Tag Archives: Claude Akins

The Night Stalker (1972, John Llewellyn Moxey)

The Night Stalker moves with ruthless efficiency. It’s a TV movie, so it’s got a mandated short runtime–seventy-four minutes; Richard Matheson’s teleplay has a brisk pace, something director Moxey embraces. There’s rarely a dull moment in The Night Stalker. It’s always about waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

The film opens with lead Darren McGavin alone, “narrating” from micro-cassette recorder playback while either transcribing or copyediting. He’s alone, a resigned look on his face, as he lays out the ground situation. McGavin’s a reporter in Las Vegas who used to be a big city newspaperman. His editor, Simon Oakland, can’t stand him and resents the paper’s (unseen) owner liking him. McGavin’s just been called back from vacation, though it’s almost impossible to imagine what he’s like when he’s not reporting. Matheson and Moxey are able to keep Night Stalker lean by not going too much into McGavin’s back story right off. It comes out later, in pieces, but the exposition is for McGavin’s story.

Someone is killing women, draining them of their blood through wounds on the neck. Every couple days, a new victim, all evidence pointing to someone who thinks he’s a vampire. The cops don’t want to hear it. Night Stalker’s pacing is a little weird because, even though the cops have all the same evidence as McGavin, their interpretation of it is left out. Like I said, it’s lean.

It also lets Night Stalker keep most of the cops are bad guys. Claude Akins’s strong-arming sheriff and Kent Smith’s slimey D.A. spend more time hounding McGavin than trying to solve their cases, going so far as to ignore coroner’s reports and common sense. Ralph Meeker’s the local FBI agent who likes McGavin and keeps him involved (though, actually, it’s McGavin who brings the story to Meeker initially).

McGavin’s got a lady friend, Carol Lynley, who works at a casino (just like all the victims). Night Stalker takes a while to establish the extent of their relationship; she gets introduced in the first act as one of McGavin’s sources. He’s got a handful, including Elisha Cook Jr. in a nice little cameo, but Lynley and Meeker are big ones. Eventually, Lynley gets to be the one who reveals some of McGavin’s back story. He’s been run out of every major city (and major city newspaper) because he’s just too intrepid for his own good. It provides some context, even if the film doesn’t exactly need it.

Because The Night Stalker has McGavin and it doesn’t need much else. Matheson doesn’t give McGavin a lot of speeches–he’s got a lot of dialogue, because he’s always doing his job–but he’s not a crusading journalist. He’s just trying to get the story (and a big enough one to get out of Las Vegas), but his ego’s always in check. The most impressive scenes, at least in terms of Moxey’s direction, are the action ones where McGavin is a bystander. He’s always active–dutifully taking pictures–while madness ensues around him.

There are two big action scenes in Night Stalker. Moxey leverages the film’s mundane realism against the fantastical action to outstanding result. When it’s a smaller action sequence, Moxey’s fine but it’s just a TV movie; the big action sequences, however, they’re beautifully choreographed madness. With McGavin taking it all in, not taking cover, but standing a step or two back from it all.

McGavin’s performance is phenomenal. Even when it is one of those duller moments–eventually McGavin takes to driving the Strip, waiting for the police scanner, waiting for the something in the story to break–and McGavin gives those filler moments weight. No small feat given Bob Cobert’s too jazzy for its own good music.

Technically, The Night Stalker can’t keep up with McGavin’s performance or Matheson’s writing. Michel Hugo’s photography is fine for the newspaper procedural and rather competent for the night exteriors, but he can’t make the finale work. Not the day-for-night, which he really should be able to accomplish, but then not the horror-suspense aspects either. The last deficiencies seem more like director Moxey’s problem–even when Night Stalker’s perfectly well-directed, it’s perfectly well-directed for a TV movie. Moxey’s ambitions are in check.

Akins and Smith are great foils. Oakland less so just because he’s not as much a part of it. He’s underwritten to make room. Meeker’s real good. Lynley’s solid, then gets better as the film progresses and she gets exposition responsibilities. The best performances in Night Stalker are the ones with a detached sadness. Matheson bakes the depressing reality of Las Vegas–so the location exteriors matter–into the film. Long hours, late nights, low pay, conditional happiness. It’s one hell of a downer.

McGavin is right at home in it, whether he wants to be there or not, whether anyone else wants him there or not. He wears a straw pork pie hat, a pinstrip suit, and an exhausted expression, but he’s full of energy. The Night Stalker succeeds thanks to the script and the competent filmmaking, but it excels because it’s McGavin in the lead. He’s so good. It’s like Matheson wrote the thing for McGavin’s cadence and his resigned exasperation.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey; teleplay by Richard Matheson, based on a story by Jeffrey Grant Rice; director of photography, Michel Hugo; edited by Desmond Marquette; music by Bob Cobert; produced by Dan Curtis; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Darren McGavin (Carl Kolchak), Carol Lynley (Gail Foster), Simon Oakland (Vincenzo), Ralph Meeker (Bernie Jenks), Claude Akins (Sheriff Butcher), Charles McGraw (Chief Masterson), Kent Smith (D.A. Paine), Elisha Cook Jr. (Mickey Crawford), Stanley Adams (Fred Hurley), Larry Linville (Dr. Makurji), Jordan Rhodes (Dr. O’Brien), and Barry Atwater (Janos Skorzeny).


