Monday, December 24, 2007

21st September 2007: Arch Hall Jr double #1!

Wild Guitar

USA 1962 b&w

Director Ray Dennis Steckler Screenplay “Nicholas Merriwether”/Arch Hall Sr [also producer], Robert O. Wehling

Cast Arch Hall Jr (Bud Eagle), Nancy Czar (Vickie Wills), “William Watters”/Arch Hall Sr (Mike McCauley), “Cash Flagg”/Ray Dennis Steckler (Steak)

Tonight is the first of our tributes to Arch Hall Jr – would-be teen heart throb, would-be rock star, would-be serious actor from the early to mid-Sixties. From the 1962 caveman musical Eegah! to spy spoof Nasty Rabbit, Arch-Baby bulldozed his way through every role, and yet made them his own, and created – through sheer accident – a place in the hearts of bad movie fans everywhere.

First is Wild Guitar from 1962. Arch Hall Jr plays Bud Eagle, a gormless hick who looks like Brad Pitt holding his breath underwater, who blows into Hollywood on his chopper clutching a guitar case and a head full of dodgy songs and starry dreams. He meets a blonde go-go girl named Vicky who offers him her sandwich – and that’s no euphemism by the way – before dragging him along to a live TV variety show. He stands in as a last minute replacement and before you can say “Ed Sullivan” he’s the Golden Boy everyone’s in love with. But are they? So says manager extraordinaire from Fairway Records, Mr McCauley, who seduces Bud – and that’s a metaphor by the way – with the glitz, the glamour, the strippers, the skaters, and all the swimming pools he can drink.

Arch "Nicholas Meriwether" Hall Sr

Mark McCauley offers to handle him – again, no euphemism intended – and get’s his lying, cheating, sneaky SOB 2iC to break his spirit (incidentally played by “Cash Flagg”, aka Wild Guitar director Ray Dennis Steckler, who looks and acts like a Thirties movie villain without the twirly mustache). But if the Roads of Excess lead to the Palace of Wisdom, poor Bud doesn’t even know how to unfold the map, and by the time he’s been through the showbiz wringer a few times, it would seem the Golden Boy has lost his tarnish…

Ray Dennis "Cash Flagg" Steckler

You’ve seen and heard the story a thousand times before, but not with Steckler’s eccentric direction, a script with the subtlety and sophistication of a Three Stooges short, and Arch Hall Jr’s genuinely naïve, bumbling charm. Of course it has a happy ending, and you’ll be screaming your lungs out with the other teenyboppers shimmying to a searing beachside rendition of Arch Hall and the Archers’ caveman stomper “Twist Fever”.

If Wild Guitar looks like an infomercial for Arch Jr’s doubtable talents, it is: William Watters who plays the evil manager is actually Arch Hall SENIOR, a former B-western star of the 30s and 40s whose World War 2 exploits were immortalized onscreen by Robert Mitchum. Dad must have been proud of his big, bouncing baby son; as soon as Arch Jr came of age, Daddy-O formed Fairway International Pictures (that’s also him in the credits as producer “Nicholas Meriwether”) and bankrolled him in a series of teen exploitation classics aimed squarely at the drive-in circuit – six stand-alone Z Grade classics starting with The Choppers in 1961, and finishing with the traditional western Deadwood ’76 in 1965, when Arch Jr quit showbusiness to become a full-time pilot.

Arch "No Pseudonym" Hall Jr

As for Steckler aka “Cash Flagg”, Arch Sr threw more money at him the following year (which, when you add up the loose change doesn’t even qualify as a “budget”) to make his completely insane monster musical The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies – but more about that film later. First, back to the early tag-team effort with Arch Hall Senior and Junior: Wild Guitar.

The Sadist

USA 1963 b&w

aka Profile of Terror, Sweet Baby Charlie

Director/Writer James Landis

Cast Arch Hall Jr (Charles A. 'Charlie' Tibbs), Richard Alden (Ed Stiles), Marilyn Manning (Judy Bradshaw), Don Russell (Carl Oliver), Helen Hovey (Doris Page)

The Sadist from 1963 is a laughable, ludicrous and sometimes genuinely disturbing change of pace for Arch-Baby, whose father obviously wanted him to stretch his acting chops. From the opening closeup of Arch Hall Jr’s eyes to the snake-infested finale, it’s a wild ride, supposedly for “his TWISTED pleasures” but which end up our own. It begs the question: who are the REAL sadists? I think we, the viewers, already know the answer…

The Sadist unfolds with three high school teachers en route to Dodgers Stadium who run into car trouble and pull into a seemingly abandoned gas station. Enter Arch-Baby as Charlie Tibbs, an angry denim-clad ape with a chip on his shoulder the size of Utah and his mute, feeble-minded moll (Eegah!’s Marilyn Manning), in the midst of a cross-state killing spree and itchin’ for some more action. He tears up their baseball tickets – ‘cause he’s a SADIST! – and then gets really mean. Between the torture and the killing, Tibbs keeps our would-be hero Wilbur alive long enough to fix his car; the gas station thus becomes the combat ground for a furious battle of wits, between a half-wit and a… well, you fill in the blank.

The Sadist is Arch Hall Jr’s Rebel Without Applause playing James Dean’s hillbilly cuzzin or his shaved monkey butler, his face etched in a cartoon grimace, doing terrible things – ‘cause he’s a SADIST, remember – and laughing maniacally. With his furrowed simian monobrow under a greasy blonde cowlick , it’s as if Dennis the Menace grew up delinquent, traded his slingshot for a paper bag full of glue and started combing his hair with a pork chop. Of course Daddy’s Boy gets all the best lines, like “School’s OUT, teacher!”, all delivered in a creepy but utterly memorable breathy twang. Even creepier is the fact the girl Arch is groping, “Miss Goody Good Good”, is his real-life cousin Helen Hovey.

Director James Landis, who took over directing the final three Fairway International pictures, clearly models Tibbs and his soiled companion on infamous thrill killers Starkweather and his girlfriend. Remember the movie Badlands with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, based on the same pair of sociopaths? Well, this is just like Badlands – without the word “lands”. Which is not to say it isn’t effective as a claustrophobic psychodrama, shot virtually in real-time by future award-winning cinematographer “William”/Vilmos Zsigmond, whose thoughtful camera placements wring considerable suspense out of five characters and just one location.

In Arch Hall Jr’s short-lived filmic universe, The Sadist is definitely the most memorable. Not as enjoyably bad as Eegah! or Wild Gild Guitar, it will stay with you for much longer. And if you wake up tonight with “Why don’t you screeeeeam?” in your ear, maybe you should. Time for some of the cheapest thrills you’ve experienced on Schlock Treatment, courtesy of thrill killer Arch Hall Jr aka The Sadist.

1 comment:

Gargantuan Media said...

Great retrospective on a forgotten B-movie actor!

I'd like to add that in 1967 Arch hung up his signature guffaw and switchblade and took up airline and cargo piloting - something he did until he retired in 2003.

There's been rumors of a documentary out of PA on AIP and the Halls for years but it's never surfaced.