Wow! This movie has it all! It’s an American International Pictures release! Cheapjack drive-in copycat Larry Buchanan! Beach flick purveyor Maury Dexter! Still livin’ the dream ex-’60s teen idol Fabian! And a connection to Jim Morrison?
Strap on the popcorn bucket!
In 1967, Warner Bros. hit a $70 million payday on a $2.5 million investment with the Warren Beatty-produced and Arthur Penn*-directed (1969’s Alice’s Restaurant and 1970’s Little Big Man) Bonnie and Clyde. The film not only instigated a slew of “(criminal) lovers on the run” films, such as the Martin Sheen-starring Badlands (1973) and the Peter Fonda-starring Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974), it also set off the production of more traditional gangster films, such as Roger Corman’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967) — who never seen a hit film he couldn’t knockoff — and Dick Clark’s written and produced Killers Three (1968), a knockoff for — coincidentally, as was A Bullet for Pretty Boy — American International Pictures. Then there’s Roger Corman’s directed Bloody Mama (1970) starring Shelley Winters and a young Robert De Niro and, thanks to director Martin Scorsese (on his second film), Roger Corman’s superior Boxcar Bertha (1972) starring David Carradine and Barbara Hershey. As with Scorcese, another superior (but fictional-based on a late ’30s novel) gangster flick was the Robert Aldrich-produced and directed (but a box office flop) The Grissom Gang (1971).
Of course, the notorious career of this film’s subject, Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, was covered in the poverty-row production Pretty Boy Floyd (1960). You know that film’s German-American actor, John Ericson, for the sci-fi cheapy The Bamboo Saucer (1969), the early Charles Band-directed hicksploitation’er Crash! (1977), and Oklahoma-shot, poverty horror anthology House of the Dead (1978). And yes, Ericson, as most ’60s and ’70s B-Movie actors at the end of their careers, worked for Cirio H. Santiago (we love you, Uncle C!) in one of our beloved Philippine war romps, Final Mission (1984).
Now, we gave you that little bit of back story on the admittedly dashing — and a pretty decent thespian, natch — on John Ericson, in that, this time, Pretty Boy Floyd is now portrayed by . . . you guessed it, teen idol Fabian, who started using his last name, Forte, on his works. He was, certainly, looking for this “grown up” gangster romp as a role that would bury the teen-memories of his lightweight beach romp Ride the Wild Surf (1964) and the process-shot racing rallies of Fireball 500 (1966), Thunder Alley (1967), and The Wild Racers (1968). Oh, and let’s not forget Fabian’s work in the James Bond-cum-beach knockoff Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and Mario Bava’s sequel, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966).
Then the reviews for A Bullet for Pretty Boy came in.
The New York Times accused Larry Buchanan of making “a murderous gangster movie full of mostly nice guys which looks a little as if they had taken the members of the cast of, say, Beach Blanket Bingo and put them in costume and given them old cars to drive and told them to play it for real.”
The Los Angeles Times opined the film was “surprisingly free from gratuitous gore, but was still another very pale carbon of Bonnie and Clyde, in which Fabian handles himself in competent fashion amidst a host of amateurs.”
The film did, however, prove to be a box office hit, grossing over a million dollars in drive-in receipts; however, even though he was called out for the quality of his thespian turn across the board by critics, the film was not the critical and commercial breakthrough Fabian had hoped.
At that point, Fabian diddled in some guest television roles of no consequence, eventually returning to the big screen alongside Karen Black in, ironically, another based-in-fact gangster film — for Crown International Pictures, no less — Little Laura and Big John (1973) — that film concerned with the 1910s and 1920s-era Ashley gang. (The only film directed by art director Luke Moberly, it was made in 1969 as a failed/shelved Bonnie and Clyde cash-in.) Then Fabian gave us the trashy one-two punch that we so cherish here at B&S About Movies: Soul Hustler (1973) and Jukebox, aka Disco Fever (1978) — again, two “grown up” films rejected by the mainstream box office hoards. Fabian’s career then wound down (but not to the Cirio H. Santiago depths, thank god) after his working in the ’80s slasher genre with Kiss Daddy Goodbye (1981) and a bit-support role in the rock comedy Get Crazy (1983). (Hey, how did we miss his work in the George Peppard-starring airline disaster flick Crisis in Mid-Air (1979) for our “Airline Disaster TV Movie Week” feature?)
