Wednesday, August 1, 2012

R.I.P.: R.G. Armstrong

7 April 1917 – 27 July 2012

Character actor R.G. Armstrong died at the age of 95 of natural causes on 27 July 2012 in Studio City, California. A perfect example of one of those faces seen again and again in many a film that you never remember the name of, his long and successful career on TV and in film spanned 47 years. The 6' 3" (1.91 m) tall actor, whose full name was Robert "Bob" Golden Armstrong Jr., was born in born in Birmingham, Alabama, on 7 April 1917. His Fundamentalist parents hoped that their son would go on to become a pastor, but he had other ideas. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he frequently performing on stage with the Carolina Playmakers, he moved to New York in the mid-1950s to attend Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio. Getting his start on and off Broadway, by 1958 Armstrong found his way to California where he quickly found constant employment with the television studios. A mainstay of popular Western shows, he also appeared on programs ranging from The Andy Griffith Show to The Twilight Zone to The Dukes of Hazard to Millennium. He was in constant employment from his first film onwards, and came to be a favorite character actor of directors such as Sam Peckinpah and Warren Beatty, and he went on to appear in dozens of Westerns and other genre films of varying quality as well as an occasional blockbuster. By 1999 he had pretty much retired from the business, though for some odd reason he was briefly lured out of retirement in 2001 to appear in the independent horror flick The Waking. Married three times, R.G. Armstrong is survived by four daughters, a son and five grandchildren. R.G. Armstrong was cremated; his ashes were handed over to his family. May he rest in peace.
The following is a review of selected film projects that R.G. Armstrong participated in; it includes none of his appearances on television series and features only those projects that we of A Wasted Life found worthy of noting.

Part II of R.G. Armstrong's career review is found here.

Garden of Eden
(1954, dir. Max Nosseck)

Theme song to the film, Let's Go Sunnin' (written by Jack Shaindlin):
This picture, which, according to its credits, was "produced with approval of the American Sunbathing Association and supervised by its executive director, Norval E. Packwood," is supposedly the first feature-length nudist film shot in color. (Note: This is a nudist film, not nudie cutie film, so don't expect a lot of buxom babes playing volleyball.) It is also R.G. Armstrong's debut film. A full plot description can be read here at TCM, but the short version found everywhere on the web is as follows: "War widow (Jamie O'Hara) and pre-teen daughter (Karen Sue Trent) leave home of tyrannical father-in-law (R.G. Armstrong) in Florida, get lost on a detour, and find shelter at a nudist colony." Prussia-born director Max Nosseck's directed a number of interesting to bad B and C films, including The Hoodlum (1951 / full film), Dillinger (1945 / trailer) and the Robert Clarke film The Body Beautiful (1953).

Baby Doll
(1956, dir. Elia Kazan)
Whether or not this film really belongs on this review here is perhaps open to question – after all, R. G. Armstrong isn't even actually seen in it, he only provides the voice (un-credited) of Townsman Sid. But, hell! It's Baby Doll – and he was part of it, no matter how distantly. This blackly comic drama was adapted by Tennessee Williams from his one-act play 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and directed by the great Elia Kazan, who helped destroy a lot of careers as a friendly witness to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952; the movie stars, of course, Karl Malden, Carroll Baker and Eli Wallach – the latter two in their feature-film debuts. (OK, Baker had a small part previously in Easy to Love [1953 / trailer], but let's ignore that much like the voiceover of the trailer does.)

A Face in the Crowd
(1957, dir. Elia Kazan)
Another film by the friendly witness in which an un-credited R.G. only appears for seconds as a TV prompter, but hell, its A Face in the Crowd! The feature-film debut of Andy Griffith – and what a fucking asshole he plays! (Lee Remick also debuts in this movie, briefly, as a teenage baton-twirling champion from Arkansas.) A Face in the Crowd was added to the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2008 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

From Hell to Texas
(1958, dir. Henry Hathaway)
A rarely shown cowboy film from the days when cowboys wore their clothes clean and pressed and never got dirty – great scenery, though. Plot: Good boy Tod (Don Murray) is unjustly hunted for a murder he didn't commit; R.G. plays Hunter Boyd, the father of the "murdered" youth, Dennis Hopper plays his son Tom. Good wins out in the end, and Tod even gets the girl (Diane Varsi of Wild in the Streets [1968 / trailer]).
Cowboys & Injuns – scene from the film:

