Plot: A lawyer schemes to destroy a fellow attorney’s career.
For some reason—hint: I’m an idiot—I recently bought a box of videos off eBay. (And now have just bought another box!!) You might think I’d be content with the hundreds of other videos I’ve already purchased and never watched. You’d be wrong. Anyhoo, I did get some weird stuff. For instanceâ€¦this. By the time I finished watching the film, I was mostly confused as to who they thought would want to see it.
The Specialist is sort of interesting (sort of), in that it’s a cheapie B-movie that doesn’t belong to any identifiable genre. It’s not action or horror or sci-fi orâ€¦whatever. In modern parlance we’d probably call it sort of an erotic / legal thriller. Admittedly, it’s not very erotic, and the legal aspect involves a squalid fight over who will represent the local water company. John Grisham, eat your heart out!
Lest we’re confused about which decade this film was made in, the theme song is a bad funkadelic tune sung by Lou Rawls.
“Who’s got that something that no maaan can resist?
She’s the shady lady knoooown, as the Specialist!
Well, if you investigate her faaabulous charms,
She will melt right in your arms.
Ah, the Specialist!”
And so on.
Meanwhile, a series of eccentric and increasingly Jabootuish credits proceed. The production company for this epic is the not-very-aptly named Renaissance Films. Uh, yeah. Our star, meanwhile, is Adam West. There’s a good sign. Also appearing are John Anderson, Ahna Capri and Alvy Moore. Anderson is a familiar face to anybody who grew up watching TV shows in the ’60s and ’70s. His specialty was grumpy and hubristic Men of Importance. Imagine a TV version of John Carradine and you’ll be in the ballpark.
Ahna Capri, a fleshy blonde, fills the titular role here. She was most famous as the sadistic henchwoman of the villainous Dr. Han in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. If it helps, she’s the one the John Saxon character took as a lover. Alvy Moore, of course, was the eminently discombobulated Mr. Kimble on TV’s Green Acres. Oh, and Ms. Capri’s typically atrocious ’70s attire was, of course, provided by The Pleasure Dome Boutique of Hollywood. The film itself, meanwhile, in an adaptation of Ralph B. Pott’s acclaimed novel Come Now the Lawyers. As you’d have immediately recognized when you read the plot summary below.
The first thing that caught my eye was one of those heavenly, block-long ’70s Lincoln Continentals. Man, they had huge cars back then, a fact evident throughout the proceedings. The aforementioned monstermobile is owned by Pike Smith, Attorney at Law. A typical role for actor Anderson, Smith is a bombastic martinet. He’s been the town power broker for decades, as were his father and grandfather before him.
He enters the offices of the San Clemens Water and Power Company, which oddly are clearly situated in a pair of motel rooms. I suppose it’s possible that someone, somewhere, might not have noticed this. Just in case this happened, though, they left the curtains in the main ‘office’ parted. The view revealed is patently a motel hallway.
Smith barges his way past the secretary and into the office of Charles Farley. Farley is a young man in the Tom Selleck mode, sporting a necktie so wide you could land a 747 on it. Smith is enraged because he’s been replaced as the firm’s attorney. Farley attributes this to pressure from the stockholders. (The local power and water company has stockholders?) Here’s the deal: Smith wants to keep the town as it is, i.e., contained and under his thumb. Meanwhile, a younger generation wants to encourage municipal growth. To this end, Smith is being replaced with hotshot lawyer Jerry Bounds (Adam West).
Smith stalks out. Right after we notice that the window in Farley’s office door is a particularly cheap pane of candy glass, Smith smashes it in with his cane. This is so awesome a sight that it’s shown in slo-mo. Today, of course, this would be even cooler. Smith would not only smash it up in slow motion, but with a cane in each hand as he leapt sideways through the air. With lots of CGI.
We cut to the abode of Jerry Bounds. The sunny music and setting indicate that his is a charmed life. He has a beautiful wife, Elizabeth, and two children. And, of course, a huge automobile. Much effort is expended to establish that Bounds carries a revolver in his briefcase—they do everything but have blinking cartoon arrows pointing at it—and that said situation makes Elizabeth nervous. Gee, I wonder if this weapon will come into play at some juncture?
Smith goes to visit Sharkey, a private eye. Smith is suing the Water Company in an attempt to regain control of it*, and the case is due to be heard in two weeks (!!). (The local court must not have a very crowded docket.) Perhaps this is meant to be some time after Smith’s confrontation with Farley. However, the way the film plays it seems like this is later in the same day. Anyway, Smith wants Sharkey to spy on Bounds, who’ll be representing the company. Any dirt the PI can dig up would be most helpful.[Note: Mr. Fink asks, “I thought he was their hired lawyer? In any case, how can he sue a company with stockholders to “control” it when he doesn’t own it?” Uhâ€¦wellâ€¦Look! A dog with a fluffy tail!!]
Sharkey’s a shady operator, however, and suggests a more proactive strategy. He knows a professional honeypot named Londa Wyeth. She’s irresistible, he maintains, able to seduce any man. “Except maybe a [derogatory slang for a homosexual male,]” he helpfully clarifies. Ah, the ’70s. Anyway, his scheme involves Smith using his connections to get Londa on the jury (!). She’ll seduce Bounds, and he’ll be disbarred for improperly fraternizing with a juror. This would not only throw the case Smith’s way (uh, supposedly), but permanently remove his biggest rival.
We cut to Londa’s house. She’s sleeping heavily in her bedroom. I guess this is meant to be a commentary on her character, given that it seems far into the day. Her indolence is further communicated by how long it takes the ringing phone to rouse her. Eventually, though, she sits up and answers it, giving us a good look at her ample and somewhat pendulous naked bosom.
