Wasn’t Born to Follow: RIP Peter Fonda

It’s ironic that on this, the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, one of our biggest counter-culture icons has passed away. When I saw Peter Fonda had died at age 79, my first reaction was, “Gee, I didn’t know he was that old” (while sitting in an audience waiting for a concert by 72 -year-old Dennis DeYoung of Styx fame!). But we don’t really think of our pop culture heroes as ever aging, do we? I mean, c’mon… how could EASY RIDER’s Wyatt (aka Captain America) possibly be 79??

Be that as it may, Peter Fonda was born into Hollywood royalty February 23. 1940. Henry Fonda was already a star before Peter arrived, thanks to classics like YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, JEZEBEL, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, and THE GRAPES OF WRATH (released a month before Peter’s birth). Henry has often been described as cold and aloof, not showering much in the way of affection on young Peter and his older sister Jane. Their mother, Frances, committed suicide in a psych hospital, where she’d been admitted after the devastating news Henry wanted a divorce, in 1950, when Peter was just ten.

With Sandra Dee in “Tammy and the Doctor”

Despite (or more likely, because of) his father distance, young Peter began studying acting in college, hoping to follow in Henry’s footsteps. He began getting work in the early 60’s doing TV guest shots (NAKED CITY, WAGON TRAIN, THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR) and some movies (TAMMY AND THE DOCTOR, THE VICTORS, THE YOUNG LOVERS), nothing very memorable. He then became involved with the 60’s counter culture movement, getting arrested during the Sunset Strip riots and tripping on acid with The Beatles (the line “I know what it’s like to be dead” from The Fab Four’s “She Said She Said” is attributed to Fonda). As his hair got longer and his trips more frequent, acting work seemed to dry up… until Roger Corman came a-calling!

The Leader of the Pack: 1966’s “The Wild Angels”

Fonda’s two mid-60’s films with Corman solidified his image as a Hollywood rebel. THE WILD ANGELS was the prototype for all those bikersploitation flicks to come, with Fonda as leader of the pack Heavenly Blues, and another  Child of Tinseltown, Nancy Sinatra, as his ol’ lady. The film’s practically plotless, allowing Corman and uncredited script doctor Peter Bogdanovich to indulge in their outlaw biker fantasies, including this now-classic moment:

Next up was THE TRIP , and if you thought WILD ANGELES lacked in the plot department – hoo boy! This psychedelic 60’s ode to LSD was written by Jack Nicholson , and stars Fonda as an uptight director of TV commercials who tunes in, turns on, and drops out. In my 2017 review, I wrote that THE TRIP is “a visual and aural assault on the senses filled with kaleidoscopic imagery, stunning light show effects, and hallucinogenic nightmare sequences… (that) becomes pure film”. It was on this film Fonda met another Hollywood rebel struggling within the system…

…Dennis Hopper, who’d starred in his own AIP outlaw biker flick, THE GLORY STOMPERS . The two hit it off, and decided to make their own movie, their own way, with Fonda producing and Hopper directing.

Fonda and Hopper in 1969’s “Easy Rider”

Envisioned as a modern-day Western road trip, 1969’s EASY RIDER caught the 60’s counterculture zeitgeist perfectly, and became a huge hit. Largely improvised (though screenwriter Terry Southern always denied it), the film’s structure is about as loose as you can get, following Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) as they ride their choppers from LA to New Orleans after a successful cocaine deal to attend Mardi Gras. Their journey across America takes them to an Arizona farm, a hippie commune, and a night in a New Mexican jail, where they meet alcoholic lawyer Jack Nicholson (who copped his first Oscar nom here) before reaching The Big Easy, and that fateful final encounter with the dark side of America on a lonely stretch of highway. EASY RIDER’s look and attitude helped launch the New Hollywood movement, and featured a seminal rock score by artists like The Band, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, and Steppenwolf.

1971’s “The Hired Hand”

The success of EASY RIDER gave Fonda some clout, and his next picture THE HIRED HAND found him directing and starring as an Old West drifter who returns to his wife (Verna Bloom) after seven years. It’s a dark, moody piece that audiences didn’t quite get when first released; seen today, THE HIRED HAND has a lot going for it, including the performances of Fonda, Bloom, and Warren Oates, and some stunning cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond.