Never Love a Stranger
(1959, dir. Robert Stevens)
Leonard Maltin says "Chronicle of a racketeer, from Harold Robbins' novel; predictable all the way." But, hell, it stars John Drew Barrymore and Steve McQueen (of The Blob [1958 / trailer / title track]) – though the latter (like R.G., who appears in a small part as Flix) was still too unknown to make the poster. Director Robert Stevens died in 1989 from cardiac arrest after he had been beaten and robbed at a rented home in Westport, Connecticut. The film is based on Harold Robbin's debut novel of the same name. Plot from Wikipedia: "The noir film is about Frankie Kane (Barrymore) who is brought up in a Catholic orphanage. He befriends a Jewish law student named Martin Cabell (McQueen) and becomes romantically involved with Cabell's sister Julie (Lita Milan). Kane learns later that he is also Jewish, and when told he will be removed from the orphanage and moved to a Jewish home he runs away and turns to a life of crime. Later, after joining a major crime syndicate, he reconnects with Julie, finally deciding to join Martin, now a District Attorney in shutting down the syndicate."
Credit sequence with theme song by Dorothy Collins:

No Name on the Bullet
(1959, dir. Jack Arnold)
Leonard Maltin has the following to say about this rare Western film directed by the great Jack Arnold and held in high esteem by Joe Dante: "A quiet, cultured gunman (Audrey Murphy, in a fine performance) rides into a small town to kill someone, though no one but he knows who his target is. Guilt and paranoia create their own victims. Slow, philosophical, and intelligent, this is the best of sci-fi director Arnold's several Westerns. CinemaScope." R.G. Armstrong gets a credit on the poster! The film has, in general, been forgotten, but it is a surprisingly enthralling film that is rather different from the low budget Westerns of its day and is well worth watching if given the (rare) chance...

The Fugitive Kind
(1959, dir. Sidney Lumet)
A Southern Gothic drama based on Tennessee Williams' play Orpheus Descending. Plot, from Wikipedia: "Valentine "Snakeskin" Xavier (some lousy actor named 'Marlon Brando'), a guitar-playing drifter, flees New Orleans in order to avoid arrest. He finds work in a small-town five-and-dime owned by an embittered older woman known as Lady Torrance (Anna Magnani), whose vicious husband Jabe (Victor Jory) lies on his deathbed in their apartment above the store. Both alcoholic nymphomaniac Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward) and simple housewife Vee Talbott (Maureen Stapleton) set their sights on the newcomer, but Val succumbs to the charms of Lady, who plans to set him up with a refreshment bar. Sheriff Talbott (R.G. Armstrong), a friend of Jabe, threatens to kill Val if he remains in town, but he chooses to stay when he discovers Lady is pregnant. His decision sparks Jabe's jealousy and leads to tragic consequences." Most critics seem to agree with Leonard Maltin, who says "the film goes nowhere."
Opening scene & credits:

Ten Who Dared
(1960, dir. William Beaudine)
According to the blogspot The Disney Films: "The plot of Ten Who Dared is pretty dull. A group of ten men, lead by Army Sergeant John Wesley Powel, are attempting to travel down the Colorado River in search of gold. All of the men come from diverse backgrounds and are separated into boats. From the moment their journey begins, none of the men get along. More chaos ensues as they lose boats and encounter other challenges, such as a member of the party getting sick. The film ends with an epilogue about what happened to the men after they made it to the end of the river." Ten Who Dared is generally considered to be one of the worst movies to come out of Disney – no mean feat, to say the least, but then the director was William "One Shot" Beaudine, the man who brought us Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966), Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966 / trailer / full film) and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952 / trailer / full film). R.G. Armstrong makes it on the poster – as do all ten of the men.

Ride the High Country
(1962, dir. Sam Peckinpah)
R.G. had already worked on a few episodes of Western TV shows that Sam Peckinpah had written, produced or directed by the time he played "Joshua Knudsen" in this, Peckinpah's second feature film, the first of four Peckinpah films he would eventually take part in. TV Guide has the following to say about this "revisionist" Western in which the cowboys' clothing gets dirty sometimes: "Set at the turn of the century, the film opens in the town of Hornitos, which is in the midst of a celebration. Down the crowded main street rides Steve Judd (Joel McCrea of The Most Dangerous Game [1932 / full film]), an aging former lawman who has seen better days. He mistakenly thinks the cheers of the crowd are for him, but is abruptly reminded of the changing times when a car nearly runs him over. Steve has been hired to escort a gold shipment from the mining town of Coarse Gold back to a bank in Hornit..." Ride the High Country, the swansong of actor Randolph Scott and debut of Mariette Hartley (of The Return of Count Yorga [1971 / trailer]), was selected to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1992.