The caller is Sharkey, of course. He describes the job, but Londa resists taking on the assignment. Until, that is, Sharkey offers her $5,000, or half what Smith’s paying him. $5,000 doesn’t seem like such a huge sum, even in 1976 dollars. But I suppose people in real life do worse for less.
Next we meet the film’s most obnoxious character, who would be Hardin, Smith’s dissolute son. Admittedly, I might have found him even more annoying than your average viewer would. As it happens, I have a bit of a grudge against the actor playing him. More on that later.
Anyway, Hardin is a bit of a screw-up. In the main he’s a hippy-ish artist specializing in painting nudes and gettin’ it on with the chicks. (In fact, he’s painting one buxom lass even as Smith arrives, allowing for some not-utterly-essential boob & butt shots.) Ah, the ’70s, when a nebbishy dude who looks and acts like a cross between Gilligan, Bobby Van and Ron “Horshack” Palillo could be a major ladies’ man.
Smith has a job for his son. Seems one of Hardin’s numerous ladyfriends is the county registrar. She could add Londa to the voting rolls, which then would make her eligible for jury duty. Hardin, eager for his father’s approval, agrees to arrange it. He’s also assigned to pick up Londa at the bus station (!)—ah, the life of the Jet Set—and take her to her rented house.
The biggest problem with this film (well, maybe) is that none of the major characters make much sense. Let’s start with Smith. Here’s a guy who’s supposed to be the longtime powerbroker in this town. Yet he needs his dissipated son’s help to get Londa on the voter rolls. Why? Isn’t Smith tied in with the local governmental types? And why is he such a moron that he enlists his skirt-chasing offspring to ferry ‘sexpot’ Londa around? Isn’t that just asking for trouble?
Moreover, he keeps talking about how he doesn’t want anyone learning of his connection to Londa’s scam. Well, then, should he really enlist his own son, presumably well known about this apparently small town, to drive this woman around? What the hell? Also, Smith turns to Sharkey, a scurrilous fellow he knows only by reputation, for help. Again, huh? If this guy’s family has been running the town for three generations, why doesn’t Smith have access to more resources? I suppose the source novel might have better established Smith as being in desperate straits. Here he just seems like an idiot.
Londa’s problem is easier to sum up. She’s just not that sexy. Her irresistibility is definitely an Informed Attribute. I’m not saying that actress Capri isn’t a marginally attractive woman. More relevant is that she has little apparent sexual charisma. Which, after all, is the notion that the film’s largely predicated upon.
Moreover, Londa’s supposedly a “real pro.” Then why does she so readily take up with a schlub like Hardin? (Which is what she does.) If she’s such a professional shouldn’t she keep her knickers on when she’s off duty? Besides, the whole ‘arriving in town on the bus’ thing isn’t exactly setting her up as a world-class Jezebel. Cripes, can’t she even rent a car while she’s in town? Again, why is Hardin even being brought in here?
Anyhoo, Hardin picks up Londa, an act accompanied by further bad ’70s funk music. Hardin’s vehicle, moreover, isâ€¦what elseâ€¦a groovy make-out van. All he needs is a dog named Boo. The two exchange some markedly lame banter and then take off. There follows a conversation that I wasn’t entirely convinced was taking place in a moving vehicle.
Soon Londa’s ensconced in her rental house. Hardin, meanwhile, continues putting moves on her. As noted before, Our Temptress proves not entirely unreceptive to these. Bleech. One line I really liked follows Hardin opening the place up for her. It proves to be a pretty nice little house. (It looks like a real home, so it’s probably the director’s or something.) Anyway, Hardin notes, “It’s not really as glamorous as you’re probably used to.” Uh, excuse me, but didn’t she just arrive in town on a Greyhound bus?! How ‘glamorous’ does he think her life normally is?
Cut to the modest Bounds bedchamber. A shirtless Bounds stands before the camera, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Even when West was playing Batman, he was never particularly buff—which was part of the gag—and the decade between that and this hadn’t been entirely kind. Now, West is hardly a blob or anything. He’s actually in fairly good shape. Still, he’s got one of those bodies that look quite trim when he’s standing straight, but begins to sag in unfortunate places when he relaxes his posture.
Because he’s a lawyer in a movie, he’s practicing his putting. Because he’s a man in a movie, he fails to pick up on the heated glances wife Elizabeth is sending his way. Which, maybe, makes the footage of his gold balls being knocked into a glass a small bit of mirthful Freudianism. Finally she speaks her mind. “I’m sorry, baby,” he answers. “My mind’s in court right now.” “I wish your body were in bed,” she replies. Yuck. I wish the camera were somewhere else. Anywhere else.
The dÃ©cor of the room, meanwhile, is pretty bad. The purple flowered bedspread over pale lime sheets certainly draws the eye, however much it struggles against it. The patterned tablecloth that clashes with the overly busy wallpaper isn’t helping much either. And it’s funny, but a guy standing in his pajama bottoms smoking a cig and swilling a highball just screams of the ’70s. You just know Bounds is a guy who grew up with the Playboy Philosophy as his guide to life.
There’s a bit of dialog here meant to establish Bounds’ generally altruistic nature. His struggles to break Smith’s hold on the town is, he says, on the part of the Little Guy. This, presumably, is meant to make his downfall (oops, sorry) all the more poignant. It’s not nearly enough, though, given later events.