With Brooke Shields in “Wanda Nevada”

After the box office failure of THE HIRED HAND, the bloom was off Fonda’s rose, and he spent most of the 70’s in a series of action flicks: DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, RACE WITH THE DEVIL, KILLER FORCE, the sci-fi sequel FUTUREWORLD, FIGHTING MAD, OUTLAW BLUES, HIGH-BALLIN’ . Most are good, solid drive-in fare, but Peter’s really not given much to do. He returned to the director’s chair with 1979’s WANDA NEVADA, starring as a gambler who wins 13-year-old Brooke Shields in a card game, and the two hunt for hidden gold in the Grand Canyon. Critics of the day savaged the movie, but I’ve always liked it, and would recommend it to those interested in Fonda’s work. Plus, dad Henry Fonda has a cameo as a grizzled old prospector; it’s your only chance to see Fonda pere and fils share a screen moment together!

With Vanessa Zinn in “Ulee’s Gold”

To paraphrase Dylan, the times they were a-changin’, and Peter Fonda’s 80’s output isn’t all that interesting, except his cameo as a biker in Burt Reynolds’ THE CANNONBALL RUN, and his turn as a cult leader in Ted Kotcheff’s SPLIT IMAGE. But he made a major comeback with 1997’s ULEE’S GOLD, as a Florida bee (not ‘B’) keeper whose drug addicted daughter-in-law brings chaos into his well structured life. There’s a lot of the real-life Henry Fonda in Peter’s reticent Ulee Jackson, and he received an Oscar nomination for his performance, losing to old pal Jack Nicholson for AS GOOD AS IT GETS.

Most of the next twenty years found Peter Fonda doing supporting parts or brief cameos. The Sixties had come and gone, that free-spirited era existing only in nostalgic memory. But as long as the music and movies of the times are with us, as long as there’s a biker cruising down the highway on his (or her) Harley, the spirit of those times, and of Peter Fonda, will always be with us. Rest in peace, Captain America.

Advertisements

Familiar Faces #11: When Candy Johnson Got Us All Shook Up!

Candy Johnson, dubbed “The Perpetual Motion Machine” by American-International publicists, shaked, rattled, and rolled her way across the Silver Screen in the first four AIP/Beach Party flicks, then just as quickly disappeared from the scene. But just who was this undulating beach bunny with the amazing ability to send Eric Von Zipper flying through the air with her hip-quaking booty shaking?

‘Candy’ was the childhood nickname of Vicki Jane Husted, born in San Gabriel, California on Feb. 8, 1944. She was the niece of race car driver Jim Rathmann, who won the Indy 500 in 1960. Candy loved dancing (obviously!) and her energetic go-go shimmying landed her a two-year gig as the featured attraction at Palm Springs’ Safari Lounge, backed by The Exciters Band, where she drew sold-out crowds on a nightly basis. The California Girl and her band next hit glittering Las Vegas, where the local press first coined that “Perpetual Motion Machine” nickname. It was there she caught the eyes of American-International Pictures honchos, who were looking for youthquakers to cast in their new film series about frolicking hormonal teenagers at the beach.

BEACH PARTY  was released in the summer of 1963 P.B. (that’s Pre-Beatles) and the low-budget formula of sand, sun, and surf became a smash on the Drive-In circuit. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello were the nominal stars (along with “oldsters” Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone), but Candy received a special ‘Introducing’ credit as the vigorously frugging girl with the hips that caused horny surfers to hurl across the beach! Next up was MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (1964) , featuring the great Peter Lorre in his penultimate role as Mr. Strangedour.

BIKINI BEACH (1964)  followed quickly, and this time Candy and The Exciters got to do their own number, a Swingin’ Sixties sax-honking classic titled “Gotcha Where I Wantcha”, which Candy joyously reprises during the end credits accompanied by veteran character actress Renie Riano:

It was during this time The Candy Johnson Show appeared at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, drawing massive crowds to the Bourbon Street Pavilion with their act at the ‘Gay New Orleans Nightclub’. The Pavilion was the Fair’s biggest hit, and attracted the attention of future Studio 54 owner Mark Fleischman, who opened the New York discotheque The Candy Store, headlined by Our Girl Candy and her Exciters. Members of rock band The Strangeloves allegedly saw Candy perform and came up with the perennial rock classic “I Want Candy”, which rose to #11 in 1965:

