abandoned Keith and O’Hara on their journey, the Parson assures the laconic vengeance seeking Keith, that he will say the right words over the grave of the departed that everyone has traveled so far to deposit in this spot.
“I’ll say the right kind of words”
The middle act of the film is the journey, fraught with betrayal by evil companions Steve Cochran and Chill Wills. Wills also appeared with Strother and Maureen O’Hara in “McLintock!”, there he was the usual avuncular companion. In this film, he plays the prairie scum part that Strother would later own, and he was quite reprehensible in the role.
Strother was Fifth billed in this film, after the main lead actress and the three men who accompany her on the journey. This film came out in 1961 and Strother was not established as a name figure at the moment, but he was rapidly moving in that direction. An indication of how his status had changed over the years can be found on the packaging of the DVD where his name actually appears on the cover.
As a side note, the screenplay was written by Albert Sidney Fleischman, supposedly based on his book, although it appears that the book grew out of the screenplay. Regardless, I think he was better known as Sid Fleishman, the author of children’s books. Fleischman was also a magician and an acquaintance of my Father, Magician Kirk Kirkham. I have a copy of one of my favorite childhood books, “Mr. Mysterious and Company”, about a magician and his family in the old west, that was signed for my Dad by the author. Just a coincidence that I found interesting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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 .
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.
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.
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 comic 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.
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.
Of 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ]
Here is a link to the Forgotten Films Podcast that I did with Host Todd Liebenow concerning this 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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 by 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.
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 of 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. 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 Billy 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.
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.
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.
This is a big one from 1972. Strother is fourth billed, ahead of Christopher Lee even. The reason for this is pretty obvious, the three brothers are the villains of the piece and Jay was one of the many prairie scum he was known to play. I’ve picked this film to do next for two somewhat interesting reasons. First of all, it is a movie that I own on Laserdisc, and having recently reorganized all my discs to ease access to and be able to display, this came up and it was a great letterboxed title. The second reason I am taking care of this one now is that I am participating in a blog challenge that is hosted by my online colleague MovieRob. Rob may be the most prolific film blogger I know. He posts two or three reviews on a daily basis. He has a monthly series he calls “Genre Grandeur”, this month’s genre is Revenge films, and Hannie Caulder fits squarely into that category.
Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin are the Clemmons Brothers, a notorious trio of cutthroat slime who are also fairly inept. After a botched robbery where they leave behind a lot of bodies but escape with no money, after a long posse chase they need fresh horses. They kill the proprietor of a way station and before they make good with the theft of his horses, they discover his wife in the adobe house at the location and proceed to brutalize her in savage fashion.
I don’t think anyone would take the subject of rape lightly, but one of the things that marks this film as a product of it’s time is the cavalier attitude of the three, as if they are having a sex romp rather than beating and violating an innocent woman. There are some lines spoken by the criminals later in the story, that reflect their bemused memory of the encounter they have with the victim. Raquel Welch plays Hannie and she was at the height of her popularity as an actress and a sex symbol at the time this movie was made. The marketing of the film made it abundantly clear that she would be on screen for much of the time with nothing but a poncho to cover herself up with.
That is the set up for the revenge plot, we want her to get back at these sons of bitches in the worst way possible. Hannie is left naked and alone with her dead husband and a burning house. How will she ever be able to be in a position to do anything to get some justice. Well remember, it is a traveling way station she was at, and along comes a man who need to feed and rest his horse. Hannie is suspicious, after what she just went through who could blame her. It turns out that the man is somewhat sympathetic but really does not want to be involved. His name is Thomas Luther Price and it turns out that he is a bounty hunter of some renown. Price is played by Robert Culp, a familiar face from television and movies from the 60s on. He would co-star with Strother again in the 1976 Western Comedy,” the Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday. ”
He wants nothing to do with Hannie, but of course her determination and the circumstances eventually force him to relent and agree to help her prepare for seeking revenge on the three outlaws. The movie then takes some very traditional turns at filling in the second act. Those moments however are often entertaining although not always clear. Hannie sees Price collect the bounty on a wanted man that he guns down. Price uses part of the bounty to pay to bury the dead man in an appropriate manner, this marks him as something of an honorable man. She decides to emulate his behavior for the rest of the film.
He decides that they need to visit a friend of his who is a gunsmith down in Mexico. The idea here is that she will have a weapon made for her that is light enough for her to handle. He will have time to condition her and train her in the techniques that he uses. The gunsmith is located on a beautiful stretch of beach at a two story hacienda, just right for some sunsets with kids and dogs on the beach. Christopher Lee is the gunsmith who builds her the weapon while sharing back story and creating a closer relationship between Thomas and Hannie. [This is apparently the only Western that Chistopher Lee ever appeared in.]
