When it comes to character actors, I have far too many favorites to count but some like the pint sized tough guy, Richard Jaeckel, always come to mind if I take a shot at compiling a list. As a matter of fact I’ve always been a bit surprised that he never made the transition to leading man in the 1950’s following strong supporting roles in Oscar winners like 1952’s Come Back Little Sheba.
What he did do over the course of a fifty year career is stay busy and noticeable. From his film debut in 1943’s Guadalcanal Diary after being “discovered” working in the mail room at Fox to costarring alongside some of the biggest names in movie history he was always watchable. He served in the navy as WW2 came to a close and would thankfully return to acting even scoring an Oscar nomination for a memorable performance if not a specific scene opposite Paul Newman in Sometimes a Great Notion and if it hadn’t for Ben Johnson’s turn in The Last Picture Show, he probably would have won.
Always a welcome presence in both movies and television, Jaeckel, can be found acting opposite the likes of Glenn Ford, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Edward G. Robinson, Jack Palance, Elvis Presley, Audie Murphy, Charles Bronson, Robert Ryan and Jeff Bridges. Hell, he even went to Japan to tackle The Green Slime. He was a favorite of director Robert Aldrich appearing in the director’s first film, The Big Leaguer in 1953 and even Aldrich’s final film in 1981, All The Marbles. Most importantly he scored what is probably his most famous role, Sgt. Bowren, Lee Marvin’s right hand man in Aldrich’s all-time classic, The Dirty Dozen released upon the public in 1967.
Though he never found himself headlining a major production, Jaeckel, who never seemed to age did on occasion get top billing in lower tier productions. “B” movies like the three included here as I spotlight this fine actor that for many aside from us movie buffs may recognize his face but not the name.
The Kill (1973)
Like many actors of his generation, Jaeckel, found himself working in the Philippines playing a Bogart(ish) role circa 1973 in this Rolf Bayer directed actioner. The film begins with a casino heist in Macao leaving a trail of bodies. Jaeckel, a well known player in the casino is approached by management to track down those responsible for a percentage of any monies recovered. Looks like Jaeckel is a man who knows how to handle himself.
Jaeckel will make quick work of tracking the man behind the heist, Henry Duval. Before taking him in he’s coerced into joining Duval in his next scheme involving the drug trade and a fortune in heroin. The pair are to hijack a syndicate’s drug shipment and sell it back to them. Still, Jaeckel, knows that Duval makes short work of his partners once their usefulness comes to an end.
So our anti-hero has joined the drug trade but you just know he’s not going all bad and becoming responsible for putting “junk” on the streets and into the arms of children. No we’re to soon find out that Jaeckel was a one time police officer and has a close friend working in the Narcotics division of the Hong Kong Police Force. Looks like Jaeckel is going undercover to take down the whole operation.
The Kill was produced by Arbee Pioneer. The company only produced two films. The other being a 1979 low budget war film called Pacific Inferno that reteamed Jaeckel and director Bayer adding Dirty Dozen alumni Jim Brown to the mix.
Far from top flight entertainment the film still serves up the opportunity to see Mr. Jaeckel take center stage in a genre that works for him and his onscreen reputation in the tough guy field. Looking to find a copy? I streamed the film thanks to rarefilmm : The Cave of Forgotten Films.
The Amazing Mr. No Legs (1978)
There’s an interesting cast assembled to star in this oddball genre entry that admittedly comes off as amateurish yet retains that drive-in exploitation feel that many of us have come to love for the nostalgic factor . Richard Jaeckel fronts a cast that includes Rance Howard, Lloyd Bochner, John Agar, Ron Slinker, Luke Halpin and in the title role, Ted Vollrath.
There’s a drug smuggling operation playing center stage that will find Jaeckel’s detective looking to bust things wide open with the help of his partner and one time pro wrestler, Ron Slinker. When Slinker’s own sister is murdered as part of a cover up by those within the drug operation, it becomes personal prompting the detectives to look for the killers and those within the police force on the take.
So just who is the title character and how does he fit into things? I assumed going in based on the wheelchair armed to the teeth with shotguns that he was some sort of vigilante when in fact he’s the enforcer within the drug operation working alongside Richie Cunningham’s real life dad, Rance Howard, to keep the drugs flowing onto the streets. The money man backing the operation is a familiar face of the times, Lloyd Bochner. Volrath as Mr. No Legs and Bochner don’t always get along prompting Lloyd to deliver a threat fit for our killer on wheels, “You’re gonna find yourself on a street corner with a tin cup and a handful of lead pencils.”