He Rides Tall
(1964, dir. R.G. Springsteen)
If R.G. is on the poster, then you know it ain't an A-production... forgotten director R.G. Springsteen specialized in B and C films, most of which – like this movie – were Westerns. The plot, from TCM: "On the day before he is to marry Ellie Daniels (Madlyn Rhue) and give up his job, Marshal Morg Rocklin (Tony Young of Guyana: Cult of the Damned [1979 / trailer], Policewomen [1974 / trailer], Superchick [1973 / trailer] and Chrome and Hot Leather [1971 / trailer]) is forced to kill the son of old rancher Josh McCloud (R.G. Armstrong), who had cared for the orphaned Morg when he was a boy. Reluctantly postponing his wedding, Morg rides out to break the sad news to McCloud. En route he is ambushed by McCloud's foreman, ex-convict Bart Thorne (Dan Duryea, of The Burglar [1957]), but manages to escape. Later, however, he is attacked by Thorne's men and knocked unconscious. Thorne then forces Dr. Sam (Joel Fluellen), a Negro physician, to operate on and cripple Morg's gun hand. Unaware that Dr. Sam faked the operation, Thorne elopes with Josh's mercenary young wife, Kate (Jo Morrow of 13 Ghosts [1960 / trailer] and Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls [1973 / trailer]), and steals the old man's money and cattle. In his flight Thorne sacrifices Kate to Indians who kill and scalp her, and he also stampedes the cattle, which trample Josh to death. Morg arrives in town and with his perfectly healed gun hand wipes out Thorne and his gang. He then throws away his gun and makes plans for a life of peace with Ellie." R.G. worked on another Springsteen western, Tiger by the Tail, six years later in 1970.

Major Dundee
(1965, dir. Sam Peckinpah)
According to Classic Film Freak, "The boilerplate plot is rather straightforward. Charlton Heston (of Soylent Green [1973]) portrays Major Amos Dundee, a military officer who has been demoted to prison duty after undue heroics at the battle of Gettysburg. (Exactly what these actions were is never explained.) The picture opens immediately after an Apache raid which during which several young children are kidnapped. Unable to muster enough blue-coats to mount a serious chase, Dundee is forced to impress many Confederate prisoners-of-war and freedmen to join in helping his efforts." R.G. plays "Reverend Dahlstrom" in his second feature-film project with Peckenpah, a big budget manly Western with lots of stars and bad Injuns.

El Dorado
(1966 dir. Howard Hawks)
As Europe was giving the Western new blood with films like Sergio Corbucci's Minnesota Clay (1964 / trailer) and Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964 / trailer), Hollywood was often still just recycling old product with old stars – with surprisingly entertaining results, sometimes, as this film proves. Although director Howard Hawks always denied it – and although this movie is supposedly based on Harry Brown's novel The Stars in Their Courses – El Dorado basically just recycles Hawks' older classic Rio Bravo (1959 / trailer), complete with John Wayne in one of the lead roles (the great Robert Mitchum fills the other). R. G. Armstrong plays Kevin MacDonald, who hires Cole Thornton (John Wayne) at the start of the film... basically, an outnumbered bunch of misfits and has-beens who seem doomed to fail successful beat all the bad guys and live happily ever after...

Steps to Jonah
(1969, dir. Gerd Oswald)

This film might not be all that interesting, but the unknown director is: Gerd Oswald Mackray is the son of the Austrian director Richard Oswald who, being Jewish, fled for Hollywood when the Nazi's took power. Oswald was a prolific director of silent exploitation and genre films, including a number of forgotten films of note, including the early homosexual film Anders als die Andern (1919 / film); the perhaps first horror anthology film ever, Unheimliche Geschichten (1919 / trailer), the first film adaptation of Der Hund von Baskerville (1929); the third remake of the early science fiction movie Alraune (1930 / full film in German); the under-appreciated horror remake Unheimliche Geschichten (1932 / German trailer) and more. In Hollywood, he pretty much hung up his director's megaphone and his son Gerd took over, himself becoming a productive B-film and television director whose films include A Kiss Before Dying (1956 / trailer), Screaming Mimi (1958 / trailer), Bunny O'Hare (1971 / theme) and this total turkey here. To quote the great film magazine Shock Cinema: "How could anyone trash a movie about adorable blind children? It's easy when that film is also the screen debut of 27-year-old, future-Vegas-relic Wayne Newton. Littered with familiar faces, this wholesome, uplifting, hideously-manipulative, G-rated fiasco has the distinct stench of a shitty Elvis Presley project that ended up retooled for Mr. 'Danke Schoen.' [...] A hitchhiker named Mark Jonah Winters (Newton) gets into the wrong car and ends up mistakenly arrested for manslaughter and auto theft, only to escape from custody, retrieve his trusty guitar and stumble upon a summer camp for blind children. 'Jonah' is mistaken for their new handyman, and within minutes, all of these darling kids are in love with this kind stranger, including comely young camp owner Tracy (Diana Ewing), who lost her eyesight as a teen." R.G. is one of the two sheriffs tracking Newton, the other being Slim Pickens. Newton didn't make another film after this one for 20 years, when he appeared in the Bond film Licensed to Kill (1989 / trailer).
Wayne Newton – Danke Schoen:

