Monday, May 03, 2010

Double Dose Of Greydon Clark

Greydon Clark was an indistinguished if prolific filmmaker who hit his peak during the late 1970s and early 1980s with drive-in features like BLACK SHAMPOO, starring John Daniels as a womanizing hairdresser, and WITHOUT WARNING, a science fiction monster movie with an all-star B cast (Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Ralph Meeker, etc.) that probably influenced PREDATOR. Clark began his film career as an actor in Al Adamson movies (HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS) and moved up to writing and directing. VCI Entertainment celebrates his career with a new extras-laden DVD called GREYDON CLARK DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE that teams two of the director's '70s classics.

The better of the two films is THE BAD BUNCH, which was filmed in late 1972 and released in 1973. In this Mardi Rustam (EATEN ALIVE) production, which was also seen in theaters as TOM, THE BROTHERS, and NIGGER LOVER (also the title of its striking theme song, director/co-writer/star Clark walks a tightrope between social commentary and lurid blaxploitation.

THE BAD BUNCH was set and shot in Los Angeles, pretty much all on location (only two sets were built). Most of the performances aren’t anything close to polished, but Clark coaxes convincing acting from his supporting cast, and veteran character actors Jock Mahoney (TV's Range Rider and Yancy Derringer) and Aldo Ray (THE NAKED AND THE DEAD) are compelling as nasty racist cops. Jacqueline Cole, Clark’s wife, is appealing as his girlfriend, and sexploitation mainstay Bambi Allen, whose silicone breast enhancements would kill her the year after shooting this film, brightens up the sordid atmosphere with a pair of topless scenes.

Clark and Alvin L. Fast’s ragged screenplay casts the director as Vietnam vet Jim (Cole accidentally calls him “Tim” a couple of times), who tries to deliver a letter to the family of a black friend killed in combat, but comes into conflict with his buddy’s militant brother Makimba (Tom Johnigarn). Clark punctuates his grim ending with a quote by Dr. King lamenting tension between races. Also with Pamela Corbett, Fred Scott, Carl Craig, cheesy romantic montages, and a score by ‘60s garage rocker Ed Cobb (“Dirty Water”).

Shot in two weeks for $15,000, THE BAD BUNCH is crude but surprisingly affecting filmmaking. Clark and Johnigarn, who didn't have a lot of experience in front of the camera, are appealing leads in this downbeat, hard-hitting Nixon-era melodrama. Clark puts the movie into its proper context with an informative audio commentary on the VCI disc.

The other film is HI-RIDERS, filmed in 1977 and released by Dimension Pictures in 1978. Car nuts and action fans might have a good time with this breezy chase film shot in Southern California.

Good-time boy Mark (Darby Hinton, a child star in DANIEL BOONE who later played leads for Andy Sidaris) and his girlfriend (stuntwoman Diane Peterson) challenge Billy (Roger Hampton), a big dumb cheating palooka and member of the Hi-Riders car club, to a drag race. Billy loses and refuses to pay, even after losing a second race in front of witnesses, but Hi-Riders leader T.J. (William J. Beaudine) befriends Mark and invites the couple to drink with them at a local watering hole owned by sardonic Red (Neville Brand).

Clark’s screenplay is light on plot, but suffice to say that it involves a lot of drinking, partying, driving, and racing. After Billy and the son of the community’s richest man are killed in a race (while driving into a roadside storage shed marked “GASOLINE NO SMOKING”), the boy’s father, Mr. Lewis (Stephen McNally), puts out a contract on the Hi-Riders, offering $50,000 for their deaths.

Since every redneck with a pickup truck and a shotgun within 25 miles joins the posse, you wouldn’t think the $4000 apiece they’ll earn for committing a dozen murders would be worth the effort, but Mark, T.J., and their galpals spend the remainder of the running time dodging bullets and bashing bumpers.

HI-RIDERS is unfocused and sometimes dull with a story that doesn't always make sense (the young leads take a break from running for their lives to make out by a watering hole), but the chases and stunts are effective. In fact, stunt coordinator Vic Rivers was killed performing a car jump, and the film is dedicated to him. The jump, which went awry when the ramp collapsed, is in the movie and indeed looks spectacular.

Mel Ferrer gets top billing as a local sheriff, and Ralph Meeker plays his deputy. Dean Cundey, later to shoot the BACK TO THE FUTURE films and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, was the cinematographer. Clark returns for another audio commentary, as well as an on-camera interview. HI-RIDERS fans will delight in another on-camera interview with stars Hinton and Peterson, who have fun dishing about the movie.

1 comment:

elgringo said...

Hey Marty,
I'm hosting the My Best Post blog-a-thon.
It goes from May 21st-23rd. Want to be a part of it?
It's pretty easy. You've already written your entry.
Just send me a link to your best/favorite/underrated blog post! Thanks!