Candy’s last beach flick was PAJAMA PARTY before being replaced by AIP exec James Nicholson’s new squeeze, starlet Susan Hart. Candy retired from show-biz in 1968 and settled into a quiet life away from the spotlight. She was urged by friends to attend a special 2006 screening of BEACH PARTY in Los Angeles, and when she was introduced to the audience at the film’s conclusion, they surprised her with a thunderous standing ovation! Candy Johnson passed away of brain cancer just six years later at age 68, and her cremated remains were shot into space aboard the Celestis Centennial Memorial Spaceflight… Candy Johnson is now One with the Universe!

Now enjoy Candy along with 13-year old Stevie Wonder as we roll the end credits from MUSCLE BEACH PARTY! Thanks for the summertime memories, Candy:

RIP Pumpsie Green

Most people these days think of Boston (and the Northeast as a whole) as a modern Athens, the standard bearer for progressive, liberal thinking. But it wasn’t always so. The City of Boston in the 1950’s and 60’s was a hotbed of racial tensions, with frequent rioting over such issues as forced busing and integration. While Jackie Robinson was the first black player to break the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947, the Boston Red Sox (owned by avowed racist Tom Yawkey) didn’t add a player of color until 1959. That player’s name was Elijah “Pumpsie” Green.

Green was born October 27, 1933 in the small town of Boley, Oklahoma. As a youth, he excelled at sports, as did his brother Cornell, who wound up playing 13 seasons as a Defensive Back for the Dallas Cowboys. After playing college ball at Contra Costa, Pumpsie turned pro in 1954, and toiled in the minor leagues for five years before finally being called up by Boston. He made his Major League debut on July 21, 1959 as a pinch runner, and continued to play for the Sox, mostly as a second baseman, until being traded to the New York Mets for Felix Mantilla in 1963. Green played a few more seasons in the minors before hanging up his spikes in 1965. After his career ended, he worked as a high school baseball coach and truant officer in Berkeley, California, where he settled with his wife Marie.

His career stats aren’t exactly Hall of Fame material – a lifetime .246 average with 13 home runs and 74 RBI in just 344 games – but as the first black player for the Red Sox, he broke the ground for future stars like George “Boomer” Scott, Jim Rice, David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, and so many others. Elijah “Pumpsie” Green died today at the ripe old age 85. He may never be a Hall of Famer, but his contribution to the game of baseball was important, and his name will live on. Job well done, Pumpsie. Rest in peace.

Make ‘Em Laugh: RIP Tim Conway

If comedy is a gift, then Tim Conway was America’s Santa Claus, delivering bags full of laughter directly into our homes for over fifty years. The cherubic Conway, who died May 14 at age 85, was mainly known for his television work, but also starred in films, on stage, and in the home video field, making him a true Renaissance Man of Comedy.

Tim and Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson

Young Tim got his start in his hometown of Cleveland, not exactly a hotbed of humor (with apologies to Jim Backus, Kaye Ballard, and British transplant Bob Hope ), writing and appearing in skits with local TV personality Ernie Anderson during breaks in a morning movie show. Anderson himself would later gain fame as a horror host (Cleveland’s Ghoulardi) and  a network announcer, ‘The Voice of ABC’ (“Tonight on The Loooo-ve Boat….”).

Comic actress Rose Marie, on a cross-country tour promoting THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, saw some clips of Tim and Ernie’s skits and helped him land a spot on Steve Allen’s national program. This led to Conway being cast as the bumbling, naive Ensign Charles Parker on a new sitcom titled MCHALE’S NAVY,  set during WWII and starring Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine as the conniving Lt. Cmdr. Quenton McHale. Parker’s inept ensign was a constant thorn in the side of stuffy Capt. Binghamton (‘Old Leadbottom’), played to perfection by the nasal-voiced Joe Flynn, who was always trying to find a way to rid himself of McHale and his crew of reprobates. But it was Conway who was the comic glue holding things together during the series four-year run, and his slapstick antics delighted both kids and adults out there in TV land.

