blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Impulse (1974, William Grefé)

It’s an insult to hacks to describe Impulse director Grefé as such. There are very few directors with less sense of how to direct a movie (or anything) than Grefé. But then he’s simpatico with cinematographer Edmund Gibson at least in terms of skill. Grefé’s got terrible shots, Gibson shoots them terribly. But Gibson’s credited as Edwin, so apparently, at some point, he realized maybe he was impulsive working on Impulse.

Grefé kind of—and only because every other option is exhausted—but he reminds of a TV commercial director. Like, a seventies TV commercial director. He’s got way too much headroom, and he never does close-ups during the protracted expository scenes. Outside a handful of action sequences and field trips, it’s primarily people standing or sitting inside talking to one another. Impulse filmed in Tampa, Florida, but it’s supposed to be in a much smaller place. Maybe. Maybe Shatner just drove from one side of town to the other, looking for his next mark.

More on Shatner in a bit, I promise. But there aren’t any real exteriors. Either the producers couldn’t figure out how to get permits, couldn’t afford them but then also couldn’t just guerilla the shots. Impulse is artless low-budget filmmaking. If the whole thing was about getting Shatner to wear a bunch of silly, silly, silly seventies outfits—silly—to embarrass him later, it might make sense. Except in 1974, the producers wouldn’t have known Shatner can survive anything–even seventies Florida fashion.

So it doesn’t look anywhere near as good even a TV movie from the same period. Impulse is unpleasant to view. But it’s surprisingly well-edited. Editor Julio C. Chávez initially seems as unimpressive as everyone else involved, then there’s a long shot beach scene, and it’s ADR, but it’s not bad. And then there’s some sound work where it ends, kind of breaking the third wall. Like, someone’s not hearing a conversation, then the conversation directly addresses them, and they hear.

It’s wild. It’s not good; it’s bad, but it’s at least something different.

Then the last half hour, which has Shatner’s mentally unwell gigolo conman breaking down and attacking the entire supporting cast… the editing’s really good. The scenes are still crap—especially Gibson’s day-for-night, which is ghastly—but the cutting’s nice. So, kudos to Chávez.

Otherwise, there’s Ruth Roman.

Impulse is just degrees of bad performance and how close the needle gets to embarrassing. Shatner’s spins around the whole time occasionally slows down a little, but then reliably zooms. For terrible camp Shatner, Impulse delivers.

But Roman’s all right. She’s the local rich lady whose mansion gets the only establishing shot, and her best friend is young widow Jennifer Bishop. Bishop has a late tween daughter, Kim Nicholas, who cuts school to go moon over her father’s gravestone. She even projectile cries on it. She’s very sad.

So Bishop doesn’t date.

At least not until stud Shatner arrives. Of course, he neglects to tell everyone he first met Nicholas, giving her a ride to the graveyard one day. But don’t worry, Shatner’s got no further designs on Nicholas than killing her for being a tattle rat.

Nicholas is bad, Bishop’s bad. Harold Sakata—Odd Job from Goldfinger—cameos as Shatner’s former partner-in-crime who wants in on the take. He drives around an RV with a giant “Karate Pete” sign on it; like on the crime job. It’s silly.

Sakata just embarrasses himself. He’s at least having fun. Or what amounts to it in Impulse.

For the Shatner-inclined, Impulse is required viewing, like Portrait of the Artist at a Low Point. It’s also early-to-mid-seventies-low budget Shatner, so it’s hard to be too upset at the film. It’s always bad, it’s always strange, it’s always problematic. From the start—the flashback where young Shatner (Chad Walker, in his only credit) kills his mom’s violent john, defending them, but she resents him because women are awful. Only they won’t be later; they’ll do everything Shatner says; except Nicholas because kids are terrible. Anyway.

It’s poorly shot, but it’s also exceptionally mean to Walker.

Then the opening titles are actually incompetent. The title cards pause the action, but they’re not in line with the current action. They’re mini-flashbacks. It’s inane, in addition to incompetent. Another reason Chávez is an unexpected boon.

Impulse is awful. Of course, it’s awful. It exists just to be awful.

Except for Roman and Chávez, obviously.

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