The McMasters
(1970, dir. Alf Kjellin)
R.G. Armstrong plays Watson in this forgotten film – even the most comprehensive of studies of Blaxploitation or Black film tend to overlook this depressing and gritty Western. Its total lack of attention this film rarity gets is perhaps due in part to the indecisiveness of the producers, who were unable to commit themselves to one ending, so they released it with two: one in which the asshole honkies win, and the other in which the uppity black man prevails. The plot of the version in which the bad guys lose in the end, as according to TCM: "Benjie (Brock Peters) returns to his hometown in the South after fighting for the North and meets with hostility from Kolby (Jack Palance), a bigoted rancher who lost his arm while fighting for the Confederacy, and Russell (L.Q. Jones), Kolby's ranch hand. Neal McMasters (Burl Ives), a rancher who reared Benjie from childhood, offers him a half-share of his ranch. No one will work for Benjie because he is black, and McMasters is almost forced to sell Benjie's land, but Benjie's kindness to an Indian, White Feather (David Carradine of Dead and Breakfast [2004]), is reciprocated when members of his tribe arrive to help with the roundup. In further gratitude, White Feather presents Robin (Nancy Kwan), his sister, to Benjie for his wife. Kolby leads some of the townsfolk in a drunken attack on McMasters and Benjie, and Robin is raped. The Indians refuse Benjie's plea for help, arguing that a black landowner is no better than the white landowners who stole their land. Despite pleas from Spencer, a liberal rancher, Kolby organizes another attack in which McMasters is killed and the house burned. Benjie is about to be hanged when the Indians launch a counterattack and kill Kolby. Benjie decides to stay on at the ranch with Robin." The whole film can be watched for free at Matinee Classics.
Credit sequence:

Angels Die Hard
(1970, dir. Richard Compton)
R.G., who plays "Mel Potter," also makes it onto the poster of this exploitation movie, the second feature film of Richard Compton, who went on to do the drive-in classic Macon County Line (1974 / trailer) and its less fondly remembered sequel Return to Macon County (1975 / opening credits) before becoming a faceless TV director. Angels Die Hard has the distinction of being the first film to come out of Roger Corman's then newly founded production company New World Pictures. TV Guide supplies part of the plot: "Another biker film, this one with Tom Baker ["Blair"] and William Smith ["Tim"] as the leaders of a gang seeking revenge on a town where one of their number was murdered. Despite the efforts of the Sheriff's daughter, Connie Nelson ["Nancy"], to quell the violence, all hell breaks loose, and it's bikers versus townsfolk in a bloody battle. As it turns out, the Sheriff (Carl Steppling) himself committed the original murder, and the cyclists get their revenge." supplies aspects of the plotline that TV Guide ignores: "The usual motorcycle bums are in attendance, but this time they're the heroes rather than the antagonists. The storyline, concerning a mine cave-in in a small community, bears traces of the 1931 German film Kammeradschaft (first ten minutes). Though on the outs with the community, the bikers prove to be heroes as they aid in the rescue of the trapped miners. But don't be lulled into thinking that Angels Die Hard is family fare: it still carries an R rating."

The Ballad of Cable Hogue
(1970, dir. Sam Peckinpah)
R.G. appears as "Quittner" in Peckinpah's tragicomic follow-up to The Wild Bunch (1969 / trailer); The Ballad of Cable Hogue, one of Peckinpah's favorites, was plagued by a troubled filming that included the firing of 36 crew members and a bar tab of $70,000. Less than successful when it came out, the movie is now generally held in esteem as an example, like Leone's more operatic Once Upon A Time in the West (1969 / trailer), of a "Death of the West" film, a film that shows the encroaching arrival of the modern in the Old West. Over at imdb, John Oswalt ( offers the following plot description: "Double-crossed and left without water in the desert, Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) is saved when he finds a spring. It is in just the right spot for a much-needed rest stop on the local stagecoach line, and Hogue uses this to his advantage. He builds a house and makes money off the stagecoach passengers. Hildy (Stella Stevens of The Terror Within II [1991]), a whore from the nearest town, moves in with him. Hogue has everything going his way until the advent of the automobile ends the era of the stagecoach."

Tiger by the Tail
(1970, dir. R.G. Springsteen)
The film that made film history by "Introducing Charo" – anyone remember her? She's still around, looking more and more like a transvestite with each passing year. R.G. Armstrong has a small part as "Ben Holmes" in Springsteen's swansong directorial job, starring that name for quality, Christopher George (of City of the Living Dead [1980]), and a Tippi Hedron still on the run from Hitchcock. TV Guide explains the plot to this less than exciting "routine crime drama": "Vietnam vet Steve Michaelis (George) returns home to find his brother (Dennis Patrick), who was the principal shareholder in a successful California racetrack, has been murdered by two Mexicans during a robbery. It appears to George that the robbery was a cover-up for the murder, which must have been ordered by a rival shareholder. After a bit of digging, George forces a confession out of shareholder Del Ware (Lloyd Bochner), but Ware soon turns up dead. Accompanied by old flame Rita Armstrong (Tippi Hedren), George reveals Sheriff Chancey Jones (John Dehner), to be behind the scheme and kills him in a struggle for his gun. With all the shareholders eliminated, George takes over..."
Has nothing to do with the film, but here's Buck Owens singing Tiger by the Tail:

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid
(1972, dir. Philip Kaufman)
Assuming you know a bit of cowboy history, or at least have seen The Long Riders (trailer), Walter Hill's better-known 1980 take on the story, then you know that the robbery at Northfield, Minnesota, was anything but a success for the James-Younger Gang. In this version, director Kaufman's first "real" Hollywood directorial job of any note, was co-produced by its headlining star Cliff Robertson; R.G. Armstrong plays Clell Miller, one of the outlaws of the gang that did not survive the disastrous raid. This film has fallen off the wayside and remains unjustly little-known today: well-acted and well-made, it is an early and interesting entry in the dirty-clothed, myth-deconstructing Westerns that suddenly began turning up in the US in the 1970s. Four years later Philip Kaufman wrote The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976 / trailer), which he was set to direct until the film's star and producer, Clint Eastwood, fired him so as to take over the reins himself.

The Final Comedown
(1972, dir. Oscar Williams)
R.G. Armstrong finally appears somewhere (as "Mr. Freeman") in a true, 100% "Us against the Man" Blaxploitation film, the directorial debut of Oscar Williams and the first feature film to give Billy Dee Williams (of Alien Intruder [1992]) starring credit. Billy Dee, of course, is still around, but Oscar disappeared into teaching film school after his truly memorable fourth and infamously bad last film, Death Drug (1978 / supermarket freak-out). Oscar's other unknown directorial efforts are the cultural relic comedy Five on the Black Hand Side (1973 / trailer) and the forgotten Jim Kelly flick, Hot Potato (1976 / first 15 minutes).'s plot description: "Johnny Johnson (Billy Dee) is a young black man with a promising future and an impatience for racism. This gets out of control when the job he applies for is given to a less qualified white man. As a result, he joins a radical civil rights group and takes matters into his own hands through a violent revolution and ultimate confrontation with the police." Also at Amazon, some guy named E. Drake says: "I wouldn't categorize this flick as a Blaxploitation flick [...]. It is a drama built on race and racism which may have targeted a black audience upon its release, but it simply isn't as polished [...]. In fact, it feels like a heavily funded student movie [...]. The movie starts off with a pretty intense scene/montage of the black ghetto and a war between blacks (as youths in the ghetto) and whites (as policeman in the ghetto). [...] Aside from some interesting conversations on black oppression [...], which still exists today, highlighting a pro-white stance vs. an against-white stance, this movie was not a good one." In 1976, the film was recut, augmented with new footage shot by Allan Arkush and rereleased as Blast! (directed by "Frank Arthur Wilson").
From the soundtrack by Grant GreenBattle Scene:

Il mio nome è Nessuno
(1973, dir. Tonino Valerii)

Theme to My Name is Nobody:
Oddly enough, considering the number of Westerns R.G. Armstrong made, My Name is Nobody is the only Spaghetti Western he participated in – but at least it also one of the best of the funny ones. Ironically, his name is misspelled in the credits as "R.K. Armstrong". My Name is Nobody is a comic take on the "Old" West (played by Henry Fonda, in his last Western) changing over to the "New" West (represented by Terrance Hill). The film was produced by Sergio Leone, who also directed a few scenes, but most of the film was made by Tonino Valerii, known for The Day of Anger (1968 / trailer), The Price of Power (1969 / Italian trailer), A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die (1972 / trailer) and My Dear Killer (1972 / trailer). "R.K. Armstrong", as Honest John, can be seen briefly in the trailer (he's one of the guys holding up the awning).
The plot, as supplied by lonamer at imdb: "Jack Beauregard (Fonda), once the greatest gunslinger of the Old West, only wants to move to Europe and retire in peace. But a young gunfighter, known only as 'Nobody' (Hill), idolizes him and wants to see him go out in a blaze of glory. He arranges for Jack to face the 150-man gang known as the Wild Bunch and earn his place in history."
Full film:

White Lightning
(1973, dir. Joseph Sargent)
White Lightning – named after something otherwise known as moonshine – is an early entry of the kind of Hicksville action flicks that helped make Burt Reynolds a star: he plays the moonshine runner Gator McKlusky. The plot, according to Wikipedia: "Bobby 'Gator' McKlusky (Reynolds) is serving time in an Arkansas prison for running moonshine when he learns his younger brother Donny was murdered and that Sheriff J.C Conners (Ned Beatty) was the one behind it. Gator knows the sheriff is taking money from local moonshiners, so he agrees to go undercover for the Feds and try to expose the sheriff. He gets a job running moonshine with Roy Boone (Bo Hopkins) and starts having an affair with his girlfriend Lou (Jennifer Billingsley). Eventually, when the sheriff discovers Gator is working for the Feds and sends his enforcer Big Bear (Armstrong), Gator decides to go after the sheriff in an epic car chase finale." White Lightening, which is a personal fave of Quentin Tarantino, was followed by a sequel three years later entitled Gator (1976 / trailer), which Burt Reynolds both starred in and directed. Director Sargent made his feature-film debut in 1969 with the now unjustly forgotten science fiction film Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970 / trailer) and stopped making feature films after the mess known as Jaws: The Revenge (1987 / trailer). His best known film is arguably the original (and best) version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 / trailer). Whatever Tarantino might think about White Lightening, the blogspot Scopophilia says: "The story and scenarios are formulaic to the extreme and offer nothing new to an already uninspired genre. The characters are annoyingly clichéd southern stereotypes. The pacing is poor and filled with drama that is stale and action that is lacking. The dialogue is derivative and there is not enough tension, or plot devices to hold the viewer's interest."

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
(1973, dir. Sam Peckinpah)
R.G. plays Deputy Sheriff Ollinger, who gets shot by an escaping Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) fairly early in this movie, famous for its troubled production and post-production, for being the film debut of Bob Dylan (who also supplied the soundtrack), and for being a dud. The last, at least, until 1988, when Peckinpah's original edit was released; since then, the film has been reappraised by some as a modern classic. (Knocking on Heaven's Door, Dylan's famous song from the soundtrack, is oddly enough not used in the original Peckinpah cut of the film.) Video Vacuum, however, does not seem to find the movie a modern masterpiece: "Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a muddled and dull western that adds very little to the legend of the great Wild West outlaw. I guess Peckinpah was trying to 'demystify' the character of Billy the Kid by making him more of a regular Joe. But by doing so, it not only takes away his coolness, it makes him kinda boring too." The plot, according to Ed Sutton ( at imdb: "It's 1881 in New Mexico, and the times they are a'changing. Pat Garrett (James Coburn), erstwhile travelling companion of the outlaw Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) has become a sheriff, tasked by cattle interests with ridding the territory of Billy. After Billy escapes, Pat assembles a posse and chases him through the territory, culminating in a final confrontation at Fort Sumner, but is unaware of the full scope of the cattle interests' plans for the New West." Legend has it that Peckinpah filmed an alternative ending in which Dylan beats both Pat Garret and Billy the Kid to death with his guitar and then smokes a joint before riding off into the sunset.
Selig's cover version of Knockin' On Heaven's Door(from the great German film Knockin' On Heaven's Door [1997]):

Gentle Savage
(1973, dir. Sean MacGregor)
Aka Camper John. R.G. plays Rupert Beeker, the owner of "Beeker's Bar." From the back of the original VHS release: "A small Arizona town, seething with racial tension, explodes when the stepdaughter (Betty Ann Carr) of its most powerful citizen (Kevin Hagen) cries 'Rape.' Camper John Allen (William Smith), a peaceful Indian, is wrongfully accused of the crime and imprisoned. Later, he escapes and returns to the reservation – only to find his house in flames, his people homeless and his brother (Ned Romero) murdered by a hate-crazed mob. Determined to clear his name once and for all, Camper replies in the only language the mob understands – violence!" This drive-in flick of the "violence for peace" mode – see any given Billy Jack film – has long been forgotten. Cinema de Bizarre says: "[Gentle Savage is] a film that goes beyond simple exploitation to put the treatment of Native Americans under the microscope. Gentle Savage is a shockingly thought-provoking film, and the fact that [the director] MacGregor cast real Native Americans in the supporting roles makes it all the more moving." MacGregor also directed the much more popular killer-kiddies cult film Devil Times Five in 1974 (trailer / full film) and wrote the script to the effective but totally forgotten likewise kiddy-themed horror film The Brotherhood of Satan (1971 / trailer). 
Artsy fan-made trailer:

