Sunday, October 04, 2009

Claudia Jennings Weekend Blog-A-Thon

In support of Temple of Schlock's Claudia Jennings Weekend Blog-a-Thon, I thought I would mention a handful of films in which I admired her.

A quick note if you're unfamiliar with the actress. Claudia Jennings was born Mary Ellen Chesterton in 1959 and became a Playboy Playmate at the age of 19. She soon was named 1970's Playmate of the Year and made the jump to Hollywood, where she starred in a good number of sex-and-violence drive-in pictures during the 1970s. As appealing an actress as she was, like Pam Grier, Roberta Collins, and many others I could mention, she never really got out of exploitation pictures. And didn't get a full opportunity to do so, as she died in a car crash in Malibu, California in 1979. Claudia was only 29 years old.

I've earlier posted about MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS and THE UNHOLY ROLLERS on Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, but if I had to pick one Claudia Jennings picture that showed her at her best, it would probably be 1976's THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE.

It's not Jennings' best picture nor my favorite of hers, but THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE does give her one of her biggest roles. It's a women-on-the-run pic that predates the similar THELMA & LOUISE, but, as good as Claudia is, she's overshadowed by her co-star Jocelyn Jones, who has a juicier role to run with.

Just as soon as Candy (Jennings) busts out of prison, she's back at the lawbreakin' game, using the explosives experience she picked up on the joint's road construction crew to rob banks using dynamite as a weapon. On her first gig, she runs into an unexpected ally: Ellie-Jo (Jones), who's just been fired from her bank teller job for being late and enthusiastically aids Candy in collecting the cash.

With no plans and no one else to turn to, the young women decide to team up as "dynamite women," traveling around Texas in a Rolls Royce knocking over small town banks. Former RIFLEMAN costar Johnny Crawford (Top 40 fans might remember his hit, "Cindy's Birthday") plays Slim, a hostage who becomes a partner and Ellie-Jo's lover.

Although released by Roger Corman's New World Pictures (and re-released by the studio as DYNAMITE WOMEN), TEXAS seems to lack a certain energy that characterizes most of that studio's output. Both Jennings and Jones deliver fine performances. We learn little about Claudia's character, knowing only that she has a family and served time in prison for some unknown offense. Unfortunately, her character doesn't progress much from there. As befitting a former Playboy Playmate, though, the raven-haired actress spends much screen time unclothed, asserting her sexuality as she wills.

Director Michael Pressman, whose later career hasn't amounted to any better than journeyman status (THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING, anyone?), stages a few car chases and shootouts, but not spectacularly so, and while TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE certainly lives up to that part of its title, I wouldn't call it "great." Despite the fine form of star Claudia Jennings, perhaps THE MILDLY DIVERTING TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE is more applicable.


Amanda By Night said...

Great Texas Dynamite Chase is choice. It's my boyfriend's favorite Claudia movie. Mine is Unholy Rollers. Holy Schmolie, she's hot in it!

Rich D said...

Born in 1959 and then 1970's Playmate of the Year?!

Can someone check my math? ;)

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