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Saturday 14 March 2009

Nightmare Honeymoon (1973)

Director: Elliot Silverstein
Stars: Dack Rambo and Rebecca Dianna Smith

The sun is shining through the Spanish moss and Dack Rambo, the man with the single most awesome action movie name in Hollywood history (though he was born Norman), ought to be pretty happy for himself. He's back Stateside after two years in Vietnam, and he's marrying a beautiful woman at a mansion in the Louisiana bayou. Life ought to be fine for David and Jill Webb as they head off for their first night together as a married couple, but with a movie title like Nightmare Honeymoon you can be pretty sure that happiness isn't going to last too long.

Initially the threat comes from Jill's family. Apparently there's a centuries old tradition that has the happy couple trying to escape from the rest of the family, who chase them and camp outside their room to sing all night. It doesn't help that he's a yankee and they're a good old Cajun family, but through various carefully orchestrated shenanigans and a lucky turn off the road they manage to become the first couple in the history of the tradition to actually get away from their pursuers.

Then the threat switches to a couple of nutjob hitmen who come into town to kill the Big Lebowski himself, David Huddleston, who owns the place they're temporarily hiding out at. His name is Mr Carroll and he dies pretty quickly but he's completely overshadowed by Lee the wild eyed hitman, overplayed with relish by John Beck, Moonpie from the original Rollerball. He seems totally caught up in the lack of justice in the world and the fact that nobody cares any more, but he's still a nutjob hitman shouting 'Do you want to live forever?' at his victims.

Now David is a Vietnam vet but he doesn't seem to be too great in the action stakes. Unlike the other Rambo who would probably just roar at the sky and kill the hitmen with a handy bazooka someone left lying around, this Rambo's character gets noticed by the bad guys when he tries to look inconspicuous, gets caught when he tries to escape and then gets knocked unconscious when he tries to save his bride. Admittedly he has that bride to protect as well as himself and there are two of these crazy hitmen pointing guns at them but he doesn't seem to have much of a clue. He's no mental giant either as he completely fails to notice that Jill is so far into shock that she's almost catatonic, because she was raped during the twenty minutes he was out like a light. He even tries to get it on with her in the car and when she recoils, runs away and finally tells him what happened, he gets to emote 'My God!' as effectively as William Shatner.

By the time they get to their hotel in New Orleans, it's storming out and no different in. As you can imagine Jill is in a precarious mental condition, though she does seem to have a good deal of inner strength and she refuses to go to either a doctor or the cops. David is a man of action but finds himself utterly inconsequential in this situation. He can't protect his wife because the deed is done and so he flounders around blaming himself until he falls asleep next to her. When he wakes up Jill has wandered off into the French Quarter on her own, making him feel about useless as tits on a boar.

So he hatches a plan to get all macho and demonstrative and make a difference, like that's ever going to happen, especially given that Jill is obviously wondering how the heck he managed to get back from Vietnam in one piece. The hitmen had let slip a few convenient clues about who the victim was and why he was being targetted, so David looks up the man who hired them in the Yellow Pages and attempts to convince him that he's Carroll's nephew. He wants to find Lee and Sandy, those wacky hitmen, and hit them in return. With them dead he can feel a whole lot better and he blindly expects his wife to feel a whole lot better too.

Of course nothing quite works out how he expects, mostly because he's a moron. His story is shot from moment one because Carroll didn't have any siblings. When it becomes obvious that the bad guys know precisely who, what and where he is, he gets them to define his next steps so that he can walk straight into a trap of their choosing. He even does so at night in a white suit and I actually looked to see if there was a target painted on his chest too. There might as well have been. Anyway he may be out there in the dark with a gun, but Jill walks straight into the hands of Lee the wild eyed hitman to trigger that trap before even David can.

No, this is not intelligent stuff and I'm not even sure why it's sitting there in TCM's cult programming tier, TCM Underground. Maybe it's because Elliot Silverstein, a director more prolific on TV than cinema screens, also made such cult favourites as Cat Ballou, A Man Called Horse and The Car. This one is just a pretty dumb seventies programmer full of actors you'll recognise and wonder where you know them from best. After seeing one name on the opening credits, I looked up the cast list on IMDb and then watched out for the sheriff and his deputy.

Unfortunately the sheriff turned out to be played by Richard O'Brien (II) rather than Richard O'Brien (I), the one who would fit happily in any cult programming tier; and I couldn't find the deputy, who was apparently played by the original Star Trek's Chekov, Walter Koenig. Perhaps the IMDb credits are just wrong, especially as they are out of order from how the film presents them, Koenig isn't credited on the print I saw and at least one character's name is definitely incorrect: Roy Jenson plays Sandy not Bandy.

John Beck is the best reason to watch this film, even though he could easily have won the Best Overactor award that year with his bug eyes and twitches. He's just plain old fun to watch and by the time we get to the finale, I half expected Jill to run to him instead of her idiot husband, whether he's a psycho nutjob rapist hitman or not. She's not a bad character either, as contradictory as such a victim should be and with hidden depths that remain believable. The actress is Rebecca Dianna Smith, who didn't do much else, it seems: IMDb only lists her in an episode of Laverne and Shirley and one more film, Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York, released two years after this with her playing opposite Roy Scheider. He went straight on to Jaws. I wonder where she went.

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