Tag Archives: Joe Don Baker

Checkered Flag or Crash (1977)

checkered flag 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drivers race off-road.

Walkaway Madden (Joe Don Baker) is a lifelong racer who has just broken up with his racing partner of many years and is now going solo, or at least he thinks he is until reporter C.C. Wainwright (Susan Sarandon) arrives and tells him that the company who sponsors his car has hired her to cover the race for their newspaper and thus she’ll be riding along with him. Walkaway isn’t too happy about this as he has very old-fashioned, sexist ideas about a ‘woman’s place’, but begrudgingly accepts it as he has no other choice. Together the two take part in a grueling off-road race that is organized by Bo Cochran (Larry Hagman) and takes them through some of the most treacherous terrain of the Philippines.

The movie might’ve been more exciting had the racing footage been better captured. Instead we get treated to choppy shots of random car wipeouts and flashing, poorly focused images of vehicles buzzing through various locales while shown in a grainy film stock. The editing is so quick that it’s hard to follow what is going on and the only time it is ever impressive is when the camera gets tied to the front of the vehicle and we see firsthand just how bumpy and fast a ride like that must be, but this shot unfortunately is only brief.

There is little or no backstory to any of the racers and therefore no emotionally compelling reason to cheer for any of them. There is also too many of them and all are generic, transparent characters, so when you see someone wipeout it’s hard to remember which one it is, or even care. I did kind of like Daina House as a woman with beautiful model-like features who dresses in all black and just as tough as any of the guys, but her character isn’t shown or played-up enough.

The best thing about the film is the presence of Sarandon who lends a necessary grounded anchor to the silliness that surrounds her. Hagman is terrific as the hyper race promoter and every scene he is in is far more entertaining than any of the racing footage. Baker isn’t bad either. He certainly isn’t any A-list actor, but a very competent B one, who seems at ease in both comedy and action parts.

The film shifts clumsily between being silly and gritty and would’ve done better had it stuck to a more consistent tone. It’s also cheap and amateurish with a terrible, country tinged title tune that gets played throughout. The only reason it gets 2 points is simply for the performances of its three leads.

checkered flag 1

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Gibson

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

Adam at 6 A.M. (1970)

adam at 6am

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He searches for direction.

Adam Gaines (Michael Douglas) is a Professor of Semantics at a local California college and although his future looks bright and stable he can’t help but feel ‘processed’ and bored. When his aunt dies he travels to Missouri to attend her funeral and then on whim decides to stay there for the summer while working a rugged job clearing out a forest in order to install power lines. He also meets and falls in love with the attractive Jeri Jo (Lee Purcell), but then just as things seem to becoming together he suddenly gets the itch to leave and start a new adventure somewhere else.

This is the type of character study that they just don’t seem to make anymore, which is creating characters that are not satisfied with society’s ‘perks’ and still feeling the need to go off and find themselves, which films of that era emphasized as being more important. Filmed on-location in Cameron and Excelsior Springs, Missouri the Midwest gets captured in authentic detail. The population is portrayed as being conservative and limited, but not hick or stupid. The film also has a lot of quiet moments with no dialogue, which helps recreate the heartland’s slower and more neighborly atmosphere.

Purcell, in her film debut, is outstanding as a typical small-town girl with just enough sexiness and flirtation to be alluring, but ultimately unable to break away from her local roots and share Adam’s more expansive worldly views. Louise Latham as her conniving mother is also good as is Joe Don Baker as a field hand who befriends Adam despite having vastly different intellectual backgrounds. It’s also great seeing Meg Foster in film debut popping up early as one of Adam’s girlfriends and sporting not only her incredibly exotic pair of eyes, but her topless body as well.

Adam’s conversation with Grayson Hall’s character during the funeral where she tries to mask her inability to understand the word ‘semantics’ is amusing and I also enjoyed his ‘debate’ with Dana Elcar’s character in regards to Blow Up and the other ‘filthy’ movies of the modern generation. The scene where the laborers go to a bar and pick-up some ‘hot chicks’ is fun as well, but the film’s best moment comes at the end when a routine trip to a convenience store to pick up some ice cream becomes unexpectedly captivating and climaxes with a memorable final shot.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Robert Scheerer

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS

Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1971)

welcome home soldier boys

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: War veterans destroy town.

