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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Pray for the Wildcats (1974)

One of the best things about made for television movies is that if you had a couple of familiar faces the network would pretty much let you make whatever movie you wanted to if you stayed within the budget. Pray for the Wildcats is a prime example of this, but more on that later. 

There is an AD agency trying to sell a powerful and rich business owner on their latest campaign to sell his heavy equipment (think tractors and bulldozers) by shooting it in Baja Mexico. This is because that is the most inhospitable terrain in the world, at least according to the movie. He manipulates the top three guys at the agency into going on a dirt bike ride thru the desert with him because he can approve the campaign unless he sees where they want to shoot it. Because he is so powerful and rich they have to agree and he knows it. 

So off they go but not before we find out that Warren, one of the AD guys, is in the process of being forced out of the agency and is trying to land this one last account. Or that is what he wants everyone to think as it becomes obvious that he is setting up his own suicide to look like an accident so his family can cash in his fat new insurance policy. Warren was also having an affair with Paul’s wife. The evil businessman, Farragut, gets into trouble almost immediately by getting fresh with a hippy girl and then causing both her and her boyfriend to die by stranding them in the middle of nowhere when he is rebuffed. Warren insists on telling the police, but the other guys are worried more about the account. Shenanigans ensue as the previously suicidal Warren is now ironically fighting for his life just to see justice done. 

Now that you have heard the plot let me tell you who the cast is. The two cowardly AD men are played by seventies mainstay Marjoe Gortner (H.G. Wells Food of the Gods) and television dad Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch). Our hero is everyone’s favorite William Shatner! Here he oddly enough is playing the part subdued and without his signature over the top line delivery. We also get Angie Dickinson and Lorraine Gary of Jaws fame as a couple of the AD men’s wives. But the craziest bit of casting must be for Farragut our murderous rich guy who likes to manhandle the ladies. Somewhere someone read this script and said to themselves “We should get Andy Griffith to play this.” What the actual Hell!

What a cast!
The reason that I started by talking about the cast rather then the story is because much of my issue with the plot has to do with the cast. Shatner is actually quite good in his role as the tortured Warren. He just wants his family to be taken care of and has to deal with his guilt over the affair. Despite his flaws when he sees the girl and boy die because of Farragut all his plans go out the window to see that they get justice. That is a decent character arc and is probably the most interesting part of the movie. 

Where things go off the rails for me is Griffith trying to play the heavy. Maybe with better material or direction he might have pulled it off. But here his natural charisma and overall kindly persona makes for a dichotomy between the characters actions and the performance bringing it to the screen that I just can’t get past. He is horribly miscast in the role and without a good antagonist Pray for the Wildcats doesn’t work. Toss in some horrible pacing where we watch them dirt bike across the desert for long stretches and the unnecessary drama with the wives back home for a tedious hour and forty minute runtime. 

I wanted to like this movie both because of the cast and my overall love of made for television movies. But this is a flawed movie that basically misfires and isn’t worth the time to watch. I can’t recommend it but will continue to dig for that next classic made for the small screen. Until then maybe go watch A Cold Night’s Death or The Possessed.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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