The series proved popular enough to inspire two feature films, the first (1964’s MCHALE’S NAVY) featuring the entire cast. 1965’s MCHALE’S NAVY JOINS THE AIR FORCE was made without Borgnine (who was busy filming FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX), giving Conway the chance to showcase his comedy talents. This one finds Ensign Parker embroiled in a case of mistaken identity with an Air Force lieutenant (Ted Bessel), and bumbling his way into becoming a war hero! Conway and Flynn made a great comic duo, but no more MCHALE’S films were made.

“Rango” (1967) with Norman Alden & Guy Marks

Tim tried and failed several times at starring in his own sitcom (RANGO, THE TIM CONWAY SHOW, ACE CRAWFORD PRIVATE EYE), but was in demand as a guest star on other programs. Most notoriously, he hosted the first (and as it turned out, only) episode of TURN-ON , a sketch show ripped off from the then-popular ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN that was so offensive, it was immediately cancelled after the first airing. Tim’s hometown of Cleveland didn’t even wait that long – station WEWS pulled the plug before the show was halfway through! Conway took his sitcom failures with good humor, though; his license plate read “13 WKS” (which was how long most of them lasted!).

“The Apple Dumpling Gang” (1975)

It didn’t look like Tim would ever be more than a second banana, until Disney came a-calling. His first for the studio was 1973’s THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE, with the late Jan-Michael Vincent as a jungle boy who brings sports success to a failing college program. Tim’s next Disney movie was fortuitous indeed; 1975’s THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG paired him with another sitcom refugee, Don Knotts , as a pair of inept Wild West outlaws mixed up with a gold heist and a trio of cute kids. Critics trashed it, but families turned out in droves, and THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG was the tenth-highest grossing film released that year, spawning a sequel, 1979’s THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG RIDES AGAIN.

Tim & Don in “The Private Eyes” (1980)

Tim and Don teamed in a pair of comedies that Conway co-wrote: THE PRIZE FIGHTER (1979) and THE PRIVATE EYES (1980). The former has Tim as a broken down boxer and Don his manager, the latter finds the duo as slapstick sleuths on the loose in London. Both give Tim and Don plenty of opportunities to strut their silly schtick, and were box office hits for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. They would team one more time in a cameo as goofy Highway Patrolmen in CANNONBALL RUN II, and we fans wish they would’ve made more movie madness together!

Mrs. Wiggins & Mr. Tudball

Tim had been making guest appearances on Carol Burnett’s weekly variety show since it began in 1967, and became part of the regular ensemble in 1975. He was given free reign to create crazy characters and out-there comic skits, and really began to shine. His pairings on the show with fellow funnyman Harvey Korman  are TV classics,  as Tim never failed to break Harvey up with his insane antics and ad-libs. A case in point is the classic skit “The Dentist”, which you can find here . His shuffling, stumbling World’s Oldest Man was another comedic highlight, as was his Swedish boss Mr. Tudball, constantly frustrated with blonde bimbo secretary Mrs. Wiggins (Carol in a blonde wig and tight dress). He also joined in on ‘The Family’ sketches (which later morphed into the sitcom MAMA’S FAMILY) as Korman’s bungling employee Mickey, and this outtake shows why Tim was the Comic’s Comic:

Life after Carol found Tim hitting the lucrative home video market with DORF ON GOLF (1987) as a so-called sports expert. Dorf talked in the same accent as Mr. Tudball, but was only about four feet tall (Tim achieved this by effect by sticking his knees in a pair of shoes). More Dorf videos ensued, each as popular with home audiences as the next.

Tim made new fans later in his career as the voice of Barnacle Boy, sidekick to superhero Mermaid Man (voiced by Tim’s old buddy Ernest Borgnine) on the Nickelodeon cartoon show SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. Tim Conway delighted TV and movie lovers for generations, and he was rewarded for his efforts with six Emmys. Inventive, fertile comedy minds like his don’t come around too often, but fortunately for us, we can still enjoy his peculiar brand of silliness for generations to come. Thanks for all the laughter, Tim, and rest in peace.

