MY BOYS ARE GOOD BOYS (1978)
FROM BAD TO CAMP TO CULT
This film had a kind of interesting history. In mid-1977 Colleen Meeker, Ralph’s wife, put out the word that if there were actors who were hungry to get some film credit, she was offering an opportunity to be in a picture. Keenan Wynn was supposed to be in the film, but he had another picture to do, so he helped set up an audition for me. I was cast as the “Reformatory Guard”. There were no direct-to-video films being done at that time, but as it turned out this one was to be one of the first of that ilk. Most of the actors, me included, were asked, or required to turn our paychecks back into the producer’s kitty, with promises of payback when the film opened and was sold into circulation. Well it never opened in a theater to my knowledge. There was a full page ad in Variety at one point, and I saved that as a means of proof for the work. It was reputed to have been broadcast a couple of times in early 1978 on late night Los Angeles television, but I did not get to see it.
It was an under the radar production. I never received a dime for doing it, and since we all knew it was not a SAG-sanctioned project, there never were any residuals. In those days these kinds of productions were pumped out as slim-budgeted tax write offs for the movie star dummy corporations. They would set up a corporation, and then on paper just pay themselves a modest salary. This film, however did give several over-the-hill nearly burned out aged movie stars a chance to do some more work; specifically Lloyd Nolan, Ralph Meeker, and Ida Lupino. David Doyle, on hiatus from CHARLIE’S ANGELS, had a prominent part. My scenes were all with him.
The plot was muddled and odd. The protagonist was a teenager, Tommy Morton (Sean T. Roche), who was sent to a reformatory for stealing a car. He had a bad relationship with his domineering father, Bert (Ralph Meeker). He and several pals in the kiddy joint decide to rob an armored car on their lunch break. The armored car driver is Ralph Meeker. The son wanted to “hurt” his father. The gang rigged up a smoke bomb to go off at just the right moment on a deserted road. The driver would, of course, pull over to investigate, and the kids could jump him; forcing him to open the back of the vehicle so that they could gas, with some kind of Marvel Comics spray can knock-out gas, one of the other guards. This would force the third guard to make all the normal pick-ups for cash. The kids would then gas the three one more time, and make off with the dough. The son had a girlfriend (Kerry Lynn), who was their accomplice. The getaway car was borrowed from Ralph Meeker’s angry wife, Ida Lupino–who was not aware of the heist; supposedly. Things are hairy, but the heist comes off, and the boys make it back to the reformatory in time for afternoon check-in. Ralph Meeker is investigated by the detective from the Armored Car Company, Dan Montgomery (Lloyd Nolan). Nolan had tailed the armored car during the robbery, but the four kids inside kept their cool. Nolan is a smart cookie, and he investigates thoroughly, and very soon figures out the scheme, informing Meeker of his son’s involvement. Ida Lupino, as it turns out, was in on the scam, and while she is trying to make her getaway with the young girl, both are arrested.
The dialogue was wretched, and the direction was pedestrian, almost non-existent. Ralph Meeker was as bad as he had ever been in his career, giving line readings like an amateur; struggling with every sentence. Ida Lupino, whose character was written so poorly it made no sense, came off even worse than Meeker. Both actors at that time were in the throes of depression and alcoholism, and their portrayals reflected their instability and confusion. Lloyd Nolan was the only member of the Hollywood Trio that came off unscathed. Somehow he took the crappy dialogue and he made it work. While he was on camera, the film came to life. To his last breath, this fine actor never gave a bad performance.
Ralph Meeker, who I felt, prior to working with him, was a “good” actor, was only 57 years old when he made MY BOYS ARE GOOD BOYS. He died in 1988, at 68 years old, of a heart attack. I am in my 60’s now, and I have to smile when I recall my attitude in 1977 –that he seemed to me to be an “old man” to me. Ah, the priggishness of youth. After MBAGB, Meeker did some television roles, like CHiPS (1979).
In his career he had 103 film appearances from 1951-1988, starting with FOUR JILLS IN A JEEP (1951). He was a great heavy in NAKED SPUR (1953), with James Stewart. He was in BIG HOUSE, U.S.A. (1955), and I thought he was excellent as Mike Hammer in Mickey Spillane’s KISS ME DEADLY (1955). He had a good role in RUN OF THE ARROW (1957), with Rod Steiger, and in PATHS OF GLORY (1957), with Kirk Douglas. In the late 50’s, like everyone else, he had a ton of television roles. He was featured in THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), with Lee Marvin, and THE DETECTIVE (1968), with Frank Sinatra. He showed up in BRANNIGAN (1975), with John Wayne. Just before he made the incredible MY BOYS ARE GOOD BOYS in 1977, he was in FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), with Ida Lupino, Marjoe Gorner, Pamela Franklin, and John McLiam. While working with him in GOOD BOYS, it was sad to see him in drunken rages, and having so much difficulty with his lines.