Cut to Smith’s home office, which is rather cheaply furnished and sports dingy mock wood paneling. Hardin walks in, wearing a canvas fishing hat. Both he and the old man are clad in really bad safari jackets, which isn’t helping any. Hardin enthuses over Londa’s supposed hotness—”She’s dynamite!” he inevitably exclaims—while Smith again warns him off of her. I think part of the old man’s ‘characterization’ is a groping attempt to reconnect with his estranged son. “How about some beer and cheese,” he convivially offers. This princely repast is turned down, however, as Hardin has a date.
Cut to Hardin’s place. He’s hanging out with an already-blitzed Londa. She’s attired in a bad orange dress, he’s wearing a comparatively tasteful—comparatively—dashiki (!). If anything, his neckline plunges more than hers, revealing way too much chest hair along with his current array of gold chains. She asks whether he’d paint her clothed or nude, had he the chance. This sets up Hardin’s purportedly comic dissertation on Goya’s “The Naked Maya.” (It’s probably best for all concerned that Goya was long dead at this point.)
The pair’s bantering just goes on and on, making me wonder if there wasn’t something else which the film could have more profitably turned its attention to. Moreover, Hardin’s Stuttering Schlub act was really starting to get on my nerves. Eventually, however, we do get to the point of the scene. Removing a ponderous necklace that appears to have been fashioned from a gutted chandelier, Londa proceeds to disrobe entirely, so as to pose for Hardin’s sketchbook. The obviously-inadvertent echoes from James Cameron’s Titanic might well provide the film’s peak of entertainment. Said heights are quickly abandoned, however, when beefy Londa and the rubber-lipped nerd start doing the deed.
Cut to the Big Trial. You know, the one that will determine who will be the counsel for the town’s Water and Power company. Sure enough, Londa’s on the jury*. Moreover, Alvy Moore is Humbolt, the court bailiff. We aren’t exactly provided with any crackerjack courtroom dynamics, despite the film’s attempts to provide same. Mostly I spent the scene wincing at the awful clothes worn by the extras in the viewer’s gallery.[Note: Mr. Fink wonders how, even if no one in this small town found the presence of newcomer Londa noteworthy, she could have successfully negotiated voir dire without perjuring herself. I suspect it’s because no one who worked on this film knew what voir dire was or had even heard of it. Besides, stuff we don’t see on camera is just supposed to be taken on faith.]
The purportedly high-tension exchanges between Bounds and Smith, however, are a hoot. The dialog is so weird that I can only assume it’s mostly taken directly from the source novel. One long stretch—it lasts nearly a minute straight—involves Bounds’ folksy dissertation on why he inaccurately refers to the local Sutter Mountains as the Sunset Mountains. (If this is a demonstration of what the Young Turks want to do in the courtroom, than I entirely agree with Smith that he should keep running things.) You might as well conduct your case while calling your client Mr. Honesty Fairness, and when challenged reply, “And let me explain why I call him thatâ€¦”
Recess is called after Bounds’ rhetorical triumph. As the jury very sloooowly filters out of the courtroom, the impatient Smith buffaloes his way through their ranks. Bounds is extremely agitated by this. “You bully!” he cries. “You know it’s our custom to let the jury out of the box before we leave the courtroom!” During this harangue, Bounds manhandles his opponent. Which, technically, is assault. Smith could reasonably have Bounds arrested at this point. Of course, Smith had just pushed Bailiff Humbolt into a juror, so I guess he’s in no position to do so.
Better is that Smith responds by yelling, “I don’t give a damn about your customs!” While, let me be clear, a number of the jurors are still milling around. Way to get them on your side there, Chief. The argument becomes heated, kind of. Smith finally calls Bounds a “damn shyster” and slaps him in the face before stalking out.
Londa takes the opportunity to step forward. “Excuse me,” she simpers, “I think you better put some water on here before it swells.”(!!) Now, having a purportedly attractive woman approach and express concern can certainly get one to play up an injury. On the other hand, I’m not sure you’d want to suggest that a senior citizen’s slap to the face has knocked you for a loop. In any case, Bounds walks off to the water fountain with Londa, as Humbolt looks on significantly.
And so he should, because Bounds is already guilty of consorting with a juror. Speaking with such when court isn’t in session is a serious violation of professional ethics, one that potentially could get you disbarred. Even I know that, and I’m not a lawyer. Any sympathy I might have had for Bounds went out the window when he left the courtroom conversing with Londa. And that’s just the start of things.
As Londa applies the aforementioned water to Bounds’ face, the two disparagingly discuss Smith. Who, need I emphasize this point, is the opposing counsel in the suit they’re involved in. At this point, Bounds is dangerously close to engaging in jury tampering. Londa, for her part, starts rubbing his hand, and suggesting he take her up to the lake so she can see the “Sunset” mountains. “Look, I shouldn’t even be talking to you,” Bounds replies. “I could get disbarred for this.” Uh, yes. Yes, you could. Bounds disengages himself, but Londa already is wearing a triumphant look.
Further courtroom shenanigans ensue. As the day comes to an end, Londa makes a request of the Judge. It seems the jurors would like to see Lake Desire, which lies under the aforementioned “Sunset” Mountains. I guess the lake is somehow part of the Water & Power Company suit, although in what manner is never even remotely explained. Near as I can figure, Smith wants to do something eee-vil with the lake—what, exactly, I have no idea—while the Water Company wants it preserved for aesthetic reasons.
Smith sputters that this would be a waste of time (and he’s dead right), and that county experts will be testifying as to the area’s value. Londa, however, explains that they want to “see the beauty of the lake, as it has been described to us by the Counsel for the Defense.” Having a juror casting moony eyes at one of the counsels seems pretty solid grounds for a mistrial, but never mind.
