Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Nice Place To Visit

Laurence Harvey, the Lithuanian-born and South African-raised actor best known for starring in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, was already dead from stomach cancer by the time his final film as an actor, executive producer, and director came out.

Warner Brothers didn’t much know what to do with WELCOME TO ARROW BEACH, and it later played in drive-ins in a much shorter version under the blunter title TENDER FLESH. I saw the so-called “uncut” Warners version with a Brut Productions logo and the original title. Scenes appear to be missing though and were reportedly dropped by Warners in the test-screening phase.

Hitchhiker Robbin (Meg Foster) is chilling on a California beach when kindly Korean War vet Jason (Harvey) invites her to spend the night with him and his sister/lover Grace (Joanna Pettet, who had recently co-starred with Harvey in a famous NIGHT GALLERY segment). Investigating a banging noise in the cellar, Robbin discovers Jason chopping up a human corpse and eating it! At least, I think so; the editing is pretty choppy here. Robbin runs to sheriff John Ireland (THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) and deputy Stuart Whitman (RUBY). Neither believes her story, but Robbin swears to play Nancy Drew and get to the bottom of things.

Harvey’s movie, written mainly by THE SILENT SCREAM’s Wallace C. Bennett, is certainly an odd duck, but not really good. It putts along slowly and feels padded with scenes that don’t go anywhere. Certainly the car chase that opens the movie is extraneous. Not much of an attempt is made to explain Jason’s cannibalism, or if there was, the footage was dropped. A brief flashback of Jason surviving a plane crash may indicate that he ate his comrades to survive. Or it may not.

The movie has several very good individual moments that demonstrate Harvey’s affection for actors. His scenes with a washed-up hooker (an excellent Gloria LeRoy) are played for pathos, Whitman’s snappy interrogation of Foster works terrifically, and Ireland being interviewed by a left-wing newspaper is humorous. Lou Rawls’ soulful theme song and Tony Camillo’s incongruous score add to the picture’s eccentric nature.

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