Saturday, May 28, 2011

You Can't Buy A Ticket To See This Movie

Swedish director Gunnar Hellstrom’s American work was almost entirely in episodic television, helming network westerns (GUNSMOKE) and cop shows (THE FBI). His lone big-screen venture was an unusual thriller produced by Joe Solomon (THE LOSERS) and distributed in 1968 by his Fanfare Films (AIP also released it in various territories).

Seen on local television as THE FEMALE TRAP, THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL! boasts a very good Stu Phillips (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) score and sharp Vilmos Zsigmond (THE DEER HUNTER) photography. The screenplay by Gary Crutcher (STANLEY) is damned unusual and structured like a mystery. It offers juicy roles for its five leading characters with strong dialogue and a helluva twist that will unfortunately not surprise anyone who’s seen HEAD. Unfortunately, it opened the day after RFK’s assassination, and a movie called THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL! didn’t have a chance.

Jack Lord, just before beginning his twelve-season run on HAWAII FIVE-0, plays Symcha, a Hungarian immigrant wandering across the Arizona desert on foot. He’s picked up by the lovely Mickey Terry (THE TRIP's Susan Strasberg), who brings him back to the isolated gas station she operates with her sisters Diz (TV mainstay Collin Wilcox) and Nan (Tisha Sterling, COOGAN'S BLUFF) and their mother. Mr. Terry was apparently an abusive husband who was killed when the girls were children, but no one can keep their stories straight when explaining the incident. It’s pretty clear that the whole damn family is whacko, but Sym falls for Mickey, leading to jealousy, lust, and the revelation of some pretty messed-up Terry secrets.

Never available on VHS or DVD, THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL! has been difficult to see for decades, but if you get the chance to see it, do. It’s fairly talky and bloodless for what has been billed as a horror movie, but it makes up for its lack of action with its characterizations and performances by stars who rarely had material this odd in Hollywood. Sterling’s sizzling dance to the Electric Prunes’ “Shadows” is a highlight.

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