OK, now I’m really confused. Bounds is arguing that the lake area could be turned into a park. Smith responds, “We are condemning a water system.” Huh? I thought this suit was over Smith’s being replaced as the Water Company’s attorney. That’s what we were told before. This sounds like an entirely different case. Who is Smith representing? By which I mean, if the present board of the Water Company wants Lake Desire preserved, who wants it “condemned”? Also, Bounds seemingly argues for the idea of the Jury seeing the area, but when asked if his client, i.e., the Water Company, wants to pay to transport them there (and how much could that cost?), declines. In any case, the requested trip doesn’t take place.
Later, Londa visits Bounds at his ‘office.’ This set was pretty clearly created by moving a desk and file cabinet into a small academic law library, as the law books in the background all sport Dewey Decimal Code labels. (Sure enough, the end credits offer thanks to “Glendale College of Law” for allowing them to shoot on their premises.)
Bounds greets Londa with a smile, rather than the shriek of horror the situation merits. Admittedly, he does ask her to leave, but only after bantering with her a bit first. “Oh, damn it,” she responds when he eventually does. “Why don’t you trust me?” Hmm. Maybe because you appear to him to be a loony stalker who’s putting his entire legal career in jeopardy?
Londa even tells him that she only stayed on the jury because she was interested on him. At this point, Bounds has an obligation to call the Judge and report on Londa coming to his office and indicating that she intended to take his side in the case. That he doesn’t violates his obligations as an Officer of the Court, and means that he really, truly should come up on professional charges and most likely be disbarred. In other words, he’s no longer a very sympathetic protagonist. He mostly seems concerned that he’ll get caught with Londa, not that she’s there to start with.
Anyway, she starts rubbing his hand again, an activity that seems to grant her magical properties. Sure enough, he breaks down and promises to take her on a field trip up to Lake Desire (“Lake Desire”—get it?) that weekend. At this point it’s kind of hard to care very much about what happens from here on out, as both Smith and Bounds are pretty despicable characters. If anything, Bounds comes off worse. He’s not just betraying his professional obligations, as Smith is, but also his wife and children.
Part of the problem, I have to admit, is the casting. Actress Capri, to be perfectly blunt, just isn’t convincing as an irresistible femme fatale. Therefore Bounds doesn’t seem trapped in a situation beyond his control, but rather just scratching an itch. (And not a very itchy itch, at that.) If Bounds were being tempted by Halle Berry, you might have a little more sympathy for him. Of course, the problem isn’t all on Capri’s part. Adam West simply lacks the chops to convince us of Bounds’ supposed helplessness before this woman’s wiles. He’s a callow actor, and thus Bounds is a callow character.
As usual, I’m sort of letting this piece get away with me. So let’s skip to the highlights.
* Despite supposedly fearing that they’ll be discovered, Bounds walks out in front of his office and jumps into Londa’s car, in the middle of town in broad daylight, to begin the long trip out to the lake. You’re a sly one, my friend.
* Cue the Funky ’70s Music-u-Latorâ„¢ as the camera shifts over to Sharkey starting his car to follow them.
* Cut to Lake Desire, which is huge. Again, I have no idea what the trial, the supposed heart of the movie, is about. What does it mean to “condemn a waterway” in reference to a pretty substantial mountain lake?
* As part of their covert assignation, the two set up a blanket on the beach shore and eat a picnic lunch. Bounds is still acting (sometimes) like this is an innocent occasion, which is a bit much, given Londa’s forwardness about what she’s after. She tells him to pick the spot. He wisely chooses a point from which bushes block their view of the road rather than blocking them from being seen from the road. Moron.
* Sharkey, still accompanied on the Funky ’70s Music-u-Latorâ„¢, creeps up and takes some pictures. In a classic moment, he looks upon them with binoculars. Although we then see them through that binocular-cutout effect, they remain the same size as when looked upon with the naked eye.
* Also soon on the scene is Bailiff Humbolt, who’d been anonymously alerted to the situation by Sharkey. This leads to a sequence in which we glean what Mr. Kimble would have been like had he been a sexual voyeur.
* There’s a long bit of Londa and Bounds yakking and tittering over lunch. At B-Fest, when a film gets too dialog heavy, the audience screams “Words!” Soâ€¦Words!!
* Londa talks of her childhood, including her parents’ divorce. (Why, no wonder Londa does what she does. She’s a product of a broken home!) “My mother had to get a job as a waitress,” she laughs. “Can you believe it?!” Wow, a single mother becoming a waitress, of all things. What a weird, weird world it is.
* Londa suggests a swim. “You can’t swim in there!” Bounds sputters. “It’s a reservoir!” (I couldn’t help but notice that no signs were posted to this effect.) She ignores him, of course, and strips down to her shorts and blouse prior to entering the water. Cue a reprise of the fantabulous Lou Reed theme song.
* Oh, Bruce the Shark, where are you when we need you?
* “You’re serious!” Bounds realizes as he follows her to the waters. He peevishly yells at her to get out of the lake. “You can’t do that!” he angrily complains. Apparently he considers swimming in a reservoir a bigger transgression than adultery or sleeping with a juror. What a maroon.
* Pretending to be in distress, she tricks Bounce into following in after her. Giggling and frolicking ensues. Soon they are engaging in a homage to From Here to Eternity. One that had me fantasizing about Burt Lancaster and Deborah Carr running up and beating the hell out of them.
* Soon the Judge, a rather obese individual, has joined the viewing gallery. He appears wearing the sort of black polyester suit and white straw hat that suggests Boss Hogg attending a funeral. Then Pike Smith appears. I’d have to suspect that this continuing parade of witnesses is meant to be comical, although the evidence for that assertion remains somewhat abstract. That’s OK, though. The film’s funny enough in its dramatic scenes. Expecting it to be funny during its comic bits would just be greedy.
