Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Film Review: HIGH-BALLIN' (1978, Peter Carter)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Written by Paul F. Edwards (V, NORTH AND SOUTH), Richard Robinson (PIRANHA, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, and Stephen Schneck (INSIDE OUT, WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY).  Starring Peter Fonda (EASY RIDER, THE LIMEY), Jerry Reed ("Cledus" in the SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT films, GATOR), Helen Shaver (OUTRAGEOUS!, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE PARK IS MINE!), Harvey Atkin (MEATBALLS, ATLANTIC CITY), Leslie Carlson (VIDEODROME, THE DEAD ZONE), and Michael Ironside?
Tag-line:  "Truckin' is one thing, high-ballin' is another, and the way they do it is something else!"
Best one-liner:  "You're a trucker?"  –"Well, I'm not a Go-Go dancer!"

HIGH-BALLIN' is not just a mediocre 70s Canadian trucker movie.  It's also a travelogue, an occasional EASY RIDER pastiche, and a bona fide Junta Juleil mystery.  Allow me to explain.

Netflix Streaming has a whole mess of films expiring tomorrow, many of which never made it to DVD.  One of these films is HIGH-BALLIN', and it has been on my watch-list for a long time, owing mostly to the fact that it supposedly features a role from a young Michael Ironside, as "Butch."  Research on the subject was hazy because apparently not that many people have seen HIGH-BALLIN', but cursory investigation revealed that Ironside's role was "unconfirmed."  I'll come back to this.

Unlike your average escapist truckin' fare, HIGH-BALLIN' has a surprisingly pessimistic tone to it, even in the midst of a twangy opening song by co-star Jerry Reed (country singer and zany trucker movie veteran), the fact that it's low-budgeted American International Picture, and the matter of its release abroad as a faux-sequel to CONVOY.  The bad guys aren't blundering meatheads being hilariously cold-cocked by orangutans like in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE– instead they're vicious hijackers murdering honest truckers and leaving their bodies on the side of the road.  Plus, the movie's got that whole Canadian seasonal depression thing going on, as I described in my review of THE DEAD ZONE.  I kinda like the idea of a depressing trucker movie.  

The plot follows our motorcyclist/trucker hero Peter Fonda, his truckin' buddy Jerry Reed, and Fonda's quasi-trucker/wannabe-trucker/trucker groupie girlfriend Helen Shaver as they fight back against a corporate trucking firm who's sending men in pickup trucks to hijack honest trucker's semitrailer trucks, steal them, and store them in an enormous trucking warehouse.  May I also recommend: LOTS AND LOTS OF TRUCKS.

HIGH-BALLIN' = EASY RIDER for the 70s?  

The action highlight of the piece is probably the chase scene whereupon Fonda releases racecars from a double-decker transport truck and flings them into the road at pursuing hijackers,

Peter Fonda, ready for some Canadian action– and appropriately dressed

but this film isn't really about the action.  It's about atmosphere, and the roads and scenic byways of 70s Ontario provide a nice, unusual spin on the genre.

We are treated to a nearly endless parade of scenic truck stop diners and nostalgic, down-home country western bars,

most of which are locales where you'd be happy to grab a Labatt or a Canadian Club on the rocks and spend some time hangin' out with David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin, or whoever your favorite Canadian happens to be.

We also get a bit part from Leslie "Barry Convex in VIDEODROME" Carlson,

a Canadian character actor who really made the rounds with Cronenberg, and with Canadian films in general.

Finally, we come to the mystery of Ironside.  For those of you who don't know, a large, hearty chunk of this website is devoted to Michael Ironside, even to the point of fanfiction.  So I watched the movie– looking for him the whole time– and couldn't quite spot him.  I was expecting him to show up as a henchman, so I kept pausing the hijacker scenes in the hopes of a glimpse of Ironside.  The movie came to a close and I could barely contain my disappointment.  Perhaps the "unconfirmed" status of Ironside's appearance in HIGH-BALLIN' was true...  Then my mind sparked, and I remembered back to a scene where an ambulance arrives on the scene to tend to a freshly murdered trucker.  In the scene, a bearded doctor walks across the screen, pokes his head in the vehicle, and says nothing.  He is never seen or heard from again.  It is my belief that this bearded doctor is Ironside.

He eluded my gaze the first time around because I was looking for a villain shouting threats, not a throwaway doctor without any dialogue.  Now, you can click on the pics for a larger view, but I'm 90% sure this is Ironside.  A waste of the man's talents, I say!  I realize that this is kind of anti-climactic, but hey, it's another Junta Juleil mystery (mostly) solved.

Three high-ballin', high-rollin', truckin' buddy stars.

–Sean Gill

1 comment:

Peter Max said...

Ive watched this movie tons of time just because of Peter Fonda he looks damn hot in this classic movie still hes quite famous these days
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