Monday, May 25, 2015

Out On Bail

Robert Ginty (THE EXTERMINATOR) stars as John Dee, a drifter (or is he?) who arrives in a rural Tennessee town via freight train and immediately runs into trouble with the local cops Rambo-style. The corrupt sheriff, Taggart, is played by a bad actor named Tom Badal, who seems to have gotten the part only because A) he co-wrote the movie and B) he physically resembles actor Jack Starrett, who played the brutal deputy who tortured Rambo in FIRST BLOOD.

Taggart and the equally corrupt mayor (Russ Meyer regular Stuart Lancaster, masquerading as “Leo Sparrowhawk”) are operating a narcotics ring and frame Dee for a mass murder at the local diner. Temporarily finding refuge at a motel run by single mom Sally Anne (Kathy Shower, 1986’s Playmate of the Year), Dee quickly learns the only way out of his fix is to expose the crooked government.

Although OUT ON BAIL feels a little flabby in its second act, the chases and stunts that bookend the movie are handled well enough by veteran director Gordon Hessler (SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN) and second unit director Neal Sundstrom (HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH) to make this little Trans World Entertainment release worth a watch.

For those who don’t mind a few unintended laughs, it’s fun to giggle at the off-the-wall portrayal of rural Tennessee by the producers and crew in South Africa, where OUT ON BAIL was filmed — an ersatz handprinted “Tennesse” license plate being just one example. Ginty handles himself fine, as usual, while Shower does little but pine and pose topless. Sydney Lassick (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST) is a reliably weird public defender. But not as weird as Hessler's half-ass attempt to convince us John Dee is some kind of avenging spirit from beyond.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Outfit

The underrated action director John Flynn (ROLLING THUNDER) adapted Donald E. Westlake’s 1963 novel THE OUTFIT for MGM, changing the protagonist’s name from Parker to Earl Macklin in the process.

The screenplay is refreshingly free of excess baggage, outside of Karen Black’s superfluous turn as Macklin’s woman, and Flynn turns it into a lean, tough crime drama jammed with punchy dialogue, quick violence, and a wry sense of humor. Robert Duvall (a year after THE GODFATHER) and WALKING TALL’s Joe Don Baker are an efficient team that harkens back to the day when badasses could make a stronger statement with a .38 than later wannabe-tough guys could with an armory of automatic weapons.

Macklin (Duvall) is a bank robber just out of the joint who quickly learns “the Outfit” has gunned down his brother and partner in a heist. One of the gunmen (Felice Orlandi, playing a guy named Orlandi) tries to nail Earl too, but fails, earning a glass bottle smashed across his face.

Orlandi tells Earl the hits have been ordered by mobster Mailer (Robert Ryan, who died of cancer the year THE OUTFIT came out) in retaliation for the Macklin brothers knocking off a bank filled with Outfit money. Earl decides to go on offense, picking up Jack Cody (Baker), the third partner in the heist, and busting up Outfit money drops all over California until Mailer ponies up a hefty ransom.

In addition to crafting a nifty noir scenario and directing tautly (with strong help from action coordinator Ronnie Rondell), Flynn assembled a remarkable supporting cast that deserves its own paragraph: Richard Jaeckel (THE DIRTY DOZEN), Sheree North (CHARLEY VARRICK), Timothy Carey, Bill McKinney, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr., Jane Greer, Joanna Cassidy, Henry Jones, Tony Young, Roy Jenson, Tom Reese, Jeannine Riley, and boxer Archie Moore.

Not having read Westlake’s novel (written under his regular pseudonym of Richard Stark), I can’t say how many clever little touches are original to the film. I love the matter-of-fact manner in which these underworld figures relate, because dishing out death is just a job of work to them. Hence, Duvall acquiescing to Orlandi’s request for a hankerchief for his bloody face and Jenson’s request to be belted on the left side of his head because of a bad right ear. Macklin’s mission is nothing personal. Until he reaches Mailer, that is.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Enforcer From Death Row

“Have fun and stay sober,” says the boss man to his agent tasked with saving the world from deadly terrorists. There’s no mistaking the author of dialogue that loony. It’s Leo Fong in one of the earliest Fongsploitation classics, and THE ENFORCER FROM DEATH ROW finds Leo at his Fongiest.

And right from the opening titles (they play over stock shots of San Francisco, even though the movie is set in Manila) too, which not only includes a funky blaxsploitation theme song for Leo (“He was a helluva birdman/And he’s the leader of the birds”), but also an awkwardly spliced title card in a totally different font crediting “special guest star” Cameron Mitchell, who may or may not appear in the film, depending on which version you’ll lucky enough to experience.

Yes, not see, but experience. One can not merely watch Fongsploitation. One must live it. This Fongian journey finds Fong in the role of T.L. Young, on death row for a murder he didn’t commit.

The World Organization of Peace (the WOP moniker displays prominently in the boardroom) fakes Young's death in the gas chamber and rushes him to Arizona (represented by a hilariously unofficial-looking office set) to lay out his mission. Namely, to prevent an organization calling itself Nomad from killing everyone in the Philippines with a bacteria (“stolen from Baltimore, Maryland”) unless WOP pays it $45 million. Paying T.L. (“How much money, and who do I kill?”) $100,000 to stop the plot is a real bargain.

The movie so fantastic it needed two men to direct it, ENFORCER FROM DEATH ROW came out the same year as director Efren C. Pinon’s hilarious blind-bank-robber flick BLIND RAGE (which features a pointless cameo by Fred Williamson as his Jesse Crowder character). It seems likely that credited co-director Marshall M. Borden came aboard only to shoot Cameron Mitchell’s late-in-the-game cameo.

Judging from Pinon’s other films, blame him for the obvious continuity errors (watch Fong’s mustache come and go), repeating scenes, and cartoonish “Danger Acid” set dressing. Let’s give the rest of the responsibility to the Kentucky-accented Fong for being as incompetent reciting a screenplay as he is writing one.