A Pair of George Kennedy Telefilms
I settled on spotlighting Oscar winner George Kennedy when Maddy, who I must say loves her classic movies announced a blogathon celebrating the small screen. Kennedy has always been one of those actors that was just “there” when I started to become engrossed in movies and discovering them on the late show. The two films that stand out growing up were both released in 1967 and would play on TV regularly in the 1970’s and 80’s. The Dirty Dozen and his turn as Dragline opposite Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke that netted him the Best Supporting Oscar of the year. In the 70’s, George moved freely from big screen fare like Earthquake and the Airport series to the Sunday night Movie of the Week on network television. This pair of TV titles gave George both a solid entry on his resume and one that could have served as a model idea for his later association with the team of Zucker and Abrahams in the Naked Gun trilogy.
So while I do prefer to celebrate movies, I also tend to poke fun at some that I don’t think came off very well which leads us to….
A Cry In The Wilderness (1974)
In this Gordon Hessler directed teleflick, Kennedy has moved his wife and son from the hustle of the big city to the outback of Oregon to run a farm. There’s plenty of work to be done and along with twelve year old son, Lee Montgomery, George is clearing stumps when he unearths a skunk who bites him. No big deal we’ll have a tomato juice bath and get on with our day. Next thing we know George has gone out to the barn and chained himself to a pillar in the middle of the building. It’s been two weeks since the bite and after finding a rabid skunk on the farm he’s convinced he himself has been infected and will certainly go mad becoming dangerous to those around him of not treated soon.
Here’s where we go off the rails.
His wife Joanna Pettet must go for help while his son stays back at the farm. They’ve an old truck that I wouldn’t trust to drive me to the corner store and back and she needs to travel forty miles in country she doesn’t know as they have no phone line installed just yet. All in the hopes of locating a phone and then a doctor. Her journey is to become an epic nightmare so laughable that I began to think this was a Mel Brooks script.
- Truck breaks down
- Walks to next farm only to find a farmer with a glint in his eye and his wife who refuses her help and doesn’t believe her story. Suggests she keep walking to the next farm 5 kms away. Very, very neighborly!
- At next farm she has to bargain with an old bastard for his own wreck of a truck. Gives up her wedding ring to secure the truck. All the while being watched by someone inside the farmhouse.
- Sure enough she’s waved to the side of the country road by 4 guys borrowed from the hills of Deliverance who live at said old bastard’s farmhouse. “Not your truck lady. Let’s talk this over.” A little more “bargaining” is in the air. Truck run into the ditch and she’s back on foot again and on the run.
- Remember that farmer with a glint in his eye. He snuck out for a late night drive. Perhaps he could offer Joanna a ride into town for a little touchy-feely evening of fun. SERIOUSLY! I can’t wait till George rains down a Death Wish thunder on his new neighbors in A Killing In the Wilderness, the sequel that was never to be.
Meanwhile back at the ranch….
George is convinced the river that runs past the barn is looking suspicious and now wants his son to release him from his bonds. There’s sure to be a flood on the way. This after telling the son to not release him no matter what devious ideas he comes up with. And doesn’t water drive rabid infected people mad? This kid is stressed to the max and if he thinks this is a tough shoot, just wait till he has to tangle with Oliver Reed next year on the set of Burnt Offerings.
Yes it’s a happy ending and Joanna gets back to George eventually safe and sound. Unbelievably it seems like they’re staying in the area and hug and kiss at the fadeout like next week they’ll be guesting on The Waltons.
Sorry George but this one is just to easy to ignore and ripe for poking fun at.
Now on to a top notch telefilm with a first rate cast that for me is just begging to be remade as a big screen thriller.
Deliver Us From Evil (1973)
It’s a simple idea inspired by the case of D.B. Cooper though the name is never breathed in our story. Five men from the city and a wilderness guide are on a hiking trip deep into forested mountains when Kennedy believes he spots a parachutist not far off as night closes in. Bradford Dillman happens to have a transistor radio for news reports and it’s then the group that also includes Jack Weston, father-son team of Charles Aidman and Jan-Michael Vincent and the guide, Jim Davis learn that a hijacker leaped from a passing jetliner with 600K.
Guide Davis is cautious but gives in to the group who want to catch the thief. Kennedy is playing the aggressor here and is so caught up in the chase that when they confront the fugitive, he shoots him down as the man attempts to escape them. 6 men, 600K. Evenly divided if only all 6 are in agreement to never utter a word to anyone about their win fall. And so begins this Sierra Madre like tale as the men begin the journey through dangerous country back to civilization.
Davis wants nothing to do with the cash. He’s happiest when in the wilderness and knows that he needs to get this group back to the city before someone goes too far. Kennedy, Dillman and Weston are sure they want the money while Aidman and Vincent are on the fence. They could be easily swayed though Vincent knows the group are literally going down a slippery slope. When crossing a mountain pass and Davis falls to his death, the five men have just upped their shares and with the one dissenter out of the way, they all agree to keep the cash. Now they just need to navigate their way out of the woods.
Greed begins to rear it’s ugly head when simple acts like digging for the coffee in another man’s backpack are looked upon as an attempt at stealing. Yes the tension is rising and should another man or maybe even two or three not make it out of the woods then the shares per man will only increase. I think you all get the picture.
Not only is this a really good TV movie, it’s a good movie. We too often look down our noses at the movies made for the TV viewers. It’s got a solid cast led by Kennedy delivering one of his nasty interpretations versus his nice guy roles. He’s a lot like Ernest Borgnine in that regard. He could play it either way and that’s a credit to him as an actor. Dillman as the accountant fits nicely, Davis being a long time western actor is perfectly cast as the guide. Jack Weston is another actor who fits the group nicely though his conditioning is an obvious give away going in and the team of Aidman and Jan-Michael shine here as one might expect.
Long time TV director Boris Sagal was enlisted to helm this one and keeps it tight and moving along at a rapid pace under the guidelines of a 74 minute tele feature.
If you’ve seen this one before, how about a little fun and let’s recast it for the remake I’m suggesting for the big screen with a little fleshing out by adding thirty minutes to the running time.
Kennedy the aggressor? – Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think this could be a good role for Arnie.
Dillman the accountant? – Denzel Washington. The suit and tie type role he can excel at and who wouldn’t want to see him share the screen with Arnie just once?
Davis the guide? – Jeff Bridges. We need an experienced western actor getting on in years and Duval is a little too old for this one.
Weston the aging greedy overweight guy? Gotta be John Goodman.
The team of Aidman and Vincent as father son? How about Brendan Gleeson and Daniel Radcliffe. If not them then a gender switch to Hillary Swank and Hailee Steinfeld.
Just a thought.
As for George, he’d make plenty more flicks for TV and even appear in a series or two like The Blue Knight. Once The Naked Gun series hit in the late 80’s he found himself in a trio of successful films opposite Leslie Nielsen that many of today’s younger set may know him from more than those 60’s classics. This great character actor passed away February 28th, 2016 at the age of 91. His final film appearance proved to be a brief cameo in the Mark Wahlberg thriller, The Gambler.
Be sure to check the other contributors to Maddy’s blogathon devoted to the small screen by following this link to see what discoveries await you.