Smokey and the Judge (1980)

“Okay. Hold on just a minute, you smarmy, know-it-all pseudo movie critic. This is a ’70s hicksploitation Smokey and the Bandit ripoff has nothing to do with The Fast and the Furious and is definitely not a precursor. And, for god’s sake, don’t tie this back into Seinfeld, as that shite is getting on my nerves.”

“Hey, man. Don’t blame me. Blame Mason Heidger and Grant Pichla.”

“Who the frack are they?”

“The actor and director of the just-released indie time travel flick Making Time.”

“Oh, shite. This is another one of those off-the-rails, twisted non sequiturs and tangent-strewn reviews where you squeeze yourself over obscure actors and directors and you lose yourself in a morass of Six-Degrees babbling where you never tell us the plot of the movie.”

“Yeah, this is one of those “better go take a piss movies and make yourself a sandwich” reviews, bro.”

“Yeah, I’ll see you later. And find yourself an editor and a brevity-in-chief, bro.”

So . . . what am I rambling about with this escapee from the film vaults?

Like I said . . . I wrote up a review for Making Time, which stars Tori Titmas, and she wrote and stars in The Girls of Summer. And the director of Tori’s screenwriting debut is John D. Hancock, he of the ’70s drive-in “vampire” classic Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and the most unconventional Christmas movie you’ll ever see, Prancer. And Hancock’s cinematographer on Prancer and The Girls of Summer is . . . Misha Suslov, who lensed the cameras on Truckin’ Buddy McCoy, John Carpenter’s Black Moon Rising, and Mark L. Lester’s Public Enemies. And Suslov also eyepieced this redneck romp starring a cadaverous Rory Calhoun (who starred in Motel Hell that same year) in the Sheriff Buford T. Justice role.

So, you see. This review isn’t my fault. Send your complaints to Tori Titmas for hiring team Hancock-Suslov. For she is the one who unleashed this obscurity from the dust-bunnied, VHS shelves into the digital dustbins of B&S About Movies for you to enjoy. (And, of course, Mason and Grant are complicit in the film canister of worms thou opened.)

Courtesy of Paul Zamarelli of VHS Collector.com. Visit his DVD and Blu reviews on You Tube at The Analog Archivist.

Hey, you may not care. But I do. And our Master of the Movie Themed Vodka-based Drinks, Sam, cares (last week’s movie drinks!). And not only do we get to talk about John D. Hancock and pay tribute to Misha Suslov in this review . . . but we can get our freak on over producer-director Harry Hope.

Oh, my Harry Hope! For only you could possibly think melding the waning disco-era with the CB radio-reinvented hicksploitation-era would make for a good movie. But what else would we expect from the man who unleashed the never-should-have-been-finished-or-released Doomsday Machine, you know, that 1971 sci-fi ditty that featured motorcycle helmet-clad astronauts blasting-off in cushy Lazy-Boy recliners? What else would you expect from the man who backed Al Adamson’s T&A romp Sunset Cove and his Jim Kelly-starring karate joint, Death Dimension. (See, there’s never a loss of movie obscurities to review! Sam, pencil them in.)

So, anywhoo . . . back in the days of polyester and mirror balls, ’60s R&B singer Gwen Owens reinvented herself as the front-woman of the Los Angeles-based disco band Hot with Cathy Carson and Juanita Curiel (the “gimmick” was that the band was multi-racial; Owens was African-American, Carson white, and Curiel hispanic) and scored a 1977 U.S Top 40 radio hit with “Angel in Your Arms.” (Learn more about Hot at souldisco.de).

Of course, in the mind of Harry Hope . . . a down-and-out one-hit wonder disco group is perfect fodder for a Harry Hope production. And the best part: this wasn’t intended as a parody of Smokey and the Bandit. (In fact, we think the redneck sheriff and judge buffoonery wasn’t a part of the original “script” and grafted in after-the-fact. “Hey, Smokies and CBs are hot right now, let’s make one of those movies,” decided the ever-mind changing producer.)

After the release of Hot’s self-titled breakthrough debut — and the then novelty of the group’s multi-racial make-up — expectations were high for their sophomore album, If That’s the Way You Want It . . . You Got It (1978). So their management decided a Beatlesesque movie would be a great way to promote the album. And they entrusted the project to Harry Hope. Obviously, no one on the Hot management team or in the Big Tree Records’ offices did their due diligence. Did anyone not see Doomsday Machine?