Four Green Berets (Joe Don Baker, Allan Vint, Elliot Street, Paul Koslo) return home from a stint in Vietnam. Initially they stop off at the home of one of the men’s parents, but find that none of them are ready to settle down, get a job, and play ‘within-the-rules’, so they set out on a cross country road trip, but when their car breaks down they end up paying more than they should for the repairs by an unscrupulous mechanic (Timothy Scott). This along with dealing with a society that does not seem to appreciate what they did for their country gets them angry. When they arrive in a small town ironically called Hope their simmering frustrations boil over. Using their army ammunition they go on a rampage destroying the town and everyone in it causing the National Guard to come in to try and stop them and creating for them a war zone all over again.

For a low budget 70’s flick this isn’t too bad. Richard Compton’s direction is slick, nicely photographed and paced well enough to retain a passing interest. The music, which features songs written and sung by actress/singer Ronee Blakely is okay and to a degree fits the mood. The script by Gordon Trueblood has believable dialogue and doesn’t seem intent on being purely exploitive.

Unfortunately the film fails to show much insight into the personality or experience of being a veteran. No flashbacks or discussions about it. In many ways these characters could simply have been regular, non-descript young men from any background who were not yet ready to enter into the adult world and take on adult responsibilities, which in the end is what makes this whole thing rather generic and its ‘statement’ more self-important than it really is.

Baker does quite well in the lead and although he sometimes gets a bad rap for his acting I’ve come to feel that it is unfair. The way his character here is so diametrically opposite from the one that he played in Walking Tall just two years later proves without a doubt that he is a talented thespian if given the right material.

Jennifer Billingsley though is wasted in a thankless role as a prostitute who rides with them for a little ways before getting thrown out of the vehicle at high speeds. Leonard Maltin incorrectly states in his book that her character is gang raped, which isn’t too true. She has consensual sex with one of the men, but then gets kicked out when she demands $500 for her services instead of $100 that they were willing to pay her.

The violent, climatic ending is the film’s most notorious claim to fame, but it takes too long to get there, lasts for only a couple of minutes and then ends too abruptly. It’s also absurd and outrageous to believe that these men would end up killing innocent people simply as a way to vent their anger at being cheated by a car mechanic. After all if everyone responded the same way when a car mechanic overcharged them then there would be no small towns left anywhere.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Compton

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives)

Leonard Part 6 (1987)

leonard part 6

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: One really bad movie.

Leonard Parker (Bill Cosby) is a former CIA agent who is now retired and running a restaurant in San Francisco while trying to reconcile things with his wife (Pat Colbert) and  keeping his college-aged daughter (Victoria Rowell) from marrying a man in his 60’s (Moses Gunn). Unfortunately for him a crazed vegetarian by the name of Medussa Johnson (Gloria Foster) has managed to somehow brainwash all the animals to kill people and Leonard is appointed the only person able to stop it. He is reluctant at first, but with the help of his ever supportive butler Frayn (Tom Courtenay) he puts on his action suit for one last adventure at saving the world.

The film, which was written by Cosby, starts out okay enough with a funny bit dealing with a shootout inside the kitchen of a busy restaurant, but then quickly devolves. Part of the problem is an over emphasis on Leonard’s boring domestic life and attempts at winning back his wife, which makes the whole thing seem like two movies in one. In fact the first 35 minutes are spent with Leonard acting very much like a Cliff Huxtable while arguing with his rebellious daughter about her lifestyle choices before it even gets into the spy/action part. When it finally does get into the adventure segment it becomes weird, surreal and confusing with some of the most pathetic attempts at special effects you’ll ever see.

The film also offers no backstory for how the Medussa character was able to ‘brainwash’ the animals even though one was sorely needed. Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is generic and is pretty much made up of bits and pieces of other famous scores from other films or shows including the theme from the 80’s medical TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. As for the spy spoofing aspect the film fails to be funny at all and comes off like no one involved in this ever actually watched a spy film to really know what they were trying to make fun of.

The weakest link is Cosby who gives a terrible performance that shows none of his charisma that he has brought to his other projects. He appears uncomfortable and completely upstaged by his supporting cast including even that of Joe Don Baker. Foster is great as the campy villain and it’s just too bad that her efforts had to be wasted in such a bad film. Courtenay is amusing in support, but his talents deserve better material. Jane Fonda is fun in a brief bit playing herself in a send-up of her 80’s exercise videos.

Director Paul Weiland shows some potential with a wacky, stylish design, but was unfortunately too intimidated to give Cosby any real direction and simply allowed the project to become an embarrassing self-indulgent ego tangent on the part of the star. Unless you’re in the mood for a really bad movie night I would suggest staying away from this one as there are hurricanes and tornadoes that are less disastrous than this.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Weiland

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Wacko (1982)

wacko

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spoof of horror movies.

