The Hoax (1972)

hoax2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-word Review: Hiding H-bomb for ransom.

Cy (Bill Ewing) and Clete (Frank Bonner) are two friends who enjoy scuba diving. One day while at the beach they come upon a missing H-bomb hidden in some shallow water. Cy comes up with the idea of holding it for ransom by sending a letter to the press stating that they have the bomb, which has been reported missing by the military, and will detonate it unless each citizen of Los Angeles sends them one dollar to a specific bank account that they’ve opened in Switzerland. Things go smoothly at first until the police chief (Jacques Aubuchon) figures out who they are and begins tracking them down.

The only reasons that this film is worth catching is to see Frank Bonner, who later became famous for playing Herb Tarlek in the TV-show ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’, in an early role. In WKRP he played a character who wore loud suits and was obnoxious, but here that’s what his buddy does while he is more like a geek. Seeing him play an opposite type of character is amusing, but besides that there’s not much else that’s interesting.

For one thing the viewer should’ve actually seen the bomb, which we never do. We see its sharp metal edge that sticks up above the waterline, but not the bomb itself and since movies are a visual medium it’s important to use that as much as possible. The two also never remove the bomb from where they find it, which seemed dumb because anyone else could come along and take it away and then their scheme would be ruined. It made more sense to move it to a place where it could be hidden and this then would open the door for a lot of comical antics dealing with their difficulties carrying it around and keeping it undercover, but the film doesn’t take this route and becomes quite stagnant in the process.

The two friends share no comical banter either and are also in too much agreement, so there’s never any underlying tension. Sometimes onscreen realtionships/friendships are more compelling when there’s discord. It also seemed odd why they even felt the need to hatch such a scheme in the first place as both were doing okay financially. Cy was living with his girlfriend (Sharon DeBord), who had money, in a nice pad on the beach while Clete had a good job. In order for these otherwise law abiding citizens to suddenly go to criminal extremes there should’ve been a more desperate reason like having them homeless, which would’ve garnered more sympathetic from the viewer instead of just being two doofuses doing something nutty on a lark.

Turning the cops into buffoonish clowns was a mistake too as the humor becomes forced and their ineptness offers no intrigue. The running joke involving a vagabond drunk gets ridiculous as he’s always inadvertently showings up wherever the two men are making it seem like he might’ve been an undercover cop, which would’ve made more sense, but instead his occasional appearances have no bearing to the story at all and just gets thrown in for cheap laughs.

The final five minutes do offer a few unexpected twists, but by then it’s too late. I felt the script had gotten written with the ending as the starting point since that was the only inspired part of the movie, but this just proves that having a novel finish will do you no good if everything that comes before it is a bore.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Anderson

Studio: All-Scope International

Available: None at this time.

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