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).
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"
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
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!"
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
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
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?"