The joy of enjoying Robert Conrad as an actor is a case of you had to be there: if you weren’t, you missed out. Back in the day: we went gold, red and black because Conrad told us so. And we can remember those days thanks to Mill Creek rescuing this lost and forgotten TV Movie adrift in the public domain.
If you’re a younger surfer amid the digital pages of B&S About Movies, Conrad is just that old guy from The Wild Wild West (1965 – 1969) adapted into that utterly awful Will Smith movie Wild Wild West (1999) where Smith portrayed Conrad’s Jim West: no, there was never any giant, Civil War-era mechanical spiders in the series. If you’re a wee-bit older and go back to the pre-cable days of local UHF-TV, you remember coming home from school and watching Conrad as Tom Lopaka on the early ’60s series 77 Sunset Strip, a character which grew into its own four-years series, Hawaiian Eye. And the not-so-old and the not-so-young remember Conrad as Pappy Boyington on Black Sheep Squadron in the ’80s.
Before there was a Tom Selleck, there was Robert Conrad: he was the “he man” of the ’70s, rife with the “sex” for the women and the “brawn” for the men. From Murph the Surf (1975), Sudden Death (1977), and The Lady in Red (1979), he packed the duplexes and the Drive-Ins. From Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976), Coach of the Year (1980), and Two Father’s Justice (1994), we turned his TV movies into ratings winners. If Conrad was still active and relevant as an actor in the 21st Century, Sylvester Stallone would have cast him in The Expendables, because, for his fans (moi): Action equals Conrad and vise versa.
However, Conrad, even when playing off his tough guy image, isn’t comedy. And that led to his decision, which he later regretted, in turning down the role of Cmndt. Lassard in the first Police Academy film. Conrad tried to correct that career misstep with a role in Neal Isreal and Pat Profts’s next film, Moving Violations (1985) and this military comedy. With his two comedic bids failing at the box office, he went back to the action genre with the TV movies The Fifth Missile (1986) and Assassin (1986; which we reviewed as part of our last Mill Creek blowout with their Sci-Fi Invasion set).
In a story idea conjured by Conrad, and in an obvious bid to correct the wrong of turning down Police Academy, he’s Joe Knox: a hard-nosed, retired Air Force Colonel who takes over the leadership of a co-ed military academy from his mentor, General Garfield (Bill Erwin; Across 240-plus credits: Plains, Trains & Automobiles, Home Alone . . . and too many TV series to mention, yes, Samuel, even Seinfeld: “My Teeth, My Teeth, you moron!”). Helping Col. Knox whip the Porky’s-cum-Animal House bumbling cadets (including Alan Ruck of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame) into shape is Thomas “Top” Tuttle (ex-Elvis body guard Red West of Road House).
Since this is an ’80s TV movie, the shenanigans are innocuous and not as racy as the Police Academy films it apes, and it’s not as funny as No Time for Sergeants (the military comedy gold standard, so what film is), but it doesn’t fail as badly as Mad Magazine‘s (really awful) military school romp Up the Academy (1980). Also keep your eyes open for Reb Brown (TV’s original Captain America, Space Mutiny) and Dennis Farina (in an early role; on his way to TV’s Law & Order as Det. Fontana).
Sam? Notice how I got a plug for both Law & Order and Seinfeld into one review? Sweet!
You can get your own copy of Hard Knox as part of Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties box set and watch it on You Tube.