Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The No Mercy Man (1973)

          One of those disjoined drive-in flicks combining several lurid story elements without much care given to how they mesh, The No Mercy Man is a crime picture, a heist thriller, a revenge saga, and a Vietnam-vet tale. On the plus side, the picture has a slick look, marking the first feature credit for cinematographer Dean Cundey (later to collaborate with John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg). What’s more, lots of stuff happens, some of which is moderately exciting. On the minus side, characterizations are shallow at best, and the episodic nature of the script prevents the movie from gaining any real momentum until the final act. Still, there’s a reason why The No Mercy Man is yet another obscure B-movie that Quentin Tarantino admires—with its convoluted plotting, perverse villains, and scenes of everyday people under siege, it occupies his cinema-of-savagery wheelhouse. That being said, The No Mercy Man isn’t one of those gonzo grindhouse pictures overflowing with gore and sex, and in fact it’s relatively restrained.
          The plot concerns WWII veteran Mark Hand (Richard X. Slattery) and his extended family, who live together on a remote spread in Arizona. The day Mark’s son Ollie (Steve Sandor) is set to return from service in Vietnam, Mark’s wife goes to collect him from the airport, leaving Mark home with his nubile daughter. Vagabond criminal Prophet (Rockne Tarkington) and his twitchy sidekick, Dunn (Ron Thompson), attack the family’s house, but the assault gets interrupted by Ollie’s arrival. Although Mark tries to cajole Ollie into chasing the escaping hoodlums, Ollie is strangely reluctant, so Mark agrees to let police handle the matter. Meanwhile, Prophet and Dunn return to their home base of a traveling carnival, then make plans for their next criminal enterprise; the murky scheme involves stealing guns that Prophet spotted at Mark’s place, joining forces with a biker gang, and committing a brazen robbery. Woven into all of this whiplash-inducing plot material is a PTSD subplot, because Ollie returned from Vietnam with serious problems.
          A generous reading would suggest that cowriter-director Daniel Vance imagined a thematic parallel between Prophet, a natural-born killer, and Ollie, a trained killer. Alas, nothing in The No Mercy Man invites or justifies a generous reading. Some aspects of the film’s execution are satisfactory, including Don Vincent’s suspenseful scoring and most of the performances, but the story is a shapeless mess. It should also be noted that the film’s theme song—yes, it has a theme song—contains these highly questionable lyrics: “Love and lust are the same to him, like being raped by the devil!” Sorry, could you run that by me one more time?

The No Mercy Man: FUNKY

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