The early '70s was scorched earth, a bleak basin of post-hippie fear and confusion, especially in bone-dry California. It was a time when wealthy heiresses weren't safe in their campus cottages thanks to acid-crazed werewolf revolutionaries. Everywhere they roamed the land, the Mansonites and SLA, the Maoists, the Red Army Brigade, the Ohio National Guard. Everywhere they killed and kidnapped, spitting slogans about arming for war on "Pigs" and "Offing the Man." Seduced by the heady philosophy of a psychoactive Armageddon overdrive, kidnapped debutantes were reprogrammed into stoic meat robots with multiple felonies on the brain, their stylish, Jackie O glasses frozen in the stark celebrity of grainy bank hold-up films.

This of course has nothing to do with a shabby yet indelible made-for-TV movie called "Pray For The Wildcats" (1974). In the cold light of reason, it's a poorly written network quickie populated by an unlikely ensemble of VHF pros. Yet for late night inebriates who stumble upon its eerie glow, it's an 85-minute trove of psychotronic platinum.

Depleted by the the binary black holes of Vietnam and Watergate, the Americans of Reality Prime were desperate for heroes. They turned to the greatest role models of wholesome family television for answers.

Andy Griffith, genuine good old boy, the loveable lawman of Mayberry.
william shatner William Shatner, the intrepid, Shakespearean, judo-chopping space ham.
robert reed Robert Reed, a.k.a. Mike Brady, tolerant "everydad" of the emblematic '70s TV family.
marjoe gortner Rounding out the four horsemen of this motocross mess is Marjoe Gortner, an up-and-comer who first won fame as a child preacher in the big-time, money-scamming evangelical revival circuit. He later refuted the fundamentalist minstrel shows that made him a child star, and took refuge in the more sane confines of '70s Hollywood.

Remember when the leading hams of the day were disturbed by society "going to Hell?" Moses Ben-Hur Heston provided grim yuks in his paranoid, white-seige terror trilogy: "The Planet of the Apes" (1968), "The Omega Man" (1971) and "Soylent Green" (1973).

When he wasn't suited up in snappy SS duds (1969's "Where Eagles Dare"), Rowdy Yates Eastwood vented his anti-hippie spleen in fascist remedies against the Zodiac Killer (1972's "Dirty Harry").

Escape attempts from TV genre prisons did not always fare so well. Thus, five years after "Easy Rider" and five years before "Apocalypse Now," three of 1974's most typecast men decided to break through the cathode ray ceiling on motorcycle, inviting America on an extended, tortuous creep through the blasted Baja of the psyche.

Shatner, Reed and Gortner are in over their heads as L.A. advertising agents up against a Ritz cracker-chomping Colonel Kurtz. Watch as the young Matlock trades in his Lipton Ice Tea for tequila boilermakers, his savagery slowly building dramatic lust. Those not acquainted with Griffith's virtuoso performance as a demented megalomaniac in Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" (1957) will find him inhabiting a bizarre villainous hyperspace usually reserved for Hollywood Mongol Hun #1, Jack Palance.

The whole caper turns on the Norlon-Farragut Deal. This is the ad campaign that bootlickers Shatner, Reed and Gortner are trying to sell good old boy Sam Farragut (Griffith). Gortner bugs his eyes a lot as embryonic yuppie Terry, the "youth generation" sell-out desperate to impress the big client. Sadly, Farragut's opinion of the ad campaign mirrors our own of the picture's stale direction and wooden acting: "I think it lacks something. I think it needs work. I think it stinks."

Shatner labors in vain to resonate as a somnambulistic, aging square named Warren Summerfield. Oddly, Shatner's Eldon Tyrell glasses and proto-Eighties clothing could be interpreted as a bold fashion statement ten years ahead of his time, but his boss feels otherwise: "Oh by the way, Warren, you really ought to get rid of those suits. Those little narrow lapels went out with the gray flannels. You gotta get with it, know what I mean?"

The poignancy conveyed by Shatner as a man whose dignity is slowly being stripped away from his soul is riveting, and can be understood by anyone who had to sit through an episode of "Tek War." Lorraine Gary (Mrs. Jaws-5-Sheinberg) portrays the insecure, status-climbing, addicted-to-remodeling wife. Strangely, the granite blocks of stone in the couple's upscale house convey more emotive ability than these two thespians. As cold-fish Warren, Shatner limps through both his withered American Dream and his limburger dialogue with a hang-dog obsequiance.

Meanwhile, "happening dude" Marjoe is dodging some "bad vibes" from his girlfriend, luscious brunette Janet Margolin ("No time for this scene, Chrissy, no time"). But naturally Chrissy drops the bomb right before the boys are set to strike out on the desert motocross trek that Farragut has demanded to seal the big deal. Cue the dramatic zoom in. Close-up on the slack-jawed Terry as Chrissy lays it on the line, one year post-Roe v. Wade: "I'm pregnant... Just a simple yes or no. Do you want me to keep it?"

Nearby, Robert Reed and Angie Dickinson bicker like inmates of any loveless marriage, but wait! Could it be that Big Bad Mama II and TJ Hooker are bumping adulterous uglies? It's safe to say his film doesn't pull any punches with its proto-"Knot's Landing" plot cliches.

Farragut rounds up the ad wimps and sprays the women folk with a Kawasaki dust cloud as the four conquistadors embark on their peyote-lens fandango. The editing is as flat and lifeless as the desert itself. Sour, tinny bad-trip theme music is actually the highlight of watching four small figures vainly searching for anything remotely interesting. Instead they find only audio flashbacks of stale dialogue slugs echo-chambered over rolling close ups on the angst-filled Shatner and Gortner.

