Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Black Oak Conspiracy

Jesse Vint, the earthy star of the 1974 drive-in classic MACON COUNTY LINE, served as producer, writer, and star of BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY, which will seem familiar to anyone versed in the ‘70s phenomenon of rural revenge movies.

In the vein of MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS and FIGHTING MAD, BLACK OAK stars Vint as Jingo Johnson, a Hollywood stuntman who returns to his hometown after he receives word that his mother has fallen into ill health. Jingo comes home to find that the family farm is now in the hands of a large mining company owned by the father of his childhood rival (Robert F. Lyons), the same rich scumbag who’s now dating his ex-girlfriend Lucy (Karen Carlson). Turns out his mother’s illness is directly related to the farm’s mineral rights, forcing Jingo to turn to vigilante justice, since the local sheriff (Albert Salmi) may be involved.

The final theatrical film directed by Bob Kelljan, a solid action director whose above-average screen work includes the two COUNT YORGA movies, SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM, and the STARSKY & HUTCH episode that pitted the two cops against a vampire (?) played by John Saxon, BLACK OAK could have used more judicious editing and a few more action beats. Making Jingo a stuntman was a clever excuse to throw in an exploding car and a fire gag, but Vint’s screenplay is more of a suspense piece than a Burt Reynolds action romp.

Vint looks and feels right, and he has a seasoned supporting cast to back him up, but the film feels longer than 90 minutes. Either the material or the budget kept out another chase or two that could have made this one of the better Southern-fried action movies. It’s still worth a look, if only to be reminded of the kind of low-key action programmer that isn’t made often these days. Vint pulls the potato-in-the-tailpipe gag years before Eddie Murphy did, and there’s a surprisingly gory exploding head.

Produced independently by Vint and Tom and Gail Clark in the wake of MACON COUNTY LINE, BLACK OAK was picked up in 1977 for theatrical release by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. According to Vint, it played “all over the world.” It also aired on CBS, and considering the budget was just $300,000, BLACK OAK must have been a moneymaker for somebody.


Grant said...

I barely know MACON COUNTY LINE, but I've always liked Jesse Vint in BUG, and SILENT RUNNING (where he plays one of characters picking on poor Bruce Dern). And I'd watch almost anything with Albert Salmi, especially playing a sheriff who could be on either side of things (oddly enough, that sounds a little like his police chief in EMPIRE OF THE ANTS).

Marty McKee said...

And it's exactly like Salmi's sheriff in MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS.

I like Vint too. He's natural, low-key, and likable. Throws a good punch.