Sunday, February 11, 2018

Joe Panther (1976)

          Telling the story of a modern-day Seminole Indian youth torn between the limitations of life in his impoverished village and the potential moral compromises of pursuing opportunities in the outside world, Joe Panther is clumsily effective. The story is eventful, the protagonist’s journey is meaningful, and the themes of assimilation and identity create believable points of conflict. Made with more sophistication, Joe Panther might have earned a place among the best coming-of-age stories from the ’70s. Unfortunately, the film falls short of contemporary standards for racial sensitivity thanks to any-minority-will-suffice casting, and thats but one of many flaws. Nonetheless, Joe Panther is commendable for a few moments of genuine emotion as well as at least one scene of thrilling action.
          Living in a close-knit but financially troubled Seminole village near Miami, fatherless Joe Panther (Ray Tracey) worries about how to provide for his mother and his younger brother. Joe isn’t thrilled by his prospects in the village, and it galls Joe to watch his best friend, Billy Tiger (A Martinez), put on alligator-wrestling exhibitions for tourists. When Joe hears about a job on a fishing boat owned by kindly Captain Harper (Brian Keith), Joe accepts a wild challenge as a condition of employment—he must venture into the Everglades and capture an 11-foot gator that Harper’s brother can use as a tourist attraction at his resort. The mission becomes Joe’s trial by fire, especially when his wise Uncle Turtle (Ricardo Montalban) offers ominous warnings about the dangers of the Everglades.
          Casting Latin actors in prominent Seminole roles is distracting, and the thriller subplot that dominates the last third of the movie is a bit much. Yet parts of Joe Panther have real grit. The sequence of Joe trapping a giant alligator is frightening, and the bond that Martinez and Tracey convey is persuasive. So even if the movie often edges into drab formulas, as when both Keith and Montalban give monologues about the meaning of life, the picture’s intentions seem pure. Everything right and wrong about Joe Panther is epitomized by the gentle theme song, which is performed by soft-rock hitmakers England Dan & John Ford Coley—the message is there, but the choice of messengers is highly questionable.

Joe Panther: FUNKY


Guy Callaway said...

Montalban played another badly-wigged First Nations person in the Euro-western 'The Deserter'.
Someone should re-release this and get some of that 'Black Panther' action.

Tommy Ross said...

I love these picks of yours lately. we're going way out past the outer limits ha. Thanks as always, for another one I never heard of and looks like worth taking a look at. On my way to hunt down the "panther."

Ogmont Fulcrum said...

For some unimaginable reason, this was re-released in 1979 or 1980 with the most misleading ad campaign imaginable: it was re-titled "Joe Panther vs. the Swamp Monster"--or, to reflect the sizes of the type, "joe panther vs. THE SWAMP MONSTER"--and an illustration in a mock-Frazetta style depicted a mighty-muscled warrior against a sort of alligator man. You have to assume that the people drawn in by this were a tad disappointed by the actual film.

Some trivia for you: A "Joe Panther" newspaper comic strip, based on the same novel as the film, was pitched in the early '60s, but it failed to sell.