* With pretty near the entire cast in attendance, they all head down to break up the amorous antics. Unsurprisingly, Bounds is none too happy with his present circumstances.
* Cut to Londa preparing to leave town. With forty minutes yet left on the clock, I assume she doesn’t actually depart yet. Sure enough, she’s blocked from going when Humbolt appears and parks behind her car. He’s a goof played by Alvy Moore, bearing a bottle and dressed in a comically bad suit. I assume the suit is part of the gag. Maybe. After all, this was made in the ’70s. So the difference between intentionally-awful suits and unintentionally-awful suits is largely theoretical.
* In the sort of ‘comic’ scene that just makes the viewer blanch, Humbolt has apparently come to hit on her because he now assumes she’s ‘easy.’ (Which, given that she’s slept with Hardin, isn’t far off the mark.) Needless to say, she agrees to have a drink with him, because that’s what the script says she does.
* By the time Humbolt starting bragging about how “endowed” he is, I was jamming a screwdriver in my ear for relief.
* At one point Humbolt mentions that Bounds “is apt to be disbarred.” Well, yeah, you’d think.
* Here’s the punch line to the scene: She tells him to relax on the couch while she changes into something a bit naughtier. Then she leaves after he falls asleep. Ha! He fell asleep while waiting to have sex with her! Ha!
* Farley gets a call that the Judge has declared a mistrial. (No sh*t.) He asks Bounds what comes next. “I resign as your attorney,” he replies. “But why?” Farley responds in shock. Dude, let me clue you in: In a little while, Bounds ain’t even going to be an attorney.
* One reason you can’t feel much sympathy for Bounds is that he takes no responsibility for his actions. Admittedly, Smith set him up—although he hasn’t figured that out yet—but Bounds wasn’t very difficult to push over the edge. Still, here’s a typical exchange after he reveals that Smith is bringing disbarment proceedings against him (which, I’d imagine, the Judge would actually do):
Farley: “Pike’s conduct is in very poor taste.” [“Pike’s conduct”?!]
Bounds: “To say the least.” [!!!]
* Actually, I guess they have figured out the set-up. Which makes their remarks even funnier, but in the reverse direction. Smith hires a floozie to get his rival disbarred, and his actions are “in bad taste”?
* Elizabeth, who’s standing by her errant husband—perhaps after realizing that no mere man could resists Londa’s pendulous charms—comes in to make a report. “This morning, I decided that I was going to see Londa,” she begins. Wow. That’s such a bad idea on so many levels that I can’t even begin to list them all.
* Well, OK, here’s one. Bound hasn’t just violated his professional canons, he’s broken any number of laws (including, lest we forget, swimming in a reservoir). Now, there’re two possibilities here. One would be a deal in which Bound gives up his law license and the entire thing’s swept under the rug. Under this scenario, Londa would have been pointedly escorted out of town before any reporters could get wind of her. The second option has Bounds prosecuted, in which case Londa would be called as a material witness. Assuming the latter, then Bound’s wife meeting with the woman smacks of witness tampering or collusion. Either way, it’s not a good idea.
* Anyway, hearing the story of how his wife was seeking to privately meet with the woman likely to act as a prosecution witness against him, Bound is aghast to learn that Elizabeth found her house deserted and the door ajar, whereupon she elected to enter the home. “That’s trespassing!” he gasps. “We’re in enough trouble as it is!” Trespassing?! Why, that’s nearly as bad as swimming in a reservoir!!
* Anyway, Elizabeth questioned the neighbors, ascertaining that Londa had arrived mere days before the trial began. Then she drops her bombshell: “The only person they ever recognized seeing her with was Hardin Smith!” People picked up on this because Hardin was seen driving her around when she went grocery shopping. (!!) Yep, this is one airtight frame, all right. And that Londa? She’s a real pro.
* Elizabeth and Bound plan to pay Hardin a little surprise visit. My respect for Bound’s legal acumen keeps growing and growing. No, I wouldn’t go to the police, or the Judge, or the Bar with any of this. I’d investigate things personally and make sure the waters get all muddied up.
* Elizabeth, who knows Hardin through his various art exhibitions (finally, a detail that makes sense; she’s just the sort who would be attending such functions) tells Bound to wait outside while she questions him. Hardin, meanwhile, is in full *cough, cough* comic relief mode, working on a cartoony nude painting and with a funky guitar beat playing on the soundtrack. We later learn this is supposed to be of Londa, although you could have fooled me.
* Elizabeth mentions Hardin’s catting around with Londa—confirmed by his supposed painting of her—and he breaks out into a sweat. Well, it’s Smith’s fault for relying on such an idiot.
* Elizabeth leans on him, asserting “My husband is being threatened with disbarment by your father.” Again, that won’t wash. Bounds’ antics were witnessed by both a Superior Court Judge and a bailiff. The idea that Smith would be the one to ‘bring him up on charges’ is ludicrous. And again, it ignores the fact that Bound committed various felonies, too. So the idea of somehow getting Smith to drop the charges is simply unworkable.
* Which brings up our major ongoing plot problem. In essence, there’s really no way for Bound to get out of being disbarred, even if we ignore his criminal offenses. He is guilty of any number of ethical violations. Proving that Smith set him up would, at best, merely see that Smith was brought down with him. More on this later.
* Since Hardin isn’t exactly made of stern stuff, it’s probable that Elizabeth would have gotten at least something out of him. However, this is where the film gets even dumber. Bound comes in with his previously established revolver and threatens Hardin with it. At this point Bound is no longer merely desperate, he’s a borderline sociopath. He makes Hardin give them Londa’s address, her real one. Why Hardin would have this is beyond me. Oh, right. The script says so.