In typical A.I.P fashion, the against-the-low-budget and bargain-basement talents (the acting, outside of Fabian, is pretty abysmal) behind the film, in front of and behind the cameras, made the production a troubled one. The studio, while fronting Larry Buchanan a $350,000 budget, the largest the writer-director every worked with — and Fabian ever worked on — the studio, well, mostly studio head James H. Nicholson, grew concerned Buchanan (who gave us the likes of Mistress of the Apes and “It’s Alive!”) would fail to bring the film on budget and schedule with “some level of quality.” So A.I.P replaced Buchanan with Maury Dexter — in his final directing effort. While Dexter and the studio were ultimately impressed with what Buchanan shot, it was considered “too slow and talky.” So Dexter took a small pick-up crew, along with stunt doubles and the lead actors, to shoot action sequences to splice into the film.
Shot and produced in five months betwen June to October 1969, Buchanan’s story was inspired by Woody Guthrie’s folk-tune “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd,” while TV series scribe Henry Rosenbaum (1970’s pretty cool budgeted-horror The Dunwich Horror and the aforementioned Get Crazy) whipped the concept into shape. And yes, it’s the same Henry Rosenbaum who penned Sly Stallone’s Lock Up (1989).
Needless to say, if you’re tempted to stream a Larry Buchanan-with-Maury Dexter-on-the-assist gangster flick, just know you’re not getting a gritty gangster romp on the level of the superior, John Milus-directed Dillinger (1973) starring Warren Oates: you’re getting a Roger Corman-backed New World Pictures-exploiting ’30-era gangster romp in the vein of his Big Bad Mama (1974) and The Lady in Red, aka Guns, Sin and Bathtub Gin (1979). Actually, the proceedings are closer to Buchanan’s own — long forgotten and of no consequence — take on the Bonnie and Clyde legend with The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde (1968), which is the reason why he got the green light on his Pretty Boy Floyd project, in the first place.
Buchanan’s gangster chronicle — like the recently (some quarters) critically derided bio-flicks Bohemian Rhapsody, The Dirt, and Hidden Figures — plays it very loose with the facts. And, instead of documenting Floyd for the violent criminal that he was, Buchanan transforms the bane of Bureau of Investigations’ (the BOI was the precursor to the FBI) agent Melvin Purvis as a romanticized, misunderstood product of the Great Depression (that swept across 1930s American) by casting Floyd as a Robin Hoodesque folk-hero for the people.
Sure, Floyd gained his “hero” (well, anti-hero) status for burning mortgage documents, which effectively wiped-out people from their debts (but is not based in fact and believed to be folklore myth), but Floyd was still, first and foremost, a bank robber — who not only robbed “evil” banks, but also terrorized citizens by robbing company payrolls and committing numerous highway robberies. In reality, the newspaper-reading public who considered Floyd a “folk hero” of the downtrodden, was a multiple murder behind the killings of two police officers, one federal agent, and two, rival hood-cum rum runners who crossed his path. Then there was the Kansas City Massacre of July 1933 that resulted in the death of four law enforcement officers (though Floyd’s involvement is disputed, in some authoritative circles).
Charles Arthur Floyd wasn’t a hero, anti or otherwise. He was a thug who struck fear and dread in people, aka a terrorist. His exploits were so feared, officially, in July 1934, the newly formed F.B.I ranked Floyd as “Public Enemy No. 1” — and yet, the citizens of Oklahoma and Texas still helped him evade capture.
As you can see, the tale of Floyd is heavy material. And you can see why Fabian lobbied for the role.
Of course, keeping in mind Roger Corman backed the gangster romps Bloody Mama (1970) and Boxcar Bertha (1972) — themselves recycling off the A.I.P prop house from The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967) — Buchanan easily pulled together a film that, while not fictionally accurate, is at least historically accurate in its set and costuming (we’ll forgive those few 1940’s model cars). And, if you know Larry Buchanan’s filmography, a resume rife with one, cheesy science fiction, inept horror, and conspiracy flick after the another, this gangster flick is one of his better, if not the best, films on his resume — thanks, in part, to Maury Dexter injecting those action set pieces.