Reflections of Murder
(1974, dir. John Badham)
Airing on ABC on November 24, 1974, Reflections of Murder was one of John Badham's last TV movies before he moved into doing feature films with The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976 / trailer); among his films that we find mildly entertaining are Saturday Night Fever (1977 / trailer), Dracula (1979 / trailer) and Nick of Time (1995 / trailer). At, Hal Erickson says: "Reflections of Murder is an admitted remake of the 1955 French spine-tingler Diabolique (trailer) – we say 'admitted' because most Diabolique rip-offs fail to credit the source. Joan Hackett is unhappily married to Sam Waterston. Tuesday Weld is Waterston's equally disenchanted mistress. Hackett and Weld conspire to murder the hateful Waterston, but he proves hard to kill. Even after he's breathed his last, Waterston steadfastly refuses to stay dead – and thus the stage is set for the twist/counter-twist climax." R.G. plays Mr. Turner; he shows up about eighth in the credits sequence. Twitch says "Reflections of Murder is a slick piece of tele-filmmaking. Through its meticulous build-up of dread and anxiety (culminating in Waterston's supremely eerie 'resurrection' – a sequence that should be seen and not spoiled), Murder manages to transcend its source material. Operating more as an atmospheric horror show than a traditional suspensor, it layers on a ghostly piano score and wet, fog-laden scenery from the get-go, expertly establishing a foreboding mood. When it comes time to turn the screws on Weld and especially Hackett, the film works with precision to build tension and unsettle without resorting to false scares or audio / visual bombast."
First ten minutes:

The Legend of Hillbilly John
(1974, dir. John Newland)
The hero sings:
As far as we know, throughout his long and busy directorial career – which includes the popular TV horror film Crawlspace (1972 / first 8 minutes) – John Newland only ever directed two feature-length films, and both are odd projects: the Romy Schneider incest drama My Lover My Son (1970) and this low budget fantasy film based on the guitar-playing protagonist Silver John created by cult writer Manly Wade Wellman (May 21, 1903 – April 5, 1986), projects so odd that they can only be labors of love. In 1963, the Silver John tales were collected in a single book entitled Who Fears The Devil? – which a few online sources says was the originally intended title of this movie., which offers the DVD for sale, says the movie is "the folktale story of a young guitar-toting ballad singer [Hedges Capers, in his only known film] who wanders the American South. He encounters all sorts of odd characters, a magician, a flying monster and even the Devil. It's a mix of folklore, fantasy and little horror. The film has lots of songs too." The Bad Movie Report says that the film is not really one to be recommended: "Though far from being a terrible film, it stands mainly as a testament to Good Intentions, High Aspirations, and Hope. It is the sort of film that is more enjoyable in the having seen than actually seeing.... as you ponder the things that might have been, and could have been, in a just universe." R.G. Armstrong pays someone called "Bristowe" – you see him below in the lower left image of the last row.

Attack of the Ugly Bird:

White Line Fever
(1975, dir. Jonathan Kaplan)

Credit sequence with the theme song Drifting & Dreaming by Valerie Carter:
R.G. Armstrong has a super-tiny part in this Roger-Corman-produced flick aimed at the USA's pop culture fascination for the trucker culture of the states (think Convoy [1978 / theme song] or Smokey & the Bandit [1977 / trailer]), which saw/sees the trucker as a sort of modern-day cowboy. White Line Fever is but one of a whole slew of more than entertaining Roger-Corman-produced drive-in flotsam that Jonathan Kaplan did in the early seventies, including 1973 The Student Teachers (1973 / trailer), Night Call Nurses (1972 / trailer) and the semi-classic Blaxploitation flick Truck Turner (1974 / trailer). In regards to this pre-alcohol-bloat Jan-Michael Vincent flick, Don Druker of The Chicago Reader says: "The blue-collar revenge tragedy lives on in Jonathan Kaplan's surprisingly effective tale of a young independent trucker (Jan-Michael Vincent) up against the petty graft and entrenched hoodlumism of the industry. Strongly reminiscent of Walking Tall (1973 / trailer) [...], Kaplan's film breaks no new ground. But Vincent is stronger than usual, and Kaplan is clearly in control of his pacing and editing. With Kay Lenz, Slim Pickens, and L.Q. Jones." 

Race with the Devil
(1975, dir. Jack Starrett)

"Enjoy your trip, have a good time, leave this up to me."
Sheriff Taylor (R.G. Armstrong)
Jack Starrett also directed the more entertaining Blaxploitation flick Cleopatra Jones (1973). As Classic Horror says, "An entertaining, if schizophrenic, drive-in romp." Race with the Devil has gained a strong cult following over the years, and it is a relatively fun and watchable amalgamation of a variety of fun genres – killer hicks, devil-worshipper horror, action and car chase – but for all the film's effective sense of increasing paranoia, and as much fun as it is to watch Peter Fonda and Warren Oates in action as the male halves of the two couples underway in their motor home, the female halves (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) pretty much ruin the flick with their incessant screeching. The plot, as explained by Ed Sutton ( at imdb: "Frank (Oates) and Roger (Fonda) and their wives take off for Colorado in a recreational vehicle, looking forward to some skiing and dirt biking. While camping en route, they witness a Satanic ritual sacrifice, but the local sheriff (Armstrong) finds no evidence to support their claims and urges them to continue on their vacation. On the way, however, they find themselves repeatedly attacked by cult members, and they take measures to defend themselves." The film posits the idea that everyone in Texas is actually a Satanist, which would well help explain the inexplicable power and popularity of the Bush family...  and why Texas will probably vote Romney.