Ida Lupino was only 59 years old when she made GOOD BOYS. She died in 1985 of a stroke and cancer. I found out during the read-through that her friends called her “Lupe”. Ironically, GOOD BOYS was her final film performance. Come to think of it –it was mine too. Ms. Lupino made 103 film appearances from 1931-1977, starting with THE LOVE RACE (1931). She was in PETER IBBETSON (1935), with Gary Cooper, THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939), with Basil Rathbone. In 1941 she had two of her best roles, one in HIGH SIERRA, with Humphrey Bogart, and the other in THE SEA WOLF, with Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield. She was very good in ROAD HOUSE (1948), with Richard Widmark, in ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952), with Robert Ryan, and in THE BIG KNIFE (1955), with Jack Palance. She joined the rush of film stars to continue working by taking jobs in television, starting in 1956. She appeared in BONANZA, THE VIRGINIAN, BATMAN, MOD SQUAD, and COLUMBO. I really liked her as Steve McQueen’s mother in JUNIOR BONNER (1972), with Robert Preston.
Lloyd Nolan played Security Officer Dan Montgomery. He was 77 years old when he made GOOD BOYS. He kept busy in television after that, doing THE WALTONS (1978), ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE (1981). He was excellent in Woody Allen’s HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986). He died in 1985 before it was released. He had continued to work almost to his last gasp.
He managed 156 film appearances from 1935-1985, a taunt 50 year career; starting with “G” MEN (1935). He was memorable in KING OF ALCATRAZ (1938). He was in MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE (1940), and he did (5) more in that series from 1941-1945. He was stalwart and brave in BATAAN (1943), GUADALCANAL DIARY (1943). He had a very touching part as the cop in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945), and he was very effective in
LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), almost stealing the picture from its star, Robert Montgomery. He was a pioneer on television with is own series MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE (1951-52). He was great as “Woodfoot” in Richard Brook’s THE LAST HUNT (1956), with Robert Taylor. He was the best thing in SANTIAGO (1956), easily out-muscling star Alan Ladd. I liked him in PEYTON PLACE (1957). He worked continuously on television in the late 50’s. He was in CIRCUS WORLD (1964), with John Wayne. He was one of the passengers in AIRPORT (1970). I remember him in the TV film, THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER (1977), with a boozing Broderick Crawford.
David Doyle played Harry Klinger, Head Security Guard, in GOOD BOYS. He was 48 years old at the time. He died in 1997 at 68 years old of a heart attack. One might say that he was primarily a TV actor. He accrued 98 film appearances from 1959-1990’s. He was in NAKED CITY (1961), THE DEFENDERS (1964), and THE PATTY DUKE SHOW (1965). He was featured in NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY (1968), with Rod Steiger and George Segal, and COOGAN’S BLUFF (1968), with Clint Eastwood. On TV he racked up HAWAII FIVE-O (1972), POLICE STORY (1973), KOLCHAK, THE NIGHT STALKER (1974), KOJAK (1974), BARNEY MILLER (1975), and then he lucked out and got a reoccurring role in the new series, CHARLIE’S ANGELS (1976-1981). It would seem that he slipped GOOD BOYS in during his first hiatus break from the show. His acting in this Indie epic was a new low for him. His dialogue was stupid, and he did not make much of an attempt to work with it, to make something out of it –like say old pro Lloyd Nolan had with his.
GOOD BOYS was “directed” by Bethel “Buck” Buckalew, aka Peter Perry, and Arthur P Stootsberry. He cast himself as a cop in one scene, sporting a Cowboy moustache Richard Farnsworth would have envied; masking his upper lip completely. Buck had tremendous energy, and a great sense of play, of humor. He really enjoyed what he was doing. He was one of those “just below the surface” Hollywood types that had been around since the 1950’s. He seemed to know everybody in some capacity or other. He was a master craftsman for the “Cheapie”. If you wanted a film made for a dollar and a half, you got Buck. He had been, or was, an actor, writer, producer, second unit director, and sometimes director in dozens of terrible yet wonderfully bizarre Independent seen-by-almost-no one films; like KNOCKERS UP (1963) and CYCLE VIXENS (1978).
In 1977, on my last gig as an actor, I was fortunate enough to travel to Australia . While there, discussing my last “film role”, I was just plain embarrassed by the film. It seemed to be such a joke that I was angry to have my name even peripherally associated with it. Two years ago I found out that picture had been made into a VHS, with one slim release. I paid a premium price on Ebay for it, and was able to view it for the first time. The film actually held together better than I had anticipated.
Now recently I sat with 30 people from my local Film Club and we watched the film on a large screen. A pal of mine had found the film out there on the internet in public domain, and he downloaded it onto a DVD; taking 14 hours to do so. Sitting with my friends I suddenly realized many of them were laughing and enjoying the movie very much. It seemed very camp; all those 70’s hair-dos and fashions, car chases, pratfalls and unintentional comedic moments, mantled in absolutely wretched dialogue. Ed Wood would have loved this film. Lloyd Nolan was the only actor who rose above the material; besides me of course. I am told that now this movie is getting a “cult” following. Go figure. I would rate this movie at 3 stars primarily because I am in it, and it is morphing into something more than it was intended to be. Maybe someday it will take its rightful place alongside some of the great schlock hits like, PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), SANTA CLAUS VS.THE MARTIANS (1969), and AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987). One can always hope.
Glenn Buttkus 2006