When it comes to Volrath’s character, think of Joe Pesci’s Goodfellas character in a wheelchair to give you an idea what he’s capable of and just how amusing he can be.
Didn’t I mention John Agar was in this? He’s the police chief giving orders but are they in good faith? Jaeckel isn’t so sure. And how about Luke Halpin? A name for nostalgia buffs. He starred on the TV series Flipper as one of the boys who call the title Dolphin a member of the family.
The whole thing ends up in a high speed chase with enough car crashes to make me believe the film may have influenced John Landis at some point not to mention I kept expecting to see a black Trans-Am known as Bandit One zoom into the plot with “The Burt” at the wheel.
There are a few connections to point out behind the scenes of Mr. No Legs. The film was directed by Ricou Browning. Best known as one of the actors who played The Gill Man in the Creature From the Black Lagoon films. This would explain Agar’s appearance as he starred in 1954’s Revenge of the Creature.
Browning was also the creator, writer and director on Flipper which explains Halpin’s participation. As for Rance Howard, he starred in a number of Gentle Ben episodes with son Clint. A number of those were directed by Browning. I can only assume Ricou called his pals on this one though I couldn’t find a connection with leading man Jaeckel. Feel free if anyone knows the story on just how he became involved in this one.
For the record this was the only acting role for wrestler Slinker. Thankfully his skills in the ring come in handy during a barroom brawl caught on film for our story. A lone film for Volrath as well who according to the IMDB lost both legs during the Korean War. Following the war he became the first person to earn a blackbelt in Karate while training out of a wheelchair. Check out the trailer for closer look at his fighting skills. It’s also included as a bonus on the blu ray I picked up from Massacre Video.
Mako : The Jaws of Death (1976)
With Jaws raking in the box office dollars it’s only natural that low budget filmmakers would attempt to score some coin of their own borrowing a few plot points from the Spielberg smash. Namely sharks for this William Grefe effort that cast Jaeckel in the lead role as a slightly imbalanced protector of the ocean predators.
From the onset Jaeckel’s a killer. When a fishing boat with three good ole’ boys hook a shark, a scuba diver cuts the heavy line and climbs aboard the boat killing all three in violent fashion. It’s Jaeckel’s eyes behind the goggles.
Why does he kill to protect sharks? That’s probably the film’s best plot point. In a flashback sequence while working as a diver in the Philippines, Jaeckel’s working crew are slaughtered by bandits prompting him to run through the jungles to the shore of an inland water way infested with sharks. It’s a bullet or the sharks and he swims the channel to safety while his pursuers aren’t as lucky falling victim to the big fish. When Jaeckel pulls himself ashore he’s met by a witchdoctor who worships sharks. For his bravery, Jaeckel is given a medallion to wear that will always protect him from the big fish when he is in the waters. It’s as if they see him as one of their own.
Back to our story. Jaeckel seems to be surrounded by multiple slimy characters out to do harm to his “friends.” John Davis Chandler and Harold Sakata love to go out deep sea fishing and collect bounties on any shark within sights of their gun barrels. Then there’s a seedy scientist looking to borrow one of Jaeckel’s “friends” to film a shark giving birth. Lastly there’s a ginormous bar owner sans shirt played by Buffy Dee who wants to borrow a “friend” to feature in a nightclub act with his wife, Jennifer Bishop, in a pool with a liner between them to protect her.
Let’s just say that nothing works out well for anyone involved and Jaeckel doesn’t take lightly to those who do harm to the only beings he really cares about.
Another low budget drive-in classic. Is it any good? Depends on your taste I suppose. For me having seen this when I was a youngster caught up in shark fever and knowing that Jaeckel was in The Dirty Dozen, this one has always held a near and dear spot even if I know it’s far from some of the superior films he appeared in like 3:10 to Yuma, Ulzana’s Raid, Starman or Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid.
Mako : The Jaws of Death is part of the blu ray box set He Came From the Swamp : The William Grefe Collection via Arrow Video.
No posters for The Kill or Mr. No Legs in the collection but don’t kid yourself, a Jaws knockoff starring a long time favorite? Here it is and don’t forget to look down those credit lists and if you see the name Richard Jaeckel turn up, give it a watch. You’ll rarely be disappointed.