Boss Nigger
(1975, dir. Jack Arnold)

Love the funky title track:
Jack Arnold's second Blaxploitation directorial job, and like the first one, Black Eye (1974 / trailer), Fred Williamson stars in it. Unlike with the earlier film, however, Williamson both wrote and co-produced this baby – this first of his many films in which he is given these credits. Somehow, we here at A Wasted Life find it hard to believe that anyone would have the cajonas to release a film with a title like this nowadays – needless to say, it was even re-titled to simply Boss for its 2008 DVD release. Cool Ass Cinema explains the plot as follows: "Boss (Williamson) and Amos (D'Urville Martin) are two bounty hunters trudging across the violent western frontier in pursuit of wanted men. They enter the dusty town of San Miguel and discover there is no sheriff and also learn that the town is lorded over by the vicious Jed Clayton (William Smith) and his gang of cutthroats. With much of the town against them, the two African American bounty killers launch an assault on Clayton's gang eventually rallying some of the town to take up arms against the ruthless bunch of outlaws." R.G. Armstrong plays the town's wimpy mayor.

Dixie Dynamite
(1976, dir. Lee Frost)
R.G. Armstrong in an (as always) small part, this time as Charlie White, the bank president. Dixie Dynamite is more redneck entertainment from Lee Frost, one of the great directors of cheap and sleazy exploitation – when he died in 2007, the world of trash cinema lost one of its true masters. Dixie Dynamite, however, is one of his lesser efforts... DVD Drive-In astutely observes: "Dixie Dynamite – A PG Lee Frost film? Yep, and it's not that good. Two buxom women [Dixie (Jane Anne Johnstone) and Patsy (Kathy McHaley), in the only film either ever made] take over their dead father's moonshine still and destroy the competitor responsible for his death using their sexy wiles and their trusty packs of dynamite. There are some exciting chase scenes, plenty of explosions, greasy villains, dirt bike racing, some brief nudity, character actor favorites Warren Oates and Christopher George, and Frost's regular producer Wes Bishop. Only in the 1970s could this Southern-fried action cheapie have made a killing at the box office." To list but a few of many other films of note by Frost: The Defilers (1965 / trailer), Mondo Bizarro and Mondo Freudo (both 1966 / joint trailer), Love Camp 7 (1967 / trailer), Chrome and Hot Leather [1971 / trailer], Policewomen (1974 / trailer) and The Black Gestapo (1975 / trailer)... True 42nd Street trash, one and all!

Stay Hungry
(1976, dir. Bob Rafelson)
Arnold Schwarzenegger won a Golden Globe Award for "Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture" for his work in this dramatic comedy, despite the fact that he had already appeared in Hercules in New York (1970 / trailer) and Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973 / trailer) – Stay Hungry, however, was the first film in which his voice was heard (he had no lines in The Long Goodbye and was dubbed in the original release of Hercules). The film, which is set in Armstrong's hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, is based on the 1972 novel of the same name by Charles Gaines (the cover art might make the book look like a gay porno novel, but of course it isn't). Film Fanatic, which calls the movie "quirky" and says that the movie is "more concerned with unusual characters and settings than plot," offers the following synopsis: "On behalf of a business syndicate, wealthy southerner Craig Blake (Jeff Bridges) visits a local gym and tries to persuade its owner (R.G. Armstrong) to sell. Meanwhile, he finds himself attracted to a petite gym employee (Sally Field), and fascinated by the lifestyle of muscleman Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger)." The name Santo, needless to say, is an intentional reference to the legendary lucha libre wrestler El Santo – Schwarzenegger evens wears a Mexican wrestling mask a couple of times in the flick.
Three familiar but young faces in a scene from the movie:

Mean Johnny Barrows
(1976, dir. Fred Williamson)
From the soundtrack: Gordon Staples – Sounds of The Zodiac:
Fred Williamson's second go as producer is also his directorial debut. Trash City says: "There's something of First Blood (1982 / trailer) here: Vietnam vet Johnny Barrows (Williamson) comes home to find society not exactly welcoming him with open arms. He initially resists the offers of mobster Mario Racconi (Stuart Whitman) to work for him, but after Racconi is gunned down and his associate Nancy (Jenny Sherman) apparently raped, Johnny goes on the warpath against the rival Da Vinci family [run by Roddy McDowall!]. It's an odd crossover between a Mafia film and Blaxploitation, with Williamson's the only significant black role. The inter-racial romance hinted at between Johnny and Nancy is definitely ahead of its time, but this angle is given so little time to grow, it seems badly forced when it actually is required to become significant to the plot." R.G. Armstrong plays Richard, a racist jerk that hires Barrows to work at his gas station and then rips him off; Barrows beats him up, which lands him back in jail...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good article. He was in some good ones!!