Sunday, July 5, 2015

Pray for the Wildcats (1974)

          Although the bleak made-for-TV drama Pray for the Wildcats echoes many downbeat theatrical features of the same era, the movie’s principal appeal stems from a cast comprising small-screen luminaries. William Shatner, of Star Trek fame, stars as a tormented ad executive; Robert Reed, from The Brandy Bunch, plays one of his colleagues; and Andy Griffith, beloved for the sitcom that bears his name, portrays a psychotic millionaire. Standing on the sidelines of the story is Police Woman beauty Angie Dickinson. Excepting perhaps Griffith, who attacks his monstrous role with glee, none of the participants does anything extraordinary here. Nonetheless, the combination of familiar faces and menacing narrative elements is noteworthy.
          Sam Farragut (Griffith) is an obnoxious mogul who enjoys using people. Sam’s latest plaything is Warren Summerfield (Shatner). Warren was recently fired, but his agency has kept Warren on the payroll while he transitions his clients to new reps. Adding to Warren’s problems are the dissipation of his marriage to Lila (Lorraine Gary) and the lingering effects of an extramarital affair. The main characters are introduced during a dirt-bike excursion, because Sam makes subordinates keep him company whenever he prowls the wilderness on two wheels. Thus, when Sam proposes—orders, really—that Warren and his fellow ad executives accompany Sam on a punishing dirt-bike journey from California to Mexico and back, Warren sees little choice but to participate. Coworkers Paul (Reed) and Terry (Marjoe Gortner) agree without hesitation to ride along, since they’re eager to get on Sam’s good side. Once the journey begins, two things become apparent: Sam is a sadist capable of rape and murder, and Warren is so depressed that he’s looking for an opportunity to kill himself in order to leave money behind for his wife and children.
          Thematically, this is ambitious stuff for a TV movie, even if the execution is a bit on the clumsy side and the dirt-bike gimmick is given far too much prominence. (The title stems from a moniker Sam places on the leather jackets he provides to his traveling companions, “Wildcats.”) Jack Turley’s script relies heavily on repetitive voiceover to hammer narrative information, and Robert Michael Lewis’ direction wobbles between blandness and intensity. Shatner, as always, skirts self-parody whenever he tries to portray powerful emotions, though it should be noted that his performance is comparatively restrained. Dickinson, Reed, and costar Janet Margolin deliver serviceable work, while Gortner believably incarnates an avaricious prick. Griffith easily dominates. The image of the Artist Previously Known As Sheriff Andy Taylor ogling a hippie chick in a Mexican bar and howling “Now we’re gettin’ in on, baby!” is hard to shake. So even if some of the dirt-bike scenes feel endless, the savagery at the heart of this offbeat little piece resonates.

Pray for the Wildcats: FUNKY


Hal said...

Anyone who witnessed Griffith's work in A FACE IN THE CROWD won't be surprised that he made such an effective villain here.

Kevin Mac said...

This was a weird one for a kid to handle. Beloved hick Sheriff Andy Taylor as a sadistic motorcycle a-hole?

I could never figure out how the couple died. Broken radiator so they can't drive, sure. But they didn't have ANY water to drink on them while camping? How did they die of exposure so fast?