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Inherit the Wind (1960, Stanley Kramer)

A lot of Inherit the Wind is about ideas and not small ones, but big ones. Director Kramer is careful with how big he lets the film get with these ideas, because even though Inherit the Wind is about Darwin vs. the Bible as its biggest idea, the smaller ideas are the more significant ones. And when Kramer’s got Fredric March in a bombastic performance on the side of the Bible, Kramer’s careful to put him in front of those smaller, more important ideas.

The film’s impeccably acted, not just by March or Spencer Tracy as his pseudo-alter ego, but also Gene Kelly as a newspaperman and Florence Eldridge as March’s wife. Amid all these big ideas and small ideas and top-billed stars are Dick York (the small-town teacher teaching Darwin) and his fiancée Donna Anderson (who’s the preacher’s daughter).

Inherit the Wind has something of an anti-climatic finish, just because Kramer and the screenwriters want to let the viewer figure it out. Kramer sets up the film larger than life then, gently, reveals the film’s never larger than life, just the viewers’ expectation of it. There’s depth to the grandiosity and everyone should have been paying attention.

A great deal of the film is listening and watching people listen. Almost all of Harry Morgan’s time is spent listening (as the judge). It’s all important. Kramer’s trying to figure out how to make this too big story work. And he does. Mostly.

Great Ernest Laszlo photography.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer; screenplay by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith, based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Frederic Knudtson; music by Ernest Gold; production designer, Rudolph Sternad; released by United Artists.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Henry Drummond), Fredric March (Matthew Harrison Brady), Gene Kelly (E. K. Hornbeck), Dick York (Bertram T. Cates), Donna Anderson (Rachel Brown), Harry Morgan (Judge Mel Coffey), Claude Akins (Rev. Jeremiah Brown), Elliott Reid (Prosecutor Tom Davenport), Paul Hartman (Bailiff Mort Meeker), Philip Coolidge (Mayor Jason Carter), Jimmy Boyd (Howard), Noah Beery Jr. (John Stebbins), Norman Fell (WGN Radio Technician), Gordon Polk (George Sillers), Hope Summers (Mrs. Krebs – Righteous Townswoman), Ray Teal (Jessie H. Dunlap), Renee Godfrey (Mrs. Stebbins) and Florence Eldridge (Sarah Brady).


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Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973, J. Lee Thompson), the extended version

I actually had some hopes for the Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the last film in the series, mostly because J. Lee Thompson did such a good job directing the previous entry. Except for not knowing when he’s getting boring, it doesn’t seem like the same J. Lee Thompson directed both films, however. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is not the worst film in the series, since there’s not much worse than Beneath, but it’s still bad. Real bad. On one hand, it’s stupid and poorly written. On the other, there are some visible signs of conceptual failings. The script never provides a believable ape society, nor does Thompson know how to shoot the scenes between the apes. If one were so inclined, he or she could sit and list all of the film’s contradictory items, but I can’t imagine why a person would want to.

Most visibly missing is Paul Dehn, who concocted the story, but two of Roger Corman’s screenwriters (and not John Sayles) wrote the actual script. Gone, therefore, are Dehn’s well-written conflicted human beings. There are no regular human beings anymore since the film takes place immediately following a nuclear holocaust, but the screenwriters (John William and Joyce Hooper Corrington) don’t even manage to get any decent human conflict out of the film. Not even for the apes, who are center-stage, much like Beneath. Austin Stoker shows up as the human and he’s fine. I remember thinking he was doing rather well considering the film’s cheapness and silliness. Roddy McDowell’s in this one again and he’s not even acting anymore, just doing an act. Even his facial mannerisms are sloppy. Paul Williams probably gives the best costumed performance and Claude Akins the worst, though Akins’s gorilla is so poorly written (and unbelievably conceived), it’s not all his fault. The most embarrassing performance award goes to John Huston, who introduces and closes Battle from the future (of the future).

Since Battle is so long and boring (partially due to Thompson’s poorly paced action scenes, but mostly because it’s so uninteresting), the viewer’s mind has some spare time while watching and I spent mine wondering who the film’s makers intended to enjoy it. Obviously, Planet of the Apes has a following, but this film is so different from the other films in style, I just couldn’t figure it out. I mean, that little hope I had disappeared the moment John Huston showed up (the first shot). Had I been seeing this film in the theater in 1973, I would have gotten up and walked out. Maybe laughed a little first.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes is a bad idea, poorly written, poorly directed, filmed. Poorly produced too. If the writing or the directing had been all right, the film might have been somehow interesting (like the previous entry, Conquest). However, without any help, it’s just an oddity. It’s not even bad enough to be a “must see,” like Beneath. It’s just bad and there, like a TV show you’ve never heard of rerun at four o’clock in the morning.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by J. Lee Thompson; screenplay by John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington, from a story by Paul Dehn; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Alan Jaggs and John C. Horger; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs and Frank Capra Jr.; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Roddy McDowall (Caesar), Claude Akins (Aldo), Natalie Trundy (Lisa), Severn Darden (Kolp), Lew Ayres (Mandemus), John Huston (The Lawgiver), Paul Williams (Virgil), Andrew Knight (Mutant on Motorcycle), Austin Stoker (MacDonald) and Bob Porter (Cornelius).


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