You Don't Know Shat: Pray For the Wildcats (1974)
Shatner, four weeks in review. This is the month of You Don’t Know Shat whose four week mission is to take a look at the long and storied career of William Shatner. To review obscure titles from the master of the over reaction. To seek out hidden gems and classic film from the master of the toupee. To boldly celebrate one of my favorite actors.
Pray For the Wildcats (1974) starring William Shatner, Robert Reed, Andy Griffith, Marjoe Gortner, and Angie Dickenson.
Warren, Paul, and Terry are ad executives, each with a host of problems in their lives. Paul (Robert Reed) and his wife (Angie Dickenson) are having troubles at home, and they fight all the time. Paul (Gortner) is totally driven by his work, and when his girlfriend tells him she is pregnant, the only thing he has to say is that he would be fine with an abortion. Warren (Shatner) is feeling depressed and distant from his wife, and his girlfriend, Paul's wife. All three of the men are involved in the new ad campaign for Sam Farragut (Griffith), and each of them are desperate to keep his business.
So when Sam suggests a motorcycle trip down to Baha to scout locations for the proposed ad, Warren is resistant at first. However, Sam leans on the men, and they have no choice but to agree. As soon as they are on the road they begin to see that Sam is more than just a good old boy. At a roadside cantina, Sam starts a fight after trying to get fresh with a dancing hippy girl. With each day, Sam finds new ways to put their lives and careers in danger. Warren and Paul begin to realize that Sam might be off his rocker, but it comes too late to stop Sam's eratic behavior from claiming a life. It's up to Warren to shake off his suicidal streak and put an end to the madness.
(All Facts are culled from William Shatner's recollections of the shooting of Pray for the Wildcats. To Check out the whole story check out the "official", and now defunct: Pray for the Wildcats Fansite. These facts are only as true as the recollection of Mr. Shatner.)
--Marjoe Gortner was constantly trying to get Shatner to do drugs. He offered Bill acid before the filming of the scene where Warren mentions an interest in the drug.
--Andy Griffith did some "method" acting on the set. Shooting was delayed several days after he got into the bottles of tequila on the bar set, and many cast members were kicked off the film after a confrontation with a drunken GRiffith. When a grip told the former sheriff of Mayberry to stop making lewd comments to a makeup lady, Griffith bashed the man in the head with a glass.
--Robert Reed, a.k.a Mr. Brady, who is now known to be gay, spend much of his time on the set hitting on male Production Assistants.
--Griffith suffered such a drunken blackout that he ran naked through the set.
The Bug Speaks
Shatner who was primarily known at the time (and perhaps now) for his role as Captain Kirk on Star Trek was looking for something different to distance himself from the iconic character. The first role he accepted coming off of Trek was that of Warren in Pray for the Wildcats. So on January 23rd 1974, ABC aired their movie of the week and the public got their first glimpse of The Captain in the Grey Flannel Suit. Shatner's Warren is quite the departure from confident Kirk. This is a guy who can't catch a break. His boss at the ad agency even critizises Warren's suits telling him to get some wider lapels after all "Prichett is a NOW agency." Shatner of course brings his usual overwrought performance to the screen. As we slowly learn that Warren intends to not come back from the Baha trip he takes a trip to the doctor to get certified for a life insurance policy. That's where we get the wonderful line delivery from Shatner as he says. "Not so pretty on the inside, are we?" while musing over his x-rays.
The other inspired performance in the film is of course Andy Griffith. This is Andy's most intense role since his 1957 breakthrough turn as "Lonesome" Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd (a film I will be covering in the near future). Griffith swaggers across the screen making a largely written role even more enormous, and again it is the dialog that really delivers. Lines such as "It's just you and me baby, we're getting it ON!", "I'm kind of a hippy, a hippy with money." and "Hooot Daaaaammn." all manage to delight as they appear from the lips of Andy of Mayberry. It's kind of too bad that Griffith didn't take more roles as the "heavy" while the script here was filled with garbage, Andy actually has a menacing presence on the screen that will surprise many long time fans.
The other lead roles belong to Marjoe Gortner and Robert Reed. Gortner, the former evangelist, is fine as the wormy Terry, but after Shatner's recollection that Gortner was on copious amounts of drugs, there is no wonder his performance suffers. Robert Reed seems quite stiff in and film, and his character really never gets an ounce of character development. However knowing what we know now of the personal life of Mr. Reed, there is some enjoyment to be garnered from lines like when he says to Shatner "I'm going back to the hotel. You want to tag along?" (Which Shat declines with a slight smile). Also when arguing with film wife Angie Dickenson he tells her "The man you married lived in an apartment with only one closet.", you have to wonder if he was living in the apartment or just the closet.
The film was full of sly nods to the histories of both of the main actors. Griffith's Farragut passes out the fellows leather jackets with a "Baha Wildcats" logo on them, but to wear underneath each man dons a shirt which look remarkably like the attire from Star Trek. Meanwhile when the "gang" get into trouble in Mexico, they are confronted by a Mexican cop who swaggers like Barney Fife and dresses like him as well. (If only we knew how many bullets he had.) Director Robert Michael Lewis made a career out of directing made of TV movies, and Pray for the Wildcats has the classic look of 1970's TV fare. I does move a bit slow at times, perhaps due to having to come in at an exact time, but overall the tale moves along at a fairly fast clip.
Pray for the Wildcats is seriously one of my favorite films. Filled with all the overacting, underacting, bad dialog, and a lot of unintentional laughs, this film never manages to disappoint. I rented this first years ago at a Mom and Pop rental place, and I had many years where I was seeking it out. I only recently bought a VHS tape of this one with no cover and it still cost a pretty penny. Luckily for you folks I am happy to say that Cinema de Bizzare now offers this classic on DVD. Check this film out if you're a fan of motorcycle flicks, Griffith, '70's cheese, or, of course, Shatner.