Of particular interest in the cast department, especially to uber fan Bill Van Ryn of the Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum collective: Fabian’s supporting cast of Annabelle Weenick, Camilla Carr, Hugh Feagin, and Gene Ross appeared in the films of the all-too-short resume of S.F Brownrigg, he of the films Don’t Look in the Basement (1973), Don’t Hang Up (1974), Scum of the Earth (1974), and Keep My Grave Open (1977). And, why yes, Brownrigg does connect back to Larry Buchanan: Brownrigg worked as an editor and sound engineer on Buchanan’s ’60s flicks The Naked Witch, High Yellow, and the sci-fi epics Zontar: The Thing from Venus and Attack of the Eye Creatures.
Oh, and lets not forget Fabian’s co-starring moll was Jocelyn Lane, an Elvis flick vet co-star in Tickle Me (1965). An admittedly smokin’ hot, but (very) marginal actress, who certainly hoped for more from the film, as did Fabian, left the business after the crushing reviews for A Bullet for Pretty Boy. Also look for Fabian’s criminal side kick portrayed by ’60s B-Movie leading man Adam Roake (who appeared in the aforementioned Dirty Marty, Crazy Larry), and character actor extraordinaire and Buchanan stock player Bill Thurman (‘Gator Bait, Creature from Black Lake). Those who look really hard will see Morgan Fairchild (The Initiation of Sarah, Shattered Illusions) in her uncredited, feature extra debut.
You can watch the full film on You Tube.
“Hey, wait a minute, R.D! What about the ‘Jim Morrison connection,’ you teased?”
Read on, ye reader!
The Soundtrack by Richard Bowen and the Source
American International Pictures started their recording branch, American International Records, distributed by MGM Records, on March 19, 1959. Early on, AIR’s catalog was mostly 45-rpm singles, with rock and roll selections from their horror films, most notably, The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959). Later, AIR’s catalog featured long-play soundtrack releases, such as A Bullet for Pretty Boy. A decade later, in 1969, AIR and another company, Together Records (also distributed by MGM Records), went into business together — and shared the (sometimes confusing) sequence of catalog numbers on their releases. One of the label’s coveted records is “(Oooh, I’m Scared of the) Horrors of the Black Museum” b/w “The Headless Ghost” by The Nightmares (1959). (The Nightmares were fronted by Jimmie Maddin, who also appeared and performs in The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow with the tune, “Tongue Tied.” He also cut “Roadracers” for the 1959 film of the same name.)
The soundtrack for A Bullet for Pretty Boy was produced by Harley Hatcher. B-Movie fans of all things Roger Corman know Hatcher for his scoring, penning and singing songs for the biker and rock flicks The Glory Stompers (1967), Wild in the Streets (1967), and The Hard Ride (1971). His other contributions are the Peter Fonda biker classic The Wild Angels (1966), several songs to Satan’s Sadists (1969), and Fabian’s Christsploiter, Soul Hustler (1973). Hatcher, who also served as the singing voice of actor Christopher Jones’s rock star Max Frost in Wild in the Streets, went on to become a top executive at Curb Records**. (Angel, Angel, Down We Go, another of AIR’s film soundtracks (1969), served as an A-Side album showcase for actor-singer Jordon Christopher, formerly of The Wild Ones.*˟)
Richard Bowen and the Source
And that brings us to Richard Bowen, the lead vocalist of the L.A. band the Source, who serves as the “Jim Morrison connection” teased at the beginning of this film review.
Richard Bowen and the Source never released an official album through AIR; none of the label’s artists did. Their “debut album” was the A-Side of A Bullet for Pretty Boy, in which the B-Side features Harley Hatcher’s film score. Of the six songs by the Source produced by Hatcher, he wrote three: “”It’s Me I’m Running From,” “I’m Gonna Love You (‘Til I Die),” and “Got Nowhere to Go,” with the former paired for single release with “Gone Tomorrow” penned by Richard Bowen. Bowen wrote the remaining songs “Ruby Ruby” and “Ballad of Charles Arthur Floyd.” The Source, which also featured Danny Heald, Harold Finch, Jr., and Robert Gilly, also placed a song on the soundtrack for John G. Avildsen’s (Rocky, The Karate Kid) third film, Joe (1970), starring Peter Boyle (the single, image above, issued in 1971, was backed with the non-film track, “Hummingbird”). The vocals on that single are shared by later members Tim Garon and Robin Baker.
And we fast forward to the early ’80s.
