Sunday, April 14, 2013

Who is Arch Hall Jr.?

In early February, the Roxie presented a triple feature of Arch Hall Jr. films.  I saw ⅔ of the program.

The Choppers starring Arch Hall Jr.; directed by Leigh Jason; (1961)
The Sadist starring Arch Hall Jr., Richard Alden, Marilyn Manning, Don Russell & Helen Hovey; directed by James Landis; (1963)

I missed Wild Guitars (1962).

The night was hosted by Johnny Legend and I learned from his introduction that Hall Jr. was a teenage singer & actor.  I use the past tense but Hall Jr. is still alive but after 1965 he gave up acting and became a cargo airline pilot.  If there is an Arch Hall Jr. then there must be a Arch Hall Sr.  There was and Sr. was instrumental in his namesake's acting career.  He served as producer, screenwriter and/or co-star on all of his sons films of which there were seven.

The films were B grade and frankly Jr. didn't seem to have much acting ability.  Of course, he was all of 17 years old in The Choppers and still hadn't turned 20 in The Sadist.  I thought he looked a little like a young John C. Reilly.

In The Choppers, he plays the leader of a teenage gang of car thieves.  Using live chickens on the back of a flatbed truck as cover, the boys strip or chop the abandoned cars on the side of the road in nothing flat.  Arch Hall Sr. newscaster narration explains the specifics.  They use walkie-talkies to communicate between Cruiser (Hall Jr.) who is the lookout and the crew.  They even used coded words like they are in a combat fighter squadron (which Hall Sr. was during WWII).  It was all kind of silly as far as juvenile delinquent (JD) films go.  The boys are selling the chopped parts to a junkyard owner who double crosses them after they get too big for their britches.  That leads to a shootout with the police which is fairly jarring given the lighter tone of the film up to that point.  Hall Jr. was adequate in a role which didn't require much acting range.

The Sadist is a more ambitious film.  Three school teachers (Richard Alden, Helen Hovey & Don Russell) drive to LA to see the Dodgers' Opening Day game.  The radio broadcast leading up to the game serves as a time marker for the day's events.  Their car breaks down but they make it a relatively remote road side garage.  Initially, they can't the proprietor so Alden starts to work on the car himself with the tools and parts on the premises.

After awhile, Charles Tibbs (Hall Jr.) and his near mute girlfriend (Marilyn Manning) show up.  Tibbs & his girl are based on Charles Starkweather & Caril Ann Fugate who also be portrayed in Terrence Malick's Badlands.  Before long, Tibbs is terrorizing the three teachers while forcing Alden to fix the car so he can use it for his getaway.  The owner of the garage & his family were killed by Tibbs and he was disposing of the bodies when the three arrived.

As you can imagine, the film will succeed or fail based on the performance of Hall as Tibbs.  Hall plays the character as a sneering, inbred psychopath who obviously has sadistic tendencies.  Imagine a less subtle version of the rednecks in Deliverance.  Rather than by indifferent to his victims' suffering, Tibbs enjoys it and seems nearly orgasmic when threatening or hurting one of the teachers.  Maybe if the film had been more stylized, the performance could have fit in but Alden, Hovey & Russell play their roles without a hint of exaggeration or irony.  Hall comes off as hammy

Whatever shortcomings I can point out about The Sadist, I will admit that it kept my interest throughout.    I wonder how the film would have turned out with a different director and cast.

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