Posted: 05/04/2006

 

Pray for the Wildcats

(1973)

by Barry Meyer



Andy Griffith goes hog wild in the deserts of Mexico. From A Different City.


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There’s a certain glib satisfaction one derives from watching one of Hollywood’s nice guys take on an uncharacteristically sinister role. It was a guilty thrill to see James Stewart put Kim Novak through his obsessive ringer; and when the lovable schlub Jackie Gleason took a perverse turn as the foul-mouthed Sheriff Buford T. Justice in Smokey and the Bandit, he won himself a whole new and younger fan base.

It must be the shock value that really makes these interesting bits of casting work so well. Take the odd casting of Andy Griffith playing a ruthless captain of industry in the 1974 made-for-TV movie Pray for the Wildcats. As Sam Farragut, Griffith unleashes his inner Donald Trump as he bullies and cajoles a trio of ad-execs who so desperately need his million dollar account. Heading the glum trio is Warren Summerfield (William Shatner) an old-fashioned business guy who is so woefully out of touch with his company’s new ‘now’ image that he still wears (70s fashion alert!) wide lapels. His second in command is Paul McIlvain (The Brady Bunch’s own dad Robert Reed), a workaholic ‘yes’ man whose mischievous wife (Angie Dickenson playing an oddly low key role) is having an affair with the depressed Summerfield. Rounding the misfits out is Marjoe Gortner (The Food of the Gods) as Terry Maxon, the maverick creative artist who is ready to sell-out his hippie ways when he becomes smitten with Farragut’s power and cold hard cash promises. All three men fall easily under the thumb of the persuasive Farragut, who drags them all down to Baja, Mexico for a motorbike slash locations scouting trip. When a tantalizing too-young hippie chick catches Farragut’s leering eye, the shrewd scoundrel sets the men’s moral and ethical values to the ultimate test.

Griffith wears the mask of the villain very well, and it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Just like Jimmy Stewart did, Griffith gave his good guys a michevious twinkle-eyed edge that always made sure you knew that he wasn’t to be messed with. Even as the ever kind Sheriff Taylor, he would always take a snide delight in torturing and teasing his own pal Deputy Fife to the point of humiliation. The real surprise in the cast, though, was Shatner. We’ve become so used to seeing him pump his chest up ’ ala Capt. Kirk ’ and recite his lines with that familiar dramatic pause, or, as of lately, we find his self-mocking impersonations to be hilarious, but his turn as the hapless ad executive who is contemplating suicide to help his family get out of debt, displays a middle-aged vulnerability that we never much get to see from him.

Barry Meyer is just another pissed-off, 40-something writer stuck in Jersey.



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