Buchanan was fully committed to his faux-biographical drama format — mixed with his ubiquitous speculations and conspiracy theories — a format that dated to his “exposés” on the Kennedy assassination with The Trail of Lee Harvey Oswald (1964), the gangster chronicles The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde and A Bullet for Pretty Boy, and the “romance” between billionaire Howard Hughes and actress Jean Harlow in Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell (1977). Buchanan twice explored the life of Marilyn Monroe with his same theories-vigor in Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976) and Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (1989). Not even folklore dinosaurs were immune from the depths of Buchanan’s conspiracies: he made the speculative-drama The Loch Ness Horror (1982).
Then, with Jim Morrison mania sweeping the world in the wake of Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman’s runaway best seller — and the first biography on the Doors’ lead vocalist, No One Here Gets Out Alive (1980) — Buchanan concocted Down on Us. Finally seeing release in 1984, it wasn’t a Jim bio-flick as Oliver Stone’s later The Doors (1991) — it was a “What If” tale about the deaths behind Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin. Remembering the Morrisonesque qualities of Richard Bowen’s voice, Larry Buchanan brought Bowen on the project to be “Jim Morrison’s” vocals. So Bowen took an old 1970 tune, “Phantom in the Rain” (the image of the original 45-rpm single, seen above), that never appeared in an American International Pictures production, and retooled it as a faux-live cut for the film.
Upon the 1984 release of the Down on Us — and Bowen’s eerie Morrison qualities on the songs “Phantom in the Rain” and “Knock So Hard” (it’s unknown if the second song was an old ’70s song by the Source or a newly-penned tune for the film) — for a time, before the early-’90s rise of Internet, it was believed — amid assumptions it was Iggy Pop and the Doors, or an ad-hock group of Detroit musicians, or Capitol Records’ SRC with a new lead vocalist — that the infamous, post-death “Jim Morrison solo album” known as Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1 (1974) was recorded by Richard Bowen and the Source.
Of course, when CEMA, Capitol’s digital reissues arm, released the first-ever compact disc version of the album in 1993 — and the truth, every so slowly and inaccurately, came out across blogs and music sharing sites — it was learned the faux Jim Morrison solo album was the lone release by Detroit musician Arthur Pendragon and his band, Walpurgis, a group managed by and recorded for Ed “Punch” Andrews’s Hideout Records and Palladium Productions that also oversaw the career of Bob Seger (Seger’s Gear Publishing published the album’s songs). (The 1974 studio version of Phantom’s Divine Comedy is also available on You Tube.)
Buffaloes, Grass Roots, and Eagles, Oh, My!
In addition to his catalog with American International Records, Richard Bowen penned the song “Trivial Sum” with Terry Furlong of the Grass Roots (the ’60s hits “Temptation Eyes” and “Midnight Confessions”) for the band, Blue Mountain Eagle.
Blue Mountain Eagle, hailing from Texas, was a quintet assembled in 1968 by Dewey Martin, who served as the original drummer in the Buffalo Springfield, and Randy Fuller, brother of the late Bobby Fuller of the Bobby Fuller Four (his brother Bobby, another celebrity murder mystery like TV’s Bob Crane and Iron Butterfly bassist Philip Taylor Kramer), to tour as “The New Buffalo Springfield.” When Stephen Stills and Neil Young took legal action to prevent Martin from using the “Buffalo Springfield” name, the band became Blue Mountain Eagle and recorded one album for Atco in 1970.
The group toured extensively, opening for Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Love, and Pink Floyd before their demise. Dewey Martin was eventually sacked; he formed Medicine Ball with Randy Fuller, while the rest of the band — Bob Jones, also formerly of Buffalo Springfield, along with David Johnson, formed Sweathog with the one-named sticksman Frosty from Lee Michaels (the early ’70s hit, “Do You Know What I Mean?”). Prior to the band’s formation, BME’s guitarist and vocalist, David Price, through his old Texas friend Micheal Nesmith, came to be Davy Jones’s stand-in on The Monkees TV series.
* We discussion the career of Arthur Penn’s son — and later, production partner on the Law & Order television franchise — in our review of the lost rock flick Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel.
** You can learn more about the career of Harley Hatcher at his official website.
*˟ You can learn more about American International Records’ complete roster of releases at Both Sides Now Publications.
Oh, by the way . . . we are deep into our third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” blowout. Yes, we’ve done this twice before, and you can catch up with our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” Round-Ups 1 and 2 with their full listings of all the rock flicks we’ve watched.