Moonfire (1970)

Michael Parkhurst directed exactly one movie, this 1970 effort about truckers battling Nazis in Mexico to rescue a pilot. There’s also a millionaire gone missing, a fortune hidden inside a haul of lettuce and a lost space capsule. Yes, really.

Parkhurst also appeared in the 1992 film Hot Under the Collar. Everything else on his IMDB page lists him as equipment supplier and technical consultant, so I did some research of my own. Parkhurt was a big supporter of truckers for nearly fifty decades, starting Overdrive magazine and producing the documentary Big Rig before building that aforementioned IMDB resume that includes DuelConvoyMovin’ OnCitizens BandSmokey & The BanditB.J. and the Bandit, Big Trouble In Little ChinaNear Dark and many, many more.

Starting with the Marty Robbins song, “The Wheel of Life,” we get ready to enter the world of truckers, hauling their loads across the highways and byways of our great nation. Richard Egan has top billing, but he’s not really the star of this. He was, however, Rod Serling’s original choice to host The Twilight Zone before contractural issues got in the way.

The real star is Charles Napier. After a stint in the army, Napier got into Hollywood by accident, as a girlfriend took the square jawed Napier along when she went to audition for Russ Meyer, who him as the male lead in Cherry, Harry & Raquel! In addition to acting and doing a full-frontal nude scene, he also helped film the movie, do make-up, drive and do stunts for the movie. After Moonfire, he actually became a writer and photographer for Overdrive, as well as appearing in Jonathan Demme’s Citizen Band (he also appeared in several more films for the director, including Silence of the Lambs) and as Tucker McElroy in The Blues Brothers.

Sonny Liston — the heavyweight champion of the world who lost his title to Cassius Clay in 1964 — also appears as The Farmer, another trucker. Liston also lost the rematch to the future Muhammad Ali in the first round. He died before this movie was released in 1970 of a heroin overdose, but the truth is he was probably murdered and that was covered up. He also appears in the movies Harlow and the Monkees’ film Head.

The bad guys are played by Jose Gonzales Gonzales and Joaquin Martinez, who often played stereotypical Mexican bad guys in films in the days before political correctness.  Speaking of a lack of PC, this article from Overdrive takes note of the fact that the magazine “was known not only for strident advocacy on behalf of the independent trucker but for cheesecake photos of attractive women posing in, on and around big rigs.” At least one of those models ends up in the film.

Some Overdrive magazine evidence

The real plot revolves around a Howard Hughes-like figure’s satellite — intended to pretty much be something like Ted Turner’s Superstation satellite or the one that SCTV launched into space from Mellonville — and the truckers taking a few million hidden amongst their load to Mexico, where the evil Nazi tries to take them out. There’s also a brawl with a motorcycle gang, because as well as all know, two wheelers hate eighteen wheelers. It’s a proven fact.

If you love trucking, there’s plenty of real truckers and truckstop owners in the film, as well as the actual Tucson Truck Terminal, a popular spot. Sadly, it’s about as exciting as driving across Kansas hauling lettuce for 12 straight hours.

That said, Parkhurt himself wrote of the film on IMDB, which overjoys me to no end: “My review cannot be taken objectively inasmuch as I wrote and produced it and directed 95% of it. This was a low budget movie first released in theatres in 1972, but it has excellent photography, a good and original musical score with country legend Marty Robbins singing two songs (offscreen). The film was shot entirely on location in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico for less than $300,000, still, “low budget” even in 1970. Even though it was a low budget film, several years later, ORION pictures distributed it for many years on TV, and it got good audience reaction when first released in theatres. The production sound mixer went on to gain five Oscar nominations, and an assistant cameraman, Ed Begley Jr., said he never wanted to act. In spite of a good cast,I would rate this film as “fair,” but not bad, especially considering the low budget. It was even a union crew. Leonard Maltin calls this film a “bomb” and describes the plot as a blackmail plot but there was no blackmail plot at all, so we know Maltin never saw it and probably relied on the inaccurate summary of some high school dropout to provide the description. It was never released on video until early 1998 and then only in truck stops where it outsold all other recent hits by far, wherever it was displayed, partly due to the fact that all the trucker scenes were technically accurate, and co-star Charles Napier, in his first PG film, actually learned to drive a tractor trailer for his role. Sorry, folks, no gratuitous violence or sex scenes except a little teaser in the beginning, and no cursing. If I had known that Maltin would provide a completely inaccurate plot summary I would have put in filthy words and stupid violence in order to elevate Moonfire to the level of all the really inane so-called trucker movies with unbelievable plots.”

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

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