* Elizabeth, who shrugs off the gun thing in fairly short order, urges Bound to proffer charges against Hardin with the Bar. (See previous note.) Bound replies that he can’t do that without proof. So he’s going to get Londa and force her to testify. How, at gunpoint? Yeah, that’ll work.
* Man, that’s some really ugly car upholstery.
* Bound and Elizabeth have a Big Emotional Scene. Again, West just can’t pull it off.
* Cut to Smith’s house. He’s freaking after Hardin confesses his secret—yet all-too public— relationship with Londa, and how Bounds knows about it. This creates a link between Smith and Londa, one that could easily get him disbarred. Now, Hardin’s a Grade-A jackass. His father gave him one clear order, which was stay away from Londa. Instead, he slept with her. Worse, he schlepped her all over town in his rather distinctive van. Still, it’s hard to see this as the one fatal flaw in an otherwise brilliant plan. Smith knew Hardin was a massive screw-up and a first-class skirt hound, but he gave him the job of meeting up with Londa anyway. I mean, why did anyone have to pick Londa up at the bus station in the first place? (Other than to set up this exact situation.) Here’s an idea: You could have mailed her the key to her rental house and then had her take a friggin’ cab from the bus depot.
* Smith decides to send Hardin overseas until this whole thing blows over. Which is the first smart thing anyone in this picture has done. Then the two express their regrets to each other. It certainly doesn’t excuse Smith’s actions, but I still find him at least a teeny bit sympathetic. Which is more than I can say for Bound.
* Cut to Londa’s house. She’s sleeping late again, like when we first saw her. Hahahaha. What an artistic masterstroke. Only this time Sharkey is sleeping alongside her. The doorbell rings and she gets up to answer it, affording us the sort of breast shot that frankly I could have done without. Opening the door, she’s startled to see Bound there. I don’t know why, though; she already knew he was a law-breaking idiot.
* He more or less forces his way in, then explains that he wants her to testify before the State Bar Association. Again, you don’t exactly have to be Oliver Wendall Holmes to realize that this would gain him nothing, other than getting Smith disbarred too. The fact that a woman was paid to come on to him doesn’t relieve him of responsibility for his own actions. I really think the filmmakers didn’t expect us to think of this, and that’s more than a little insulting.
* He states that she was paid to entrap him. (So?) She replies that he can’t prove it. He admits that’s so. So why should she testify to her crime, she asks. “Because you’re an accomplice to a conspiracy,” he replies. Uh, assuming I’m following this correctly, he’s saying that she’ll have to testify to a crime he can’t otherwise prove she committed because, er, she committed the crime. Or something. My head hurts.
* We see Sharkey in the bedroom. He’s got his gun, but stays hidden, listening to their conversation. Since he’s working for Smith, and moreover, since it’s just possible that Bound could collect enough evidence to prove conspiracy and get Sharkey tossed into jail, too, I wondered why he didn’t just walk into the hallway and shoot Bound. He’s certainly ruthless enough. The set-up is perfect, too. All he and Londa would have to say is that Bound forced his away inside and threatened Londa with violence. With Bound dead, all their problems go away.
* Or maybe not. Bound opens the door and a cop walks in and hands her a subpoena. (When did he have time to get that issued? Also, don’t process server issue subpoenas?) This delivered, the cop and Bounds leave.
* Londa is a bit freaked, but Sharkey thinks this gives them the opportunity to chisel more money out of Smith. After all, Sharkey notes, her testimony could get him disbarred. Well, maybe so, Brainiac, but then she’d be testifying to a criminal conspiracy that you were the prime mover and shaker of, and you’d go to jail. Man, I’m really starting to hate this stupid movie.
* Cut to Pike, reading the local paper. This screams BOUNDS ACCUSES PIKE SMITH OF CONSPIRACY AND FRAUD, employing the sort of font generally reserved for announcing world wars. Then Sharkey makes his appearance. He offers to make himself and Londa disappear, but demands $20,000 first. He lays out the consequences for Smith should they testify. What’s odd is that Smith fails to point out that their doing so would cut two ways. Not much of a lawyer, I guess.
* Smith, in a rare moment of intelligence, refuses to pay them off. He figures that if it comes down to it, Sharkey and Londa’s sleazy reputations will undercut any allegations they make. Being the kind of movie it is, Sharkey pulls his gun and demands the money. “When I get to Paris I’ll send you a postcard,” he snarls. Man, this sure is a gun-crazy universe.
* The two go down to the cellar, where Smith keeps a sizable amount of cash in a makeshift vault. The greedy Sharkey lets his guard down, though, and Smith manages to trap his head between the vault’s metal doors. If this were a Three Stooges short, or Duck Soup, he’d secure Sharkey’s head with a chair and then pelt him with a convenient pile of grapefruits until the guy surrendered. It’s not, though, so he squeezes the doors together until Sharkey strangles.
* This isn’t entirely convincing. Sharkey is tall and fit, not to mention at least two decades younger than Smith. More to the point, the gap in the door is wide enough that he could easily stick his gun out and blow Smith’s head off. All they had to do, really, was show Sharkey dropping the gun in his panic. Instead, it’s clearly shown as being in his hand, and at an angle that would remove the top of Smith’s skull.
* A shocked Smith returns to his office to call the sheriff and report Sharkey’s death. This scene is shot through a Scales of Justice piece in the foreground. Symbolism!!
* Smith then learns that Bounds has proffered charges against him with the Bar. And so, finally, on to the climax.
* Cut to the Bar hearing. This is pretty obviously held in the same law library room that earlier stood in for Bounds’ office. One needn’t be steeped in our legal system to find much of this laughable, although the most annoying aspect is that Bounds keeps acting like he’ll be able to keep his law license if he can prove skullduggery on Smith’s part. As indicated before, that’s not even remotely true. Smith might have put a woman in his way, but it was Bounds who decided to screw a juror.
* Bounds grills Londa, and rather poorly, at that. By which I mean, he asks her questions that he doesn’t know the answers to. This is a big lawyer no-no, since such answers may actually end up hurting the very case the lawyer’s trying to make. As, in fact, they do here. Bounds asks Londa if she’d ever met with Smith. She hadn’t, though. Sharkey was their go-between, and he’s dead. If this is the best Bounds can muster, the legal profession isn’t going to suffer much of a loss.
* In the end, though, I can’t get past the point that Bounds is guilty. Guilty, guilty, guilty. Given this, there’s not much Londa’s testimony can do for him anyway.
* I just thought of something. This is a disbarment hearing by the State Bar Association, right? Can the Bar really subpoena witnesses? It’s a private organization, not an instrument of the State. I’d be very surprised to learn that they could do this. And is it perjury for a witness to lie before a State Bar hearing? I really need more info on this, but it all seems very unlikely.
* Blah blah blah. Bounds yells at Smith. Smith yells at Bounds. The words “I object!” are heard with some frequency. The Judges—yes, judges, running a Bar hearing; robes and everything—sit on their asses and give the two way too much leeway. Law & Order this ain’t.
* After Londa leaves, and without having done him much good, Bounds hysterically accuses Smith of murdering Sharkey. First, even if that were true, it would have no bearing on what Bounds did with Londa. Second, until that is proven in a court of law—and it probably won’t be, largely because Smith was, in fact, acting in self defense—the accusation represents a gross slander on Bounds’ part. The hole be deep, but he keeps making it deeper.
* The weird thing is, I’m not altogether sure we’re supposed to realize how lame Bounds’ attempts at presenting his defense are. In the end, he explicitly states he was guilty, but keeps harping on the (unprovable) notion that Smith entrapped him. For the last time, the second doesn’t excuse the first, even if the Judges bought it. By his own words, Bounds should be disbarred.
* The panel renders its finding. In a ludicrous attempt to be arty, the camera does a continuous 360° turn during this, gliding past the face of each actor to ‘heighten’ the ‘drama’. Astoundingly, though, the panel also finds in the only way it can. To wit, Bounds consorted with a juror and is therefore disbarred. Frankly, even if there had been some wiggle room, the fact that Bounds would mount a defense that had zero relevancy to the charges indicates he should be disbarred for gross incompetence alone.
* Bounds freaks out, demanding that the board also disbar Smith. (Is this hearing supposed to be for both of them? That’s retarded.) Of course, there’s no provable cause to do so, so this doesn’t happen. If anything, Bounds next logical step would be to sue Smith in Civil Court, where the rules of evidence are less stringent. Again, though, given that I apparently know more law than Bounds does, he really shouldn’t have been practicing law to start with.
* Smith leaves the building. Bounds follows him outside and draws his gun from under his jacket. (Meaning he’d been carrying it during the hearing!!) Shouting, “Smith! I’m not a lawyer anymore!” he shoots his tormentor dead. I guess his point was that since he’s not a lawyer now, he’s not bound by the rules that attend them. Like, uh, not shooting people to death.
* Give yourself a cookie if you guessed the film ends on a freeze-frame.
This wasn’t, unfortunately, my first experience with many of the people involved in this film. At one B-Fest, maybe ten years ago, my friend Jeff Witham and I were treated to a late night showing of a flick called Dr. Minx. That was a really bad erotic thriller/film noir featuring what we agreed to be the single most obnoxious movie character we’d ever seen. (The record stands, by the way.)
The main character, Brian, was your classic noir schlub who falls under the erotic spell of femme fatale Carol (B-movie starlet Edy Williams). He starts sleeping with her, and ends up helping her kill her abusive boyfriend, played by William “Big Bill” Smith. However, Brian has a loser friend named David who spends the entire film whining about how Brian doesn’t hang out with him anymore.
Once David figures out Brian’s into something dodgy, he decides to play detective. Literally. He dons a trench coat and spends the entire rest of the movie doing the worst Columbo impression you’ve ever seen. In the end he draws enough attention Brian’s way to get the guy killed. About an hour in Jeff and I were praying for the movie to end. When it did, with much of the cast dead but David left standing, we instantly developed a seething hatred for the picture that remains largely unassuaged to this day.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that David was played by Harvey Jason, who here plays Hardin. When I saw the dreaded Jason had been allowed to appear in another movie, I was, shall we say, a tad nonplussed. Actually, it turns out, Jason had a screen and TV career that lasted some decades. Including, I might add, an appearance on an early episode of Columbo. Having seen Dr. Minx, I can testify that he didn’t learn much.
The link is that both films were written and directed by Howard Avedis, aka Hikmet Avedis. Given my sampling of Mr. Avedis’ oeuvre, I’d say his films are typified by their uniformly unlikable characters. He also preferred stories built around gullible young men who are seduced by large-breasted blondes. Some of the latter included Angel Tompkins in The Teacher (1974), Capri here, Williams in Dr. Minx (’75) and Connie Stevens in Scorchy (’76). If I had to guess, I’d say making movies was his way of seeing these woman naked.