On Halloween night the infamous pumpkin head lawnmower killer murders Mary’s (Julia Duffy) older sister. Now, 13 years later, the killer has returned and this time he has his sights set on Mary, but who could he be? Is it her surgeon father (George Kennedy) who tries any chance he can to catch his own daughter disrobing, or maybe it’s her boyfriend Norman (Scott McGinnis) who makes lawnmower sounds every time he is aroused. Either way dogged detective Dick Harbinger (Joe Don Baker) is hot on the trail determined to end the mystery that has been haunting him and the town ever since it began.

This is one of several horror spoofs that came out around the same time and although it is far from excellent it still manages to rise above the rest. The main reason is Baker who’s overacting and mugging is perfect for the part. Just watching him roll out of bed and get ready for the day is a hoot. His funniest moments though are during the flashback sequence where he is seen wearing a dress while being tied up during bondage. The part where he arrives at Mary’s parent’s house to give them the sad news of their daughter’s death while dressed as a clown and then afterwards in an attempt to ‘lift their spirits’ makes a balloon dog for them is absolutely hilarious.

Stella Stevens, sporting a brunette wig and playing Mary’s mother has some amusing moments as well particularly when she recreates an obscene phone call for her daughter as well as when she and Kennedy sniff some laughing gas. Andrew Clay, who’s billed here without the ‘Dice’ is engaging in his film debut as a Fonzie-type high school student and his conversation at the dinner table of his girlfriend’s parents is good.

The segment involving a parody of Psycho with Norman Bates’ skeletal mother being used as a ventriloquist dummy was goofy enough to elicit a few chuckles, but overall there are more misses than hits. The production values are sloppy and the film, particularly during a car chase segment, veers too much into the cartoonish and nonsensical. They could’ve also had a more original soundtrack than simply playing or having a character hum the Alfred Hitchcock TV-show theme, which isn’t all that clever.

Some of the most successful horror parodies like Scream and Shaun of the Dead are ones that manage to have an interesting story of their own as well as a nice amount of gore and scares, but here there is no special effects or horror to speak of and the limp plot makes this whole thing seem more like one long, unending gag reel than a movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Greydon Clark

Studio: Jensen Farley Pictures

Available: VHS

The Pack (1977)

the pack 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dogs on the prowl.

Jerry (Joe Don Baker) moves to idyllic Seal Island with his new wife Millie (Hope Alexander-Willis) and their two sons. They meet vacationers Jim and Marge (Richard O’Brien, Bibi Besch) and their grown son Tommy (Paul Wilson) as well as island locals Hardiman (Richard B. Shull) and Cobb (R. G. Armstrong). As the days progress Jerry becomes aware of wild dogs roaming the island that are led by a particularly vicious mongrel. These dogs become more aggressive as they have already attacked other humans and have now acquired a taste for them. The eclectic bunch becomes trapped in a home surrounded by 15 hungry dogs while forced to use their cunning and wits to outsmart the animals and make it to freedom.

The film has an interesting even novel idea of turning man’s best friend into a villain and is quite similar to Dogs, which came out at the same time and will be reviewed next week. Unfortunately the structure runs along the predictable mechanical formula of a conventional horror film using the same type of scares and shocks that are not all that imaginative.  Although shot on-location in Bodega Bay, California it looks more like a cheap studio back lot that lacks any type of visual flair. In a lot of ways it comes off like a TV-Movie and whenever there is any gore it will cut away and not show it giving it very tame, trite and dated feeling.

The characters are dull and generic and a few more interesting personalities or dramatic side-stories could have helped. The film also takes a very old fashioned viewpoint on women as they are portrayed as being helpless and incapable of handling things on their own and in desperate need of the big, burly man to come in, take control and save the day.

I thought it was amusing that Baker was cast in the lead as his face has always reminded me of a bulldog. I don’t consider him to be all that bad of an actor, but there are other male leads that could have worked better. The female cast members are completely wasted and seem put in only to sit around with a frightened looks while the men do all the action.

The dogs themselves aren’t too bad. The pack leader is made to look like he is demonic, which is a little overdone, but still effective.  A fight scene between two of the dogs is well done and intense. I also liked the climatic finish in which Baker goes face-to-face with the lead animal with only some box springs between them. However, the basic concept seems dubious and these were all pets apparently abandoned by their owners only a few weeks earlier and it seemed hard to believe that they would have turned this wild and aggressive so quickly. Most stray dogs that have been previously socialized by humans can usually be taken back into captivity relatively easily while feral dogs remain frightened of humans, but in either case rarely go on the organized attack like they do here especially when they don’t have rabies and are mostly non-aggressive breeds.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: The Long Dark Night

Released: November 20, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Clouse

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive)