An individual exhibiting such uniqueness or individuality that he or she will cause a roomful of bar cronies to exclaim, "That's one interesting motherfucker!" Actual sexual relations with one's mother are not required.
When you're a big-time website publisher, you don't have a lot of available evenings. Monday nights might be spent attending a media gala, supermodel in your arm, while you hobnob with a who's who of the power players in the publishing industry. Wednesday nights can stretch well into the next morning as you scan the proofs of the upcoming issue, steadfastly making sure every inch of writing lives up to the standard the acid logic brand has come to represent. Friday nights may be spent descending the stairs to the official acid logic dungeon and feeding gruel to the crazed beast we call John Saleeby. Like I said, not a lot of free time.
When I do get a night off, I like to relax. And that means booze and television. It warn't too many evenings ago that I lay back on the old purple couch, 40 ouncer of Old-E in hand, and turned on the boob tube. And what I saw fascinated me. It was a low-budget black-and-white flick from the early 60s, but it had an edge unlike any other exploitation film I'd ever seen. There was a young feller, gun in hand, taunting a group of waylaid travelers. And as he mocked them, his visceral, sneering rage radiating from the television set, I realized I had discovered a long-lost gem, a gleaming jewel pulled from of the underbelly of Hollywood. What was this film? And who was this guy?
With a little detective work, I learned the film I was watching was called "The Sadist" that starred cult teen actor, Arch Hall Jr.. I'd never heard of him, but I wasn't surprised to learn he had something of a following on the Internet (hell, who doesn't?) It also turned out that "The Sadist" wasn't his only picture. Hall starred in a string of teen exploitation films, all produced by his father, during the early half of the 1960s. This got the old acid logic brain tingling. If anyone was an Interesting Motherfucker it was this guy. I had to know more.
I discovered, as is often the case with these sorts of situations, that to really understand Arch Hall Jr. I had to understand Arch Hall Sr.. Hall Sr. had been a bit actor in the movie westerns of the 30s and 40s, eeking out living for himself and his family but never hitting the big time. In the late 1950s, he took one last gamble on his Hollywood dreams, mortgaged his house and started Fairway Pictures, a film production company targeting the lucrative drive-in market. Poppa Hall was short on cash and had to find film crew and screen talent wherever he could. When he realized he needed a youthful actor to capture the teen market he looked no further than his own son.
Hall Jr. had already had some experience in the entertainment business. At the age of 15, he'd recorded a rock and roll novelty song, "Congo Joe," that had some minor success on the radio charts. Hall Sr. decided to capitalize on his son's musical ambitions by billing him as a Ricky Nelson-esque teen idol who would star in Fairway Pictures's low-budget output. The fact that Hall Jr. had no acting experience , and, honestly, only middling musical talent was not to be an impediment to this plan. Fairway Pictures was powered by chutzpah, and perhaps, the secret desperation of a middle-aged man determined to make some sort of mark on this world. Besides, there was one thing Arch Hall Jr. did have: Hair. Atop Hall Jr.'s scalp was a wild blonde pompadour that made him look a bit like a young Donald Trump. It was the kind of hair teenage girls of that generation would swoon over.
The first Fairway Pictures production was entitled "The Choppers." I've never seen it, but have seen it described as a standard teen exploitation flick about a gang of surly teenagers who make a career out of auto thievery. One such hoodlum is played by Hall Jr., who, in the slow moments of his larcenous career, finds time to belt out several rock 'n roll numbers, including his old hit "Congo Joe."
The next Fairway film started toestablish the company as a production house that would take risks on crazy and often nonsensical plots. "Eegah" was about a 7 foot tall Neanderthal caveman who somehow existed in modern-day Palm Springs, California. (Frankly, what else could a film called "Eegah" be about?) The caveman sub genre* has always been a curious niche, but nowhere is it as warped as it is in "Eegah." The movie begins with beautiful brunette Roxy racing through the desert in her convertible. She literally runs into Eegah, played by ginormous actor Richard Kiel (who would go on to fame as the villainous Jaws in the James Bond film "Moonraker.") Roxy immediately passes out, but Eegah is smitten by her beauty. The caveman is scared off by the approaching car of Tom Nelson, Roxy's boyfriend, played by our homeslice Arch. Later, Roxy relays her encounter with the giant to her father, an adventure author, played by Arch Hall Sr.. Pops helicopters out into the desert to try and find Eegah. A few days later, Tom and Roxy go off in search of her father and Roxy is kidnapped by the giant and taken back to his cave. There she is reunited with her father, and with Tom's help, the pair escape, with Eegah in hot pursuit. Days later, Eegah tracks the three of them and down to a rock 'n roll pool party, where Arch is performingsome of his songs. Eegah breaks in only to be tragically killed by police.
* Other examples being Ringo Starr's "Caveman" and "Encino Man" starring Brendan Fraser.
If this sounds at all familiar, it's because it's basically the plot to "King Kong" with a caveman in place of a giant monkey. But the film had an undulating current of raw sexuality that was very risqué for its time. While Roxy appreciates the fawning attention of her goofball boyfriend Tom, something stirs within her at the rough handling she receives from Eegah. One doesn't have to look too far below the surface to see a Neanderthal rape fantasy at work.
But even as drive-in entertainment, "Eegah" is largely unimpressive and borders on the absurd. Only the vaguest effort is made to explain what a Neanderthal caveman is doing alive in the California desert in the early 60s. (It seems to have something to do with the sulfur content of the water in Eegah's cave.) And none of the actors, Arch included, are ever in any danger of winning an Oscar. The film did go on to make more than $1 million, which is pretty impressive since it seemed to have a budget of about 48 cents.
Arch's next film followed a plot more predictable for the drive-in movie genre. In "Wild Guitar" Arch plays Bud Eagle, a naïve youth who travels to Hollywood, California to make it in the rock 'n roll biz. Unlike the millions of teenagers who are ground into hamburger by the recording industry every year, Bud is instantly successful, landing a spot on a television talent show and garnering himself a recording contract. But something seems amiss when his new manager (played by Hall Sr.) demands complete fidelity from his pop protégé, going as far as to cut Bud off from the beautiful blonde dancer he met upon arriving in Hollywood. Soon Bud finds out just how dirty the business of idol making is when he learns that his manager actually pays the popular kids at high schools across the nation to promote his acts. Disgusted, Bud tries to leave, but discovers that once the recording industry has its tentacles around you, it's difficult to escape.
In "Wild Guitar," Arch Hall is Jerry Mathers' Beaver grown up --- a wide-eyed innocent who walks around with the words, "Gosh Mister" and "jeepers" practically tattoed across his forehead. Any semblance of that innocence is gone from the character Arch played in his next film "The Sadist." Based loosely on the murderous activities of teenage thrill killer Charlie Starkweather, "The Sadist" follows the travails of a trio of middle class high school teachers who encounter a brutal thug and his amoral, mute girlfriend. It's a movie that's been redone a dozen times, most ably in the Brad Pitt vehicle, "Kalifornia," but nothing quite captures the grim menace of the original. That's largely due to Arch's unforgettable performance.
The film opens with the three high school teachers --- two men and one woman --- walking about an empty mechanic's yard, looking for parts for their dying vehicle. The yard's owners cannot be found, even though there are various indications that they should be there. Soon the group are accosted by a gunwielding, glowering teenage thug in the form of a pompadoured, leather jacketed Arch Hall Jr.. This sneering bully, similarly stranded, demands that the mechanically inclined younger male teacher of the group repair their vehicle. While chattering amoungst themselves the group realizes they know who they are dealing with: Charlie Tibbs, a white trash serial murderer who has been on a cross-country killing spree. It doesn't take long for Tibbs to live up to his reputation when he informs the group right after he finishes his soda* he's going to kill the oldest teacher. In an intense segment that drags on for what seems like hours, the man begs for his life while Tibbs laughingly swigs down cola. Then, true to his word, he blows the teacher's head off. The surviving pair realize that Tibbs has no intention of letting them live, and the rest of the film is a desperate battle of wits as they try and play off Charlie's Napoleonic complex to earn a few more minutes of life. The body count climbs when a couple of policemen show up, and it's a genuine surprise is to who lives and who dies.
* The cola bottle is clearly utilized for its phallic imagery several times in "The Sadist." When the blonde female teacher discusses a handsome male teacher with her more patriarchal coworker, her hand purposefully massages the shaft of the coke bottle she's drinking from. And every time Charlie Tibbs gets riled up, he performs the pseudo-masturbatory gesture of shaking up his cola bottle, priming the carbonated beverage for an orgasmic explosion.
It's Arch Hall Jr.'s acting that brings the grim plot to life. It walks that fine line between riveting and terrible, but there's no doubt it's unforgettable. The fire in Charlie's eyes dances with disgust for these people who he sees as representing everyone who's ever looked down at him. After shooting the oldest teacher, he mocks the surviving male, forcing him to experience the impotence of being on the wrong end of a pistol. When Charlie is alone with the attractive female teacher, he taunts her in his languid drawl, but never forces himself upon her, almost as if he doesn't want to concede she has that power over him. Arch has, in years since, confessed to being unsure as to whether he was up to the role, but it seems obvious now that his casting was a gift from the gods. No one in Hollywood, then or since, could do what Arch Hall Jr. did with the role of Charlie Tibbs.
Hall's menacingly gleeful performance of Tibbs emphasizes one more unsettling aspect of the film. As you watch Charlie Tibbs torment these squares from middle America, as you watch him exorcise his rage at their quiet, unconscious sense of class superiority, you start to sympathize with him. Every one of us, at some time or another, has trembled with anger when we were invalidated by someone who thought they were our better --- because they had nicer clothes, or a more expensive car, or a higher-paying job. We were not enraged because these people saw us as beneath them, but because they didn't see us at all! And for the briefest moment, we wanted to grab a gun, stuff it in their faces and demand their attention*. "The Sadist" makes us realize we understand Charlie Tibb' s rage, perhaps more than we would like.
* Er, you have wanted to do that right? It's not just me?
"The Sadist" was the epoch of Hall Jr.'s career. He did a couple more films --- "The Nasty Rabbit" and "Deadwood '76" --- and then spent some time focusing on his band, Arch Hall Jr. and the Archers. By the late 60s, he decided what really excited him was aviation and he started working towards becoming a commercial pilot. For the next 30 plus years he flew as a civilian aviator in some of the world's most interesting trouble spots, including Cambodia and the Middle East. He mined his experiences as a pilot for an adventure book he wrote in 2001 called "Apsara Jet." Now retired, he plays the occasional rock 'n roll show and has expressed some interest in getting back in the film biz. Unlike a lot of teen actors who seemed to collapse once the camera is no longer interested in them, Arch quite contentedly flew off towards a life of real adventure.
Wil Forbis is the pen named shared by such noted authors as James Ellroy, Katie Roiphe, and Jim Thompson. E-mail him, I mean, them, at email@example.com
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