Making films into the ’80s, he inevitably cast Sybil Danning in this role in They’re Playing With Fire (’84). This was rather sleazier than his ’70s fare, with much more explicit sex and violence. Still, if you ever wanted to see a guy in a Santa Claus suit beat a young woman to death with a baseball bat, this is the picture for you. Danning’s very enthusiastic sex scenes, meanwhile, remain a legend. See the slobbering viewer reviews posted on the IMDB.
Why Avedis would work with the Lovecraftian Harvey Jason twice remains a mystery; my guess is that the actor had photos of Avedis screwing a donkey with a midget. Or maybe the other way around. It is true, however, that Avedis liked to reuse actors. Alvy Moore, for instance, can be seen in four Avedis films altogether. John Anderson and Bill Smith were in a couple. There are many other such examples.
Marlene Schmidt, who played Elizabeth here, appeared in nearly all of Avedis’ movies, produced most of them, and even co-wrote three of them. Which suggests to me that she and Avedis were married, although biographical info for either of them remains sketchy.
Still, even if I don’t particularly like Mr. Avedis’ films, I’d love to read his autobiography. He’s one of those unheralded guy who worked with literally dozens of prominent B-movie actors. Aside from all those named above, the roster would include Claudia Jennings, Alejandro Rey, Larry Linville, Jay North, Barry Atwater, Cesare Denova, Greg Evigan, Bo Hopkins, Robert Shayne, Patti D’Arbanville, Robert Englund, Mel Ferrer (of course), Priscilla Barnes, Cameron Mitchell (of course, again), R. G. Armstrong, Karen Black, Tony Lo Bianco, David Naughton, Jack Carter, Bill Paxton, Christopher & Lynda Day George, Andrew Prine, Barbara Crampton, Charles Napier and Jimmie Walker.
So Mr. Avedis, if you’re out there, I hope you’re working on that book.
Bounds ably demonstrates the concept of ‘smarminess’ when he responds to Smith’s grumpiness over Bounds penchant for renaming local geographical fixtures:
Smith, falling into Bounds’ devious trap: “I object! What do you mean, the ‘Sunset’ Mountains? You look at any map, you’ll find the lake is under the ‘Sutter’ Mountains. Now you may be crazy, but I certainly am not!”
Bounds, pretending to take umbrage: “Perhaps I am ‘crazy.’ I call the ‘Sutter’ Mountains the ‘Sunset’ Mountains because I love those mountains.”
Judge: “Gentlemen, what has this to do with the issues in this case?”
Bounds: “Your Honor, I have been called ‘crazy’ before this Jury. Therefore I’d like the opportunity to explain my statement.”
Judge, making a rather dubious ruling: “Because Counsel Pike Smith was out of order in making the remark that he did, yes, yes, you may explain.”
Bounds, turnings to the jurors and doing his best Matlock impression: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, I call the ‘Sutter’ Mountains the ‘Sunset’ Mountains. I think you’ll see why if you look to the west about sunset, and see the first pink shadings of light as it touches the eternal snow. You’ll see the deeper reds color the purpling horizon, as those ocean breezes billow up and make the clouds scud across in a lovely white stream. Suddenly, those mountains explode! The whole range is afire! And thenâ€¦little stars twinkling in their nests of dark blue, bidding usâ€¦good night. And reminding us that nothing in this world is permanent. That, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is myâ€¦insanity. ”
The Jury breaks out in applause. (!!)
Bounds wraps up his final summation to the disbarment hearing panel. The verdict, presumably, is insanity:
“The Law is my livelihood. The Lawâ€¦does not give life. God does. Should the Law take life? [Huh?] I leave my future in your hands.”
Readers’ Respond: Jabootu Legal Correspondent Paula Johnson provides her valuable counsel:
“Well, I’m an attorney, as you stated, this movie is WAY off base in so many areas, it’s astounding. I do public utility law (not water, though, so I’m no help there), and even in this isolated little bit of the biz, I know enough to know how stupid this movie is.
Anyway, here’s my main point. In Kansas anyway, attorneys are licensed by the Kansas Supreme Court, not by the State Bar Association. So if this movie is saying that he’s going before a state bar association to save his license, strike 4,193 (modest estimate, I’m sure) against the movie in legal accuracy. State bar associations are usually professional organizations that sponsor continuing legal education courses, provide networking opportunities, lobby the legislature on behalf of attorneys, etc.
The Kansas court system has its own state agency called the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator (“ODA”) which handles all complaints against the state’s attorneys (which are actually usually filed by the attorney’s clients, although pretty much anyway who has a valid complaint about a lawyer’s services can file). As an administrative agency, it reviews each complaint and determines whether a hearing is necessary. If it goes to hearing before the disciplinary panel, it could operate much like a trial-type hearing. I would need to check the ODA’s authorizing statutes, but if it is like the state agency I work for, it probably does have subpoena power.
Also, since it is a trial-type hearing (again, I’d have to check the statutes), more likely than not, rules regarding perjury probably would apply. Anyway, after the review panel hears the case, it would write up a recommendation to the Kansas Supreme Court about what action to take, which could be public censure (meaning “You’re a bad boy!” is printed forever to see in Kansas law books), supervised probation, or disbarment. The Kansas Supreme Court ultimately decides your fate by deciding whether or not to accept the ODA’s recommendation.
I’ll admit, Kansas is the only state I’ve ever practiced in, but I imagine a lot of states have about the same setup. Making a professional attorney’s association responsible for your bar license would probably be an unlawful delegation of state’s powers, and therefore unconstitutional. Particularly if an association that charges outrageous dues (which keeps me out of the Kansas Bar Association) is hearing an action against a non-member licensed attorney, that just has “conflict” written all over it to me.”
Summary: Uhm, I’m supposed to be rooting for who now?