Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The toupee as a cry for help.
A while back, we tried to make the case that the 1974 William Shatner movie Impulse, rather than being a piece of drek as is often suggested, was in fact a Shatner masterpiece - and that Shats' toupee had a lot to do with it. However, we will make no such claim for the TV movie Pray for the Wildcats (also made in 1974). This movie, we think, is really quite awful. And the toupee Bill Shatner wears in it is so poor it almost serves as cry for help - from the actor, to us, the audience.
We've previously examined the strong correlation between toupee quality and the quality of Shatner projects:
Well, in this case, both are at rock bottom. But let's start with the plot...
To quote the surprisingly detailed Wikipedia article on the movie: "The story centers on Sam Farragut (Andy Griffith), a sociopathic business executive in Southern California who forces a team of advertising agency employees (Shatner, Reed, Gortner) to embark on a dangerous motorcycle trip to Baja California [in Mexico] in order to compete for his business.
"Shatner stars as Warren Summerfield, a suicidal middle-aged ad executive who has been fired from the agency."
During the trip, Griffith's character brazenly causes the death of a young hippie couple. It seems that the local police are going to let him get away with it. Shatner's character faces the dilemma of having to persuade another member of the biker group to join him in reporting Griffith to the authorities - or will Shatner's character kill himself instead? Both problems are dealt with when the bad guy falls of a cliff while chasing Shatner. After that, Shatner decides that he doesn't want to kill himself anymore. That is pretty much it.
The dialogue in this movie is so appallingly written that you almost feel Bill Shatner squirming as he tries to deliver it with conviction. Here's an example:
We know that Shats is a guy that loves to dive into a project with the greatest of energy. However, in this movie, the actor's performance is strangely subdued. It is often observed that as Star Trek went downhill, Bill Shatner's performances became more bombastic, almost as if to compensate for the fall in quality (echoing a similar trick he had used to save the theatrical production of The World of Suzie Wong in the late fifties - see the book Up Till Now for the story). However, in Pray for the Wildcats that energy is almost entirely absent. Save the opportunity to ride around on a motorbike and get paid for it, Bill Shatner seems thoroughly uninterested in this project. It is perhaps ironic that he is playing a character so distraught that he is planning to kill himself.
To add to the indignity, during the biking trip, Bill Shatner wears a gold top that very closely resembles his Star Trek uniform. This only serves to accentuate the contrast between how he looked back then (thinner with a better toupee) compared with 1974, the nadir of the "Lost Years" period. Bill Shatner's toupee is far too dark and far too thick, greying at the sides - it is really a chaotic mess for most of the movie. Indeed, it is almost serving to sabotage the film: "Don't take this project seriously," it appears to be saying, "If Bill were really happy in this movie, would I be on his head making him look like this?". And it works, too. The toupee distracts the eyes; it is telling the viewer that Bill Shatner is feeling unreal, lost, dismayed, depressed. John Lennon sang "Help!" when life in The Beatles was all getting too much for him - well, the toupee in Pray For The Wildcats is Bill Shatner's equivalent of that.
We don't know if Bill Shatner kept his toupee on during the scenes in which he wore a helmet. That would have also made this production a deeply uncomfortable and sweaty one for him too. At the end of the movie, after a long motorbike chase (there are many, many long biking scenes in the movie - Easy Rider it ain't, though), Shatner takes off his helmet, allowing the toupee to flap freely in the breeze.
He then rides his motorbike into the sea and ditches it in the water, before splashing around joyously. Perhaps this was a prelude to Bill Shatner's underwater toupee tour de force in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home; perhaps it was supposed to be the movie's Planet of the Apes moment (the final scene on the beach) or perhaps Bill Shatner was just glad that Pray For The Wildcats was almost over: