Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What If It Was Your Sister?

It was good to finally see an uncut letterboxed print of this R-rated 1976 United Artists film, which has never received a U.S. home video release. I had only seen TRACKDOWN on a battered TV print, which omits occasional profanity and approximately three minutes from two scenes of Karen Lamm being raped and battered (Lamm performs nudity in one). It's a better film than the censored version indicates, but still nothing special.

Big Jim Mitchum stars as Big Jim Calhoun, a Montana rancher who journeys to Los Angeles to find his teenage runaway sister Betsy (Karen Lamm, who was then married to Beach Boy Dennis Wilson). Mitchum didn’t have the charisma of his legendary father, but he sure looked and sounded a lot like Robert, and he could be used well in physical roles like this one. He’s certainly as notable a presence in TRACKDOWN as, say, Chuck Norris was in his earliest films.

Interestingly, director Richard T. Heffron (NEWMAN’S LAW) and writer Paul Edwards (HIGH BALLIN’), working from a story by BAD CHARLESTON CHARLIE’s Ivan Nagy, anticipate HARDCORE with its story of a morally straight man from the country navigating the sleaze of the big city to rescue an innocent teenage girl. HARDCORE is the better film, but TRACKDOWN is certainly an entertaining action-oriented version of the same story.

Betsy has it rough in Hollywood. A Latino street gang robs, kidnaps, rapes, drugs, and sells her into a stable of call girls owned by hood Johnny Dee (Vince Cannon). Classy madam Barbara (Anne Archer!) convinces the 17-year-old Betsy that prostitution is a blast, showering her with nice clothes and fancy parties with rock stars. Betsy almost buys it until one of Johnny’s pals gets rough with her on the job.

Meanwhile, Calhoun, getting nowhere with the cops, who can’t be bothered to look for one runaway blonde in a city teeming with them, crashes through the streets of Hollywood like an ox in a china shop. He eventually finds allies in sympathetic gangbanger Chucho (Erik Estrada!) and women’s shelter director Lynn (Cathy Lee Crosby!), who point which direction Calhoun should lay down the rough stuff.

The first half of TRACKDOWN moves a little slowly, while Heffron lays out the characters’ motivations, giving us a good look at the silky manner in which girls are lured into Dee’s sleazy operation. Once the relationships are clearly drawn, Heffron, a solid craftsman who moved freely between features (OUTLAW BLUES) and television (V: THE FINAL BATTLE), gets into the good stuff, staging a terrific shootout inside an elevator shaft and closing on a rousing desert chase. Crosby and Estrada are very good, though TRACKDOWN could have used a more formidable villain than Cannon.

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