A Moment of Comedy Bliss with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman

As the world still mourns the loss of Doris Day yesterday, another great has left us  – TV comedy genius Tim Conway, who died today at age 85. Tim rightfully deserves a tribute post of his own, and he’ll get it, but until then, enjoy this classic bit of comedy gold from THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (and watch Harvey Korman try to keep a straight face!):

Tim Conway (1933-2019)

Once I Had A Secret Love: RIP Doris Day

You wouldn’t think from reading most of the content I publish – Western actioners, horror flicks, film noir, exploitation trash – that I’d be a big Doris Day fan. But the first film I can remember seeing on the Big Screen is THAT TOUCH OF MINK, with Doris and Cary Grant, and I’ve been in love ever since. Talent is talent, and the iconic singer/actress, who died earlier today at age 97, had it in bucketloads. Doris’s career spanned nearly 50 years, from the Big Band Era to Cable TV, and was “America’s Sweetheart” for most of her adult life (not to mention “The World’s Oldest Living Virgin” due to her squeaky-clean screen image!).

Cincinnati-born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff, born in 1922, wanted to be a professional dancer, but a severe car accident in 1937 curtailed that dream. Instead she turned to singing, and became a local sensation, eventually landing a gig with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. Brown’s orchestra, carried by Day’s stylish phrasing, rose to the top of the pop charts in 1945 with a song that resonated deeply with GI’s returning home from World War II and became a jazz standard, “Sentimental Journey”:

After spending two years as the featured singer on Bob Hope’s radio show (where she honed her comedic skills), Doris was signed by Warner Brothers and made her film debut in 1948’s ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS, an amusing bit of musical romantic fluff that starred Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Don DeFore, and Oscar Levant, in which she introduced the Oscar-nominated song, “It’s Magic”:

Doris was a hit with movie fans, and a series of musicals followed: MY DREAM IS YOURS, TEA FOR TWO, LULLABY OF BROADWAY, ON MOONLIGHT BAY, APRIL IN PARIS, BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON. She began getting some dramatic roles as well, as in  1950’s YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN, which found her as the love interest for alcoholic trumpeter Kirk Douglas. STORM WARNING (1951) found Doris enmeshed in a Southern town dominated by racism and the KKK, along with Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (1951) was a box-office smash, based on the life of famed early 20th Century songwriter Gus Kahn (played by Danny Thomas).

One of my personal favorite Day movies is CALAMITY JANE (1953), a rollicking musical set in the Wild West. Doris is the uncouth, rowdy legend Jane, while Howard Keel plays the object of her affections, Wild Bill Hickok. Doris gets to play broadly, mugging it up and having a grand old time, and introduces another #1 hit, the Oscar-winning “Secret Love”:

Her next two films are classics. LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955) is the musical biography of famed torch singer Ruth Etting, whose involvement with gangster Moe “The Gimp” Snyder (James Cagney) shocked the nation. Alfred Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) was a remake of the director’s 1934 film about an American couple abroad (Doris and James Stewart) embroiled in international intrigue and the kidnapping of their child. Both these films were hits, and Doris was now one of America’s top 10 box office draws (an honor she held ten times, including eight consecutive years, from 1959-1966).

Most fans remember her screen teamings with Rock Hudson in a series of ‘sex comedies’,beginning with 1959’s PILLOW TALK. This adult-oriented farce has Doris sharing a telephone party line with swinging playboy Rock, and the battle of the sexes that ensues. Tony Randall added to the fun as Rock’s pal, and the three reunited for 1961’s LOVER COME BACK, with Doris and Rock as rival Madison Ave ad execs. Last (and my favorite of the bunch) was 1964’s SEND ME NO FLOWERS, which has Rock as Doris’s hypochondriac hubby, who thinks he’s dying. The two stars remained lifelong friends, and Doris stood by Rock’s side as he was slowly slipping away due to complications from AIDS.

The times (and tastes) were a-changing during the 1960’s, and Doris moved to television, starring for 5 seasons on THE DORIS DAY SHOW. The sitcom went through numerous cast and setting changes during it’s run, never falling out of the top 40, but by this time Doris Day was symbolic of an earlier, more gentler era. She basically retired from show business, appearing in a few specials and talk show appearances, and hosted her own chat show, DORIS DAY’S BEST FRIENDS, on cable in the mid-80’s. Mostly, she was involved with her Doris Day Animal Foundation, and was an advocate to ‘reduce pain and suffering’ for animals worldwide. Doris Day’s passing today marks the end of an era, as Hollywood’s surviving Golden Age members are shrinking in numbers. It  may not be hip or cool to be a Doris Day fan, but if so, then I guess I’m not so hip and cool after all. God bless you, Miss Day, and thanks for the memories.

