Now Playing: MEAN DOG BLUES
Since REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER went on hiatus last week, I had no reason to keep my HBO package, and, on a whim, I replaced it with Insight Cable's Showtime package, which includes several Showtime channels, two The Movie Channels, and Flix. All of them do a nice job of showing older exploitation movies and newer DTV stuff, but what I did not know is that they also, unlike HBO and Cinemax, often letterbox their programming. HBO and Cinemax never show widescreen prints. Also, unlike HBO and Cinemax, these channels are not copy-protected, which means I can record them on DVD-R.
Last week, I recorded a nice LBX print of X--THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, which I'm sure is the same print used on MGM's DVD. But today I was stunned--stunned, I say--to realize that MEAN DOG BLUES, an AIP action movie released in 1978, was a really beautiful, clear letterboxed print. It opens with the Orion logo, then the AIP logo, and ends with the MGM logo. I don't know if this is coming out on DVD or not, but I could not have been more shocked to see that this relatively obscure and unimportant drive-in movie was receiving better treatment on cable TV than most major contemporary studio movies do.
I'd only seen the good trailer for this movie, buoyed by Ernie Anderson's typically energetic voiceover. Gregg Henry, a blond leading man still extremely busy in films and TV guest shots (GILMORE GIRLS, 24), plays Jack Ramsey, a wannabe songwriter driving cross-country to Nashville to audition for a music producer. His car breaks down, and he's picked up by an obnoxious alcoholic politician (William Windom, usually dependable, but overacting in this one) and his horny wife (Tina Louise). A drunken Windom runs down a 10-year-old girl with his car, but he and his sympathetic wife frame Jack on manslaughter charges and convince him that he'll receive a suspended sentence if he goes along quietly. Windom crosses Jack up, however, and the young man ends up on a Southern chain gang run by the hardnosed Captain Omar Kinsman (George Kennedy), who wanders about sleeveless and loves his killer Doberman more than he does any one person, including his horny jailbait daughter (the delicious Christina Hart, who performs her obligatory topless scene as well as she did in the earlier JOHNNY FIRECLOUD).
After running into trouble with a big tough con (John Daniels of BLACK SHAMPOO), Jack volunteers to be Kinsman's new "dog nigger" after the Doberman chomps on the current job holder, Mudcat (Scatman Crothers). What the gig entails is running your ass off six hours a day through the swamp while Kinsman's #1 guard (James Wainwright) and his trustees chase you with the tracking dogs...and the Doberman, which Kinsman may decide to run without its muzzle if you give him enough trouble...or get caught in a compromising position with his daughter.
Meanwhile, as Jack designs a plan to exercise the dogs for real by making an actual break for freedom, his wife (Kay Lenz) appeals to Windom and Louise to make things right and admit who the real driver of the car was.
Also in the film: Gregory Sierra (BARNEY MILLER), Felton Perry (MAGNUM FORCE), Ian Wolfe, Marc Alaimo and Edith Atwater. Mel Stuart (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) directed it, probably in Southern California. As you can see, MEAN DOG BLUES is worth watching for its cast, if for nothing else. It's not often you see a group of actors like this hanging out together. Henry hadn't done much film at this time, besides appearing as Nick Nolte's son in RICH MAN, POOR MAN: BOOK II. Despite a choice role in Brian DePalma's BODY DOUBLE, he never really broke out, although he has been a dependable performer in films and television ever since. A year later, he reunited with Kennedy in Jeff Lieberman's DELIVERANCE takeoff JUST BEFORE DAWN.
The uncredited executive producer was Bing Crosby (!), whose company appears in the titles only as BCP (Bing Crosby Productions). Der Bingle died on a golf course before MEAN DOG BLUES ever hit theaters, and a year or so later, so did his production company.