Suddenly and without warning, the film delivers its toxic payload. In the Baja bar scene, the actors at last fuse into a four-headed hydra of over-the-top, scenery-masticating TV mayhem.

Outside the cantina, Shatner wrestles with his suicidal urges. Inside, the instantly drunk Marjoe twists and jerks like a chicken sprayed with lighter fluid, while Robert Reed casts his appreciative eye at the comely blonde dancing to the piped-in mariachis.

Before the disoriented viewer can process even this much, Griffith strikes. Drunk and out of control, leering and ogling with all the sleazy fervor of a playboy Klansman, Griffith crudely assaults the hippie dancing girl with a barrage of four-cornered porno talk. "Now we're gettin it on, baby! Now we're gettin it on!"

The boyfriend objects and is beaten silly by the America's most beloved hometown sheriff. And here we get our first taste of Andy's aggro mantra for the rest of the movie: "C'mon! C'mon hippie! Let's go!" And alternately, " C'mon, Freak!"

Griffith's Caligulan philosophy is more fully developed as he later confronts the man he battered at the bar. "I understand you hippies. That's cause I'm a kind of a hippie myself. I'm a hippie with money! No old fashioned rules about what's right or wrong. Just hang loose and let it all happen. Ain't that right?" The scene plays out as Andy waves a C-note in the hapless hippy's face, proposing a booty-for-hire connection with the girlfriend.

As horrifying as this may sound, Griffith marks himself as the ultimate sadist with a far, far crueler act: forcing Shatner and Robert Reed to wear motocross jerseys which are virtual duplicates of "Star Trek" uniforms. Reed wears standard landing-party issue, red jersey with black trim; while Shatner finds himself garbed once again in the gold and black togs that will dog his career even in the leanest years.

This much irony rings clear. While Shatner taps his tortured soul for a long-coveted character role, in point of fact he inadvertently apes his many struggles as Kirk pitted against yet another insane Federation captain.

Yet there is one positive side effect. After Farragut is exposed as a deranged cretin, Warren's long-suppressed Shatner gene begins to activate. His suicidal impulses subside, and he slowly mutates into full-tilt Alpha mode to challenge Griffith's dominance of the motorcycle landing party.

But not before some heavy existentialism delivered in vintage Shatner-speak, nuggets of fool's gold like: "Acid? I almost tried that once." And "Myself? What does that mean? There is no 'myself'. I'm an actor. A man of a thousand faces...I'm not MYSELF anymore. There's...NOTHING in -- the mirror..."

Reed steps in as a surrogate Spock, friend, confidant and moral touchstone. Unfortunately his character is so weak, his performance so milquetoast, that we resort to highlighting unintentionally homoerotic dialogue to render him watchable. The arcane Kirk/Spock love cult will be gratified by lines such as, "Warren, I really haven't been straight with you." And "Where do we go from here, Warren? Where do nice looking, aging boys with good taste go?" And finally, the spare Greco-Roman classicism of: "I'm going back to the hotel. Do you wanna go along?"

Predictably, this film boils down to its single money stunt, the old Benny Hill dummy-on-a-motorcycle flying over the cliff set-up. Strike up the heinously cliched celebration in the surf. Wind out the spool with the bittersweet domestic reunion. Thus ends "Pray For The Wildcats," a late entry into a filthy desert stockade of hippie hangover flicks like "Zabriskie Point" (1970), "Billy Jack"(1971), and the wretched Don Johnson debut "Zachariah" (1971). When all is said and done, it is the motorcycle stunt mannequin that gives the most dignified, naturalistic performance of the picture.

Marjoe Gortner went on to star in "Food of the Gods" (1976) and ultimately left his brand on the flank of made-for-TV movie history with his leading role in "Viva Knievel!" (1977).

Robert Reed never reached escape velocity from Planet Brady, but did manage to appear on "Smash Up on Highway Five" and the mercifully euthenasized "Galactica 1980."

Exploiting public amnesia, cathode all-pro Andy Griffith reclaimed his mantle of benevolence in the Geritol cult show "Matlock." Today hardly anyone remembers the dismal "Salvage One."

The year 1974 would not release William Shatner from its iron fist before he scraped both a personal career AND all-time industry low as the swinging psycho in arguably the worst film ever made, a Florida cheapie called "Impulse" a.k.a. "Want A Ride, Little Girl?"


Andy Griffith, William Shatner, Lorraine Gary, Janet Margolin.
Special guest stars: Robert Reed and Marjoe Gortner
and Angie Dickinson as Nancy McIlvain
Music Fred Myrow
D.P.: John Morley Stevens
Produced by Anthony Wilson
Written by Jack Turley
Directed by Robert Michael Lewis

hank williams 3
Hank Williams III
Talks to Five-O about Superjoint Ritual
evel's lean years
The Man Who
Fell To Earth
Evel's Omega Years
pray for the wildcats
Pray for the Wildcats
TV Movie Mayhem
from '74
Evel Knievel
Full Photo Coverage!
The Mothman Prophecies
Interview with Director Mark Pellington
50 Years
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Life Magazine
40 Years
Playboy - July 1962
tom t. hall
30 Years
Tom T. Hall
Greatest Hits
judas priest
20 Years
Judas Priest
Screaming for Vengeance