For no particular reason, a bandito and his army arrive while our heroes are at this idyllic location. Bailey, Lee’s character does not want to do business with the group and a confrontation takes place. This allows Culp and Lee to show off some western action skills and it gives Welch an initiation into the process of killing a man with her own hands. Prices instructions will echo back to her in the climax of the film. Another character is introduced as well, a silent apparent competitor to Price, who also needs some gun work and appears to be more intimidating to the gunsmith than the band of outlaws.
While Hannie and Price are getting ready in Mexico. the Clemens brothers are having their own travails. The three characters play like a sick version of the three Stooges. Borgnine is Emmett, the Moe like older brother with a seething temper and what little brains there are between the three of them.
Jack Elam is Frank, the middle brother who delights in abusing the needy youngest, Rufus, played by our subject of this blog, Strother “Jay” Martin. In a failed stage robbery, Frank gets shot in the leg and the three bicker about who is at fault and whether or not their deceased father would allow the two older siblings to disabuse Rufus so mercilessly. They also continue to run from the law and seek opportunities to steal from whoever.
Eventually the brothers ride into the same town as Price and Hannie, there is an incident that ends up leaving Hannie on her own and she proceeds to run through the revenge plot with a vengeance [tautology intended.]. Frank gets his with his pants down and that leaves Emmett infuriated. As he and Rufus are burying their brother, the following dialogue takes place:
Rufus Clements: I stole a Bible, Em. Do you want to read over Frank?
Emmett Clements: You know damn right well I can’t read! The hell with him anyway!
Rufus Clements: You shouldn’t have done that, Em. You’re gonna get God mad at us and he’s liable to…
Emmett Clements: Shut your damn mouth!
Rufus Clements: Well, I want to say something over Frank!
Emmett Clements: Well, say it and get it the hell over with!
Rufus Clements: All right… Frank… you’re dead! God… damn if I don’t miss you already, you miserable bastard!
The film is a pretty serious drama but you can see that there are strong comic elements being added here to make being in the presence of these horrible men more tolerable. Strother specialized in these ineffectual men who have power or the illusion of power but are really weak in the end. His twangy voice and whiny tone tell us that he is a frustrated man. He and Ernest Borgnine starred in “The Wild Bunch” just a couple of years before. They had no scenes together in that movie except for the gunfight at the beginning. Strother’s character in that movie is only slightly less comic but definitely equally degenerate. Borgnine is the one who has to reverses the kind of character he is playing. He is still a hard guy, but not an effective one as Emmett Clemen.
There is a great shot earlier in the film which is shown from Rufus’s point of view. When the brothers are holding up the bank at the start of the movie, we see the perspective from inside of the barrels of the shotgun that Rufus carries.
The director of this movie was Burt Kennedy, a veteran of Westerns in movies and television. He directed the comedy Westerns “Support Your Local Sheriff” and “Support Your Local Gunfighter” with James Garner as the lead. So he knew how to get the humor into a story but he was also a stylish film maker who brought something extra to the movies he was in charge of. He almost certainly contributed these odd comic moments to the script which had several others credited as well.
As Hannie starts to take her revenge on the brothers, there are moments from the past that come back to haunt her. The voice of her mentor reminds her where to look during a gunfight and how to be certain that the man she is shooting is dead. She also engages in some repartee with her victims, again with the comic in mind.
Rufus Clements: Just drop the damn bottle.
Hannie Caulder: with her back turned to Rufus. Hello Rufus.
Rufus Clements: I heard you got real smart since we saw you last.
Hannie Caulder: Funny, I didn’t hear the same thing about you.
I doubt that it is much of a spoiler to say that Hannie gets her revenge in the end. A story like this would be most unsatisfying if there was no catharsis. Raquel Welch may never be seen as the consummate quick draw artist, but she looks great slinging her gun and standing in the tight pants and poncho that she sports for most of the running time of the film.
One of the odd things about the movie is that it has a feminist sensibility while all the while exploiting the sexual elements of the leading lady. There is a gratuitous scene that does a little titillating and is not essential to the plot, but because there is no actual nudity, the audience has to be given something to satisfy their voyeuristic desires. When Price and Hannie first get to town, he grabs a pair of pants for her at the local emporium. They are much too large, but as children of the 60s knew, before pre-shrunk jeans were a thing, nothing helped the fit as much as soaking in the bath to let your trousers fit you. So here is that moment from this film.
You may all thank me now.
This is a solid movie with a traditional revenge theme, but it inserts a woman in the role of avenging angel and it takes place in the old west. If you like this idea and this movie, let me recommend “The Quick and the Dead” to you. That Sharon Stone western is actually a better film, but it does not have Strother Martin, Jack Elam and Ernest Borgnine. Instead it features Gene Hackman, Russel Crowe and a supporting cast of equally vile criminals. They had a lot they were trying to make up for.