Rest in peace, Doris Day

1922-2019

 

 

An Underrated Man: RIP John Llewellyn Moxey (1925-2019)

John Llewellyn Moxey’s “Horror Hotel” (1960)

You won’t find the name of John Llewellyn Moxey bandied about in conversations on great film directors. Truth is, though Moxey did make some features of note, he spent most of his career doing made-for-television movies, a genre that doesn’t get a lot of respect. John Llewellyn Moxey wasn’t a flashy director or an “auteur” by any stretch of the imagination, but he was more than capable of turning out a solid, worthwhile production, and some of his TV-Movie efforts are just as good (if not better) than what was currently playing at the local neighborhood theaters or multiplexes at the time. Moxey’s  passing on April 29 at age 94 was virtually ignored by the press, but his career deserves a retrospective, so Cracked Rear Viewer is proud to present a look back at the film and television work of director John Llewellyn Moxey.

Moxey was born in Argentina, his father the overseer of a coal and steel empire. He was a movie-mad youth, and after serving in the British infantry during WWII, found work as an editor and assistant director in England. He got the opportunity to direct a few TV shows before taking on his first, best, and  most famous feature, 1960’s HORROR HOTEL (also known as CITY OF THE DEAD). This now-classic tale is filled with shock after shock, and starred Christopher Lee in a tale of Satanism and witchcraft in New England. Moxey shows he knew how to handle a good horror story, building the tension slowly, and would become a genre specialist in the years to come.

The director followed with a string of low-budget British thrillers based (loosely, I might add) on the works of mystery writer Edgar Wallace: DEATH TRAP, RICOCHET, FACE OF A STRANGER, DOWNFALL, STRANGLER’S WEB; the films featured familiar actors like Maxine Audley, Patrick Magee, and Barbara Shelley. Also on tap was 1966’s PSYCHO-CIRCUS (retitled CIRCUS OF FEAR for American audiences by AIP), another Wallace crime drama with some horror elements. This British-German coproduction reunited Moxey with Christopher Lee, along with Klaus Kinski, Suzy Kendall, and Leo Genn. During this time period, Moxey worked in British television directing episodes of CORONATION STREET, Z-CARS, THE BARON, THE AVENGERS, and THE SAINT.

Moxey moved his base of operations to America in the mid-60’s, directing episodes of NYPD, JUDD FOR THE DEFENSE, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, NAME OF THE GAME, HAWAII 5-0, and THE MOD SQUAD. In 1969, the struggling ABC network took an old concept (the anthology series) and spun it on its ear with the ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK. Budgeted at around $350,000 apiece and clocking in at 90 minutes (including commercials!), these were like the ‘B’ movies of the old studio days, featuring mainly faded stars of the past and up-and-coming actors in mysteries, romances, thriller, comedies, and even Westerns. Moxey’s first foray into the genre was THE HOUSE THAT WOULD NOT DIE, a haunted house chiller involving Revolutionary War-era ghosts terrorizing Barbara Stanwyck and her niece (Kitty Wynn) in Pennsylvania Amish country. Mr. Moxey had found his niche, and would become TV’s most prolific TV-Movie director. 1971 alone saw him do ESCAPE (Christopher George as an escape artist/private eye), THE LAST CHILD (a sci-fi drama dealing with overpopulation that featured the last acting work of Van Heflin ), A TASTE OF EVIL (psychological horror with Stanwyck, Barbara Parkins, and Roddy McDowell), and THE DEATH OF ME YET (a Cold War thriller with Doug McClure).

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, “The Night Stalker” (1972)

The next season saw Moxey helming a true classic: 1972’s THE NIGHT STALKER. The Richard Matheson teleplay follows Darren McGavin’s down-on-his-luck reporter Carl Kolchak investigating a Las Vegas serial killer that turns out to be ancient vampire Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater). THE NIGHT STALKER was a huge hit, the highest rated TV Movie ever up to that time, and inspired a sequel (THE NIGHT STRANGLER, directed by producer Dan Curtis ) and a brief weekly series (KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER). This well-done little gem compares favorably to any horror/exploitation theatrical film of the day, and has become a cult favorite for horror buffs, thanks in large part to Moxey’s taut direction.

