Oct 2, 2011

Bigfoot (1970)

Director: Robert F. Slatzer
Producer: Anthony Cardoza
Screenplay: Robert F. Slatzer, James Gordon White
Cinematographer: Wilson S. Hong
Music: Richard Polodor
Gemini-American Productions; 82 min; color

John Carradine (Jasper B.Hawks), Joi Lansing (Joi Landis), Judy Jordan (Chris), John Mitchum (Elmer Briggs), James Craig (Cyrus), Christopher Mitchum (Rick), Joy Wilkerson (Peggy), Lindsay Crosby (Wheels), Ken Maynard (Mr. Bennett), Dorothy Keller (Nellie Bennett), Doodles Weaver (Forest Ranger), Jennifer Bishop (Bobbi), William Bonner (Lucky), Anthony Cardoza (Fisherman), Haji

I am astonished at the hate given to this film, even from people who normally appreciate B-movie trash.  This is one of the most delightful pieces of rock-bottom drive-in junk I've ever seen- so much that it's become a perennial viewing favourite at Casa G-Man every fall: perhaps not up there with our custom of screening Empire of the Ants every Christmas Eve, but it's getting there.  It is difficult to imagine how anyone could take this lumbering, scattershot film so seriously, since it's inept on so many levels that it enters a new realm of cinematic language. It is also morbidly fascinating to see so many veteran actors in this little movie, but they appear to be enjoying themselves. Perhaps the greatest revelation is seeing former B-western star Ken Maynard as the store keeper, in his first screen appearance in more than a quarter century. Despite the oft-reported details of his poor health at the twilight of his life brought on by years of alcoholism and malnutrition, even he is given some dignity at least.

This is also one of the rare cheapies in which John Carradine is first billed, but actually has more than just a glorified cameo.  Yes, he hams it up shamelessly as traveling salesman Jasper B. Hawks, who with his cousin Elmer (John Mitchum, Robert's brother, in an Abe Lincoln beard), roam the countryside in their rickety old station wagon (the passenger door needs to be secured with rope to remain shut!), to hit up people with their cheap junk.  At the general store of Mr. Bennett, however, they realize they can have more of a bonanza once Rick the young biker (Chris Mitchum, Robert's brother) comes in to call the sheriff about his girlfriend's abduction. Earlier, he had broken off from the rest of his bike gang to have some hanky panky with his girlfriend Chris (the fetching brunette Judy Jordan), only to roam onto the Sasquatch's burial ground. He was knocked unconscious by a Bigfoot creature, and Chris was taken away. Knowing that they could make money by capturing the creature and traveling the carnival circuit with "the eighth wonder of the world", these old coots accompany Chris to rescue his girl. Meanwhile, as seen in the endless opening, Joi Lansing was also captured by the creatures when she parachuted to safety after her plane malfunctioned (although I doubt that airplane cabin left the ground). The sheriff sits on his ass throughout the entire film, refusing to check in on such a cockamamie story. Oh, and if you've been wondering whatever could've happened to Erich Von Zipper's bike gang cohorts after the Beach Party movies ended, well, a similar group of over-aged misfits was cast as Chris' pals who lumber to the rescue. For most of the film, Joi and Chris are tied to poles, discussing anthropology while the Sasquatch creatures seemingly take forever to get the procreating urge.

This scruffy little movie has so much technical ineptitude that nonetheless captures its juvenile charm. A car drives through the forest after dark, and even though it's shot day-for-night, no-one thought to turn the headlights on. One never gets a sense of "you are there" as everyone talks in studio echo- the bulk of the film is obviously shot in soundstages, where the plastic trees are thinly disguised by dry ice. The handheld camera lurches and tilts with abandon, not just during the bikers' wild transistor radio and beer party, giving the whole movie the essence that it was shot on the run by a snake-oil salesman out to make a quick buck, with one foot already outside of the town line before his hapless customers get wise. In fact, it is tempting to paint Carradine's Hawks character as a self-portrait by its director-writer Robert F. Slatzer. A true huckster if there ever was one, Slatzer claimed to have been married to Marilyn Monroe for three days in 1952, despite evidence to the contrary, also alleged that her death was caused by the Kennedy administration, and even published two books on the subject! When the traveling carnivals began to wane, hawkers of all stripes emigrated to the movies. Drive-in movies are especially made by snake-oil salesmen like Hawks, promising much but delivering little. (Check out that poster.)  But hey, isn't that the appeal of the drive-in: the fun had while being had?

Since this is also produced by Anthony Cardoza (who gave us Coleman Francis' infamous trilogy of films, beginning with Beast From Yucca Flats), once again there is a scene featuring aircraft.  One is tempted to find a motif in his work, as the plan crashing symbolizes man's fall from grace and reduction to a barbarian state (as symbolized by Joi's capture by the missing link creatures).  But, nah, I'll bet that he was simply chummy with someone who owned a landing strip.  This movie is simply too goofy, too threadbare to be anything more than it is.  However, this scrappy mess just seems to work, despite the staginess, the cheap props ("his motorcycle-- one of those fancy rigs-- I'll bet those things must cost... a hundred dollars"), and of course, those furry costumes of the Bigfoot family, which appear just as thrown together as everything else, and good naturedly strung along by a country rock score. And despite that it seemed to be a family affair (look at all the Mitchums and Cardozas in the credits), this is also a "who's who" of drive-in cinema.  One of the editors was Hugo Grimaldi (The Human Duplicators); Anthony Lanza (The Glory Stompers) was assistant director; second unit camera was by Henning Schellerup (he who gave us In Search of Historic Jesus). I love this job.

Even though it was made to cash in on the burgeoning Bigfoot craze of the time, it curiously feels too old-fashioned for its time, further complimenting the movie's innocent wide-eyed appeal.  Now as then, they sure don't make movies like this anymore, and it's a darn shame.

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