When first produced, the film was completed as We Can Be Stronger Together, so as to tie into the band’s upcoming third album. When the title of the album was shortened to Stronger Together (1980), so was the film’s title (the album sleeve features film promotional blurbs in its liner notes). And that 1980 album sold less than the second album. So title changes — to distance the film from the flop album — were afoot, with a reimaging as Running Hot and Making It! (which carried over for its VHS shelf live).

But with Smokey and the Bandit igniting its own cottage industry, the girls from Hot — who agreed to a movie tie-in to promote their album — found themselves in a CB-Smokey romp, Smokey and the Judge, to, you know, make you think Jerry Reed is going to show up singing “Eastbound and Down” — instead of a hot pants n’ hip swingin’ disco trio cooing in three-part harmonies. Truth is, for all its ripoffness, the two films that don’t get named-dropped when drive-in and home video aficionados revisit this this discoploitation romp are the two movies it’s really ripping off: the Saturday Night Fever-inspired, disco-musical comedy Thank God It’s Friday (1978) and the Earth, Wind & Fire-starring disco-musical That’s the Way of the World (1975; aka, Shining Star).

And why title the film Making It? Who knows. Perhaps the distributor decided to confuse us into thinking the film was based on David “American Werewolf In London” Naughton’s then pop hit, “Making It” — which was actually featured in Meatballs.

Courtesy of Amazon

“Okay, Harry. You got us into this mess. How are we going to graft a female disco group into a hicksplotation movie?”

“We’re going to rip off Roger Corman’s old women-in-prison flicks.”

“Are you sure? I mean, we’ve already ripped off so many other films already.”

For reals. Harry even took the kitchen sinks as musicians Gwen Owens and Cathy Carson meet while doing time in a women’s penitentiary and decided to form a singing group. Of course, as is the case with any women-in-prison flick, the girls are innocent, with Cathy set-up to take the fall for a jewel heist gone wrong (in a flashback sequence that looks like stock footage from another movie).

When the duo makes parole, they meet Morris Levy (Darrow Igus from Car Wash, The Fog, and lots of ’80s TV), a managerial bottom feeder who’s going to “make them stars.” And he gets them a talent show gig at an out-of-the-way Urban Cowboy-styled (another film pinched for inspiration) roadhouse in the hick town of Pitts. (The “pitts,” yuk yuk. That’s sum mighty fern movie sypherin’ there, Harry.) Of course, after singing their five songs in the film (i.e., the initial purpose of the film: to promote their music . . . and pad out the film’s short running time), they run afoul of the local Barney Fife-dufus in the form of Sheriff Cutler (Gene Price, an old Jim Nabors sidekick), he the lone minion of the always sex-starved, fatass Judge Maddox (Joe Marmo from Rappin’ and American Drive-In), who has his own honry-machinations for the girls. Car chases and crashes (i.e., the “Fast and (not so) Furious” part), ensues, which, because of all the singing, hardly happens.

Now, you noticed that we didn’t mention Rory Calhoun in that stellar synopsis. That’s because you’ve been theatrical one-sheet duped: Rory-boy isn’t the Sheriff like we’ve been led to believe; he shows up for a cameo as a record executive who judges the contest in Pitts(ville), U.S.A.

Yeah. Use the F’in-word as a prefix to the word “mess” on this one. How much so? Hy Pyke (the creepy bus driver in Lemora, Mayor Daley in Dolemite, and Hack-O-Lantern) shemps-in-comic relief (see Sam Raimi’s films for what “shempin’” means) as the roadhouse’s bartender and a cheesy used car salesman. But you know what? You give me a movie with Rory, Hy, and Darrow, along with “Harry Hope” on the box, and I am renting the movie. You dig? (A dunny to subsequently dump it in.)

And so closes another off-the-rails rant at B&S About Movies, where we coddle the forgotten and obscure films of our drive-in, UHF, and VHS yesteryears — and the latest indie films. And to Misha Suslov: we tip our hats to you. Thanks for the VHS memories.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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