Cannonball 1976 ***

cannonball-3The no-hold-barred, cross-country car-race became familiar via The Gumball Rally and The Cannonball Run films; Paul Bartel’s Cannonball was a pioneering entry in this subgenre, with David Carradine’s character Coy “Cannonball” Buckman taking some inspiration from Edwin G ‘Cannon Ball’ Baker. There’s a whole lot of cannon-balling in that intro, but there’s even more in this Roger Corman film, which has a decidedly shaky tone. Bartel had ben asked by Corman to beef up the content featured in Death Race 2000, and this chaotic mess of a film does exactly that, with plenty of violent deaths which run counter to the otherwise sunny outlook. Racing against Coy and his girl Linda (Veronica Hamel from Hill Street Blues) are brother Robert Carradine, Mary Wonorov as one of the ‘game girls in a van’ team, Dick Dastardly-lite Wolfe Messer (James Keach) and singer-songwriter Penman Waters (Gerritt Graham). As if that’s not enough, there’s also Dick Miller getting beaten up while Bartel serenades him on a grand piano, blink-and-you’ll-miss them cameos from Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese, plus producer Don Simpson as a DA. Cannonball wears its thirst for carnage on its sleeve, and hopes the audience will feel the same. ‘See the worlds biggest pile-up!’ the poster screams, but the bloodshed sits uneasily with the silly comedy, and the idea of a road race in which dozens of people die is a conundrum the film’s lightweight resolution fails to address. The Cannonball myth was refined for more popular films; Bartel’s 1976 film is still something of a curiosity piece.

Southern Comfort 1981 ****


Writer and director Walter Hill specialised in terse, violent genre films; his 1981 film Southern Comfort is one of his best. A group of National Guardsmen in Louisiana circa 1973 fall foul of the native Cajun people, and a war of wits and attrition takes place on the hostile swamplands. Keith Carradine, Fred Ward and Powers Boothe are among the soldiers. Southern Comfort occupies a space halfway between Deliverance and Aliens; the sense of city folk out of their depth giving way to a full-on hunt, with the military training of the soldiers in contrast to the more primal methods of their pursuers. Most action films are brainless and unbelievable; Southern Comfort is smart and all too credible.

The Long Riders 1980 ***


The stunning images of a bang-robbing gang on horseback smashing through the plate-glass windows of an Old West Street is just one of the visual high-points of Walter Hill’s overlooked Western. Co-written with Bill Bryden amongst others, The Long Riders de-mythologizes The Jesse James gang, and cleverly uses acting clans to depict the brothers. Three Carradines (David, Keith and Robert), two Quaids (Dennis and Randy), two Guests (Christopher and Nicholas) and two Keaches (James and Stacey) are the gangs, with the latter two as James and Frank James, who become outlaws as an act of revenge. It’s a shame Beau and Jess Bridges weren’t able to schedule The Long Riders in, but Western fans should make an effort; Hill’s dark, brooding epic is a classic slice of revisionism.

Circle of Iron 1978 ***


Any film based on a story by Bruce Lee and James Coburn has to be interesting, and Circle of Iron/The Silent Flute is a genuine oddity. Richard Moore’s film features Jeff Cooper as Cord, who seeks a confrontation with wizard Zetan (Christopher Lee), but must go through many obstacles to get there. Bruce Lee died before the film could go into production, but the four roles he would have played are picked up by David Carradine, and the mystical quality of his Kung Fu TV show is much in evidence here. Roddy McDowell has an unlikely cameo, as does Eli Wallach, discovered in a caldron full of oil where he punishes himself for his own misdemeanours. If you ever wondered what kind of films Bruce Lee might have made if he’s lived to enjoy his stardom, Circle of Iron/ The Silent Flute has your answer; mystical, dotty but entertaining.

Lone Wolf McQuade 1983 ***


Chuck Norris’s back catalogue is an unsurprisingly patchy one, but youngsters hoping to get a glimpse of why Norris became an icon would be well advised to start with Lone Wolf McQuade. Steve Carver’s no-nonsense direction pits Texas Rangers McQuade (Norris) against a master criminal Rawley Wilkes (David Carradine) with sultry Barbara Carrera watching from the sidelines. Carver evokes the spirit of Sergio Leone in terms of gritty intensity, and while Lone Wolf McQuade is no great shakes in terms of innovative plotting or characterization, it’s as first and chunky as its muscular star.