Alex Cord in “Genesis II” (1973)

More Moxey TV-Movies followed, including a pair of 1972 Westerns starring Clint Walker (HARDCASE, THE BOUNTY MAN). HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (’72) was a Christmas-themed shocker with Sally Field, Eleanor Parker, Julie Harris, Jessica Walter, and Walter Brennan; GENESIS II (1973) a pilot for a new Gene Roddenberry sci-fi series starring Alex Cord; A STRANGE AND DEADLY OCCURRENCE (1974) another haunted house chiller, this time with Robert Stack and Vera Miles; WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE? (’74), post-apocalyptic sci-fi with Peter Graves and Verna Bloom; CONSPIRACY OF TERROR (1975), a creepy Satanism-in-the-suburbs tale featuring Michael Constantine and Barbara Rhodes. Moxey was also busy doing episodic TV, like SHAFT, POLICE STORY, KUNG FU, and the pilot episode of CHARLIE’S ANGELS.

Deborah Raffin in “Nightmare in Badham County” (1976)

Two 1976 TV-Movie efforts are worth noting. NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY could have fit right in on a Southern Fried Exploitation double feature with MACON COUNTY LINE or JACKSON COUNTY JAIL. In this one, Deborah Raffin and Lynne Moody are travelling down south when they encounter sleazy sheriff Chuck Connors, who wants to write them more than a ticket, if you get my drift! They’re arrested on false charges and brought before the judge, who happens to be the sheriff’s cousin (Ralph Bellamy, no less!), and sent to a grueling labor camp, where they undergo the familiar harsh conditions and sexual harassment. Sure, it’s a TV knockoff, but extremely well handled by Moxey and his cast, which also features Tina Louise, Robert Reed, Della Reese, and Lana Wood, and is a personal Guilty Pleasure of mine!

“Smash-Up On Interstate 5” (1976)

SMASH-UP ON INTERSTATE 5 was the TV-Movie version of a disaster flick, done on a much smaller scale, concerning a 39 car pile-up on a California highway that results in many injuries and deaths. The movie follows a select few who’ll be involved on the fateful day, and like its big screen brethren, it features an all-star cast (though again, on a much smaller scale): Robert Conrad, Buddy Ebsen, Herb Edelman, Scott Jacoby, Sue Lyon, Vera Miles, Donna Mills, David Nelson, Harriet Nelson, and Terry Moore (with an early role for young Tommy Lee Jones as a traffic cop on the scene).

Sally Struthers and Dennis Weaver in 1977’s “Intimate Strangers”

Into the late 70’s and 1980’s, Moxey’s output slowed down, but there are a few worth mentioning. INTIMATE STRANGERS (1977) was one of the first films (TV or otherwise) to tackle the issue of domestic violence, with Dennis Weaver as the rage-oholic, Sally Struthers his battered wife, and Tyne Daly in an Emmy-nominated performance as her supportive friend. SANCTUARY OF FEAR (1979) was a pilot for a mystery series featuring Barnard Hughes as G.K. Chesterton’s priest/sleuth Father Brown. THE VIOLATION OF SARAH MCDAVID (1981) was another tough drama ripped from the headlines, as inner city teacher Patty Duke is brutally beaten and raped, and battles the system while the higher-ups (led by Ned Beatty) create a cover-up. DEADLY DECEPTION (1987) won an Edgar Award for Best TV Mystery Teleplay (by Gordon Colter), about a reporter (Lisa Eilbacher) aiding a father (Matt Salinger) locate his long missing and presumed dead son. LADY MOBSTER (1988) was an over-the-top melodrama with Soap Opera Queen Susan Lucci taking on the Mafia – and winning!

After directing 8 episodes of MAGNUM PI and 18 of MURDER SHE WROTE, John Llewellyn Moxey retired from filmmaking. His body of work features some outstanding efforts, and as a director he had a high batting average indeed. He’ll be remembered for his home runs (HORROR HOTEL, THE NIGHT STALKER), but the rest of his filmography features some solid doubles and triples, and though the mainstream press hasn’t paid much attention to his passing, Cracked Rear Viewer fondly salutes you, Mr. Moxey. Job well done.

RIP John Llewellyn Moxey (1925-2019)