Monday, September 21, 2015

Vigilante Force

Gene Corman, brother of Roger, was also a prolific producer of drive-in fare that was often a little classier than Roger’s with budgets a little higher. VIGILANTE FORCE, written and directed by George Armitage, who came up through the ranks at Roger’s New World Pictures on films like PRIVATE DUTY NURSES and DARKTOWN STRUTTERS, is a good movie, very well paced with plentiful action sequences and a dose of bicentennial satire.

The stars of this United Artists release are Jan-Michael Vincent (WHITE LINE FEVER) and Kris Kristofferson (CONVOY), who play battling brothers. Widower Ben Arnold (Vincent) is a tractor salesman in a rural Southern California community that is overrun by rowdy oil riggers and the violence, drunkenness, disorder, gambling, and murder that comes with them. The cops are ineffectual, so the town enlists Ben to recruit his brother Aaron (Kristofferson), a Vietnam veteran, to keep the peace.

Aaron brings his war buddies, including Viner (Shelly Novack, just off THE FBI), Beal (HALLOWEEN sheriff Charles Cyphers), and Selden (THE HOT BOX’s Carmen Argenziano), back to his home town. And, sure, the crime rate goes down. Sort of. Until Aaron and his boys decide to take over the town for themselves and operate their own crime ring. Can pacifist Ben talk some sense into his brother? In an exploitation movie aimed at drive-ins? What do you think?

VIGILANTE FORCE, despite an original screenplay by Armitage, boasts the exact plot of BUCKTOWN, released the year before by AIP (though probably a dozen B-westerns precede both films). It’s a solid premise that gives both Vincent and Kristofferson plenty to play dramatically and physically. Armitage presents it with great precision (Ben is making the town’s offer to Aaron within the first ten minutes) and an offbeat sensibility. Not only does he take care to create memorable characters and a believable and ultimately tragic relationship between brothers Ben and Aaron, but the violent climax involves an army of bank robbers dressed in colorful high school band uniforms! The stunts and fights are expertly staged throughout, but VIGILANTE FORCE also excels in its sensitive moments, such as Kristofferson’s haunting murder of a sympathetic character — an act that seals Aaron’s dark fate.


Unknown said...

Great review, Marty! I need to get this blu-ray.

There was an excellent interview with George Armitage earlier this year on the Film Comment blog:

Armitage talks, in depth, about each of his films, including VIGILANTE FORCE. He also explains what went wrong with THE BIG BOUNCE and what he does in the multi-year breaks between films. It's also very interesting to read about DARKTOWN STRUTTER'S BALL and HOT ROD - two lost films that we'll be lucky to ever see on DVD or streaming.

Marty McKee said...

Armitage talks about a lot of that stuff in the very good Blu commentary, though DARKTOWN STRUTTERS and HOT ROD don't come up.