THE NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY is a little, unassuming slice of frontier life that evidently has grown quite a cult among young cinema-goers of the mid 60s who then saw it during its many reruns on television throughout the 70s. Its primary appeal is as the anti-Spaghetti western, coming at a time when the European western that was gaining international prominence was being used for anarchic purposes, as leftist Italian filmmakers splattered cinemagoers with blood, mud, brutality, and sociopaths with a strong taste for revolution and revenge. Here we have a family led by a righteous and most reasonable television veteran Clint Walker claiming a ranch near the town of “Hope,” but having to deal with a greedy local land baron and an unruly bear named “Satan” who has a tendency to eat and run.
GRIZZLY is a throwback, from its veteran U.S. cast featuring Jack Elam, Leo Gordon and Keenan Wynn, to its strong-jawed lead who tries to do the right thing until his hand is forced, and its obvious switch from location work to studio interior every time a character walks in a door. It has handsome widescreen photography (largely lensed in California at Big Bear Lake and the San Bernardino National Forest) and some suspense is created by the efforts by Gordon as a former adversary who carries a weary respect and boiling anger for Walker. The director, Joseph Pevny, was a long-standing Hollywood veteran who doesn’t step in the way of the material; his best work may have been his several episodes for STAR TREK, including “City on the Edge of Forever” and “The Trouble With Tribbles.”
Olive’s Signature Series has released important works such as JOHNNY GUITAR and THE QUIET MAN; GRIZZLY is treated with respect, with Toby Roon giving an informative, informal commentary where he provides some context for the film’s enduring success and fills viewers in with agreeable minutiae regarding shooting locations and the various seasoned members of the cast. C. Courtney Joyner provides an essay “Blood on the Claw: How Cheyenne Brodie Became a Movie Star” and Clint Walker himself shows up for an agreeable interview titled “The Legend of Big Jim Cole,” as well as in an older interview with the self-explanatory title “At Home With Clint Walker and His Home Gymnasium.” The good people at Olive have dug up some archival footage from the film’s world premiere and this release premieres a new High-Definition digital restoration.
If I sound somewhat tentative in my endorsement of this release; don’t get me wrong. It’s quality all the way, right down to its handsome slipcover. The film itself seems minor, having unspooled as the second half of a double feature in the summer of 1966 (to a largely positive review in the New York Times). No doubt it had more prominent bookings in less “urbane” areas, but the film does play largely as a workmanlike exercise in old-school Hollywood filmmaking, save some of the bear-attack and tracking sequences that work up some decent tension. GRIZZLY has more in common with the work of the competent and stolid Andrew V. McLaglen than it does with the trendsetters and pulsemakers of the time, the Italian Leones and Corbuccis who were making new rules by spitting on the old ones. THE NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY is the kind of film that slows down so Clint Walker can sing a song, while his wife (Martha Hyer) looks on approvingly.
Olive also has released Larry Cohen’s funky mid-80s thriller SPECIAL EFFECTS, starring Zoe Tamarlis of Abel Ferrara’s legendary MS. 45 and a pre-fame Eric Bogosian. Like most Cohen films, it’s a beguiling mix of extremely well-thought out plot twists and dialogue of considerable wit, with energetic if sometimes clumsy staging and photography. Cohen is one of the great New York filmmakers, and he makes great use of an eccentric house owned by an artist in the West Village to double as Bogosian’s lair. He plays a filmmaker modeled after Michael Cimino and Peter Bogdanovich, whose latest disaster has left him isolated and alone and in the mood to savagely manipulate the dim-witted model who is the only person to show up for a premiere party after running away from her husband and child back in Texas.
Those in synch with Cohen’s loose, wildly creative and budget-impaired filmmaking of the 70s (IT’S ALIVE, BLACK CAESAR, GOD TOLD ME TO) should enjoy SPECIAL EFFECTS just fine. I don’t wish to divulge any of the film’s twists or turns, but suffice to say SPECIAL EFFECTS is another one of Cohen’s strange humpback creations, feeling a bit sloppy at the same time it feels truly inspired. Olive has wrangled Cohen for a commentary track (along with filmmaker Steve Mitchell, who cowrote the above-average unheralded Jim Wynorski flick AGAINST THE LAW), which is always a plus. Cohen is loquacious and frank, always ready to talk about shooting in New York on the run and about misbehaving actors. Highly recommended.
Both SPECIAL EFFECTS and NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY are available from Olive Films on Blu-Ray and DVD from the usual outlets.