top

Trackdown
(1976)
 

Director: Richard T. Heffron                     
Cast:
Jim Mitchum, Karen Lamm, Anne Archer


It wasn't that long into my watching of Trackdown that I was asking myself, "Who was this movie made for?" It sets itself up to be a sleazy action drama about a man who ignores the rules and fights for what he seeks, and then seriously fights back hard when he's pushed back. And this same character isn't just unconventional in his methods, but his character - he is supposed to be another McCloud, I guess, seeing that he's a cowboy finding himself in the mean old city. But the makers of this movie hardly even tried to exploit this material to gives us the exploitation material we expect. It quickly turns into a dull drama, so I wonder why they even set up all this material that promised us we'd be seeing something different.

Before that happens, the initial setup has been mostly predictable, though fairly competently done. In Montana, while her rancher brother Jim (Mitchum) leaves to tend to the cattle for a couple of days, teenage Betsy (Lamm) runs away from home, hinted because she has an unhappy relationship with their (unseen) mother. Arriving by bus in L.A. later, guess what happens to her after just a few minutes of walking down the boulevard? How did you guess that she gets her suitcase and purse swiped by a gang of greasy hoodlums? Anyway, what happens next are two of the few unpredictably lame things to be found in this movie. Chucho, secretly a member of the gang, and who had distracted her while the gang stole her things, starts feeling sorry for her. Talking with her, he starts to see she is a nice person, and is attracted to her. So her generously finds a job for her and lets her settle into his place.

That was unpredictable, and this part of the movie is actually kind of sweet. What makes it really work is the character of Chucho, who is played by Erik Estrada, a year before he became famous on CHiPS. Estrada is quite good in the role of Chucho, giving the character a lot of believable charm and sensitivity. When the situation becomes more grim later, he is convincing in playing concern yet reluctance to get involved in the danger. Actually, it isn't that long until the situation changes; Chucho's gang finds out he is sheltering Betsy, and smelling an opportunity, beat up Chucho and grab Betty and rape her. Then they sell her to Johnny Dee (Vincent Cannon), a wealthy and powerful pimp, where she is forced (not that much, actually) to become a high class hooker.

It's about this time that Jim comes to L.A. in search of his sister. Of course, the police provide him no assistance; in fact, they seem to be even stupider than usual, telling him, "We handle people, not kids!" At a runaway shelter, Jim meets the shelter's director Lynn (Crosby), who also indicates not much can be done, but is convinced to go out with Jim in search of Betsy. Crosby is also, believe it or not, one of the better aspects of the movie. She manages to portray anger and happiness well, even managing to shift believably from one extreme emotion to another in the same scene. Unfortunately, she doesn't get that much to do, and after her introduction she only appears sporadically. The reason seems to be that there is no real reason why her character is needed, except to provide the required love interest a movie like this needs, (as well as the required scene where she patches wounds inflicted on the hero) though this aspect is so poorly and briefly dealt with, they shouldn't have even bothered.

Since I haven't yet talked about Mitchum, you probably already have an idea on how he does here. But I have space to fill, so I'll tell you anyway. Mitchum gives one of the laziest and passionless performances I've ever seen. His character has almost no emotion at all; the most Mitchum can do is put a kind of "naughty, naughty!" attitude in his voice when Jim is supposed to be pig-boiling mad. The only things Mitchum brings of interest to the movie are the sleepy eyes he inherited from his famous father (or else he's really... yeah, you beat me to this punchline) and the goofy Kevin Klein mustache he sports and makes him look as goofy as Kevin Klein. Otherwise, everything about Jim is boring - even when he breaks open a locked door with one blow of his fist, he looks painfully bored doing it.

Almost all of the other action found in the movie is just as lamely done. What do you expect when there is a fight at a pool hall in a movie? Why, you expect to see pool cues used to whack people unconscious, getting shattered in the process; teeth and blood flying in the air; feet in cowboy boots slamming into groins, resulting in the injured party grabbing their family jewels and loudly moaning, "My balls!" And you expect it to go on for several minutes, giving the audience plenty of all that good old ultraviolence. But what do we have in this movie? A little broken glass, a few seconds of wrestling around, and...that's it. An earlier scene where Jim takes on three muggers in an alley is just a bunch of wrestling around as well. (It's also the first serious action sequence after almost half the movie has gone by.) At times you swear the director of this movie doesn't know what an action scene is; he seems to think that a truck driving through a garage door in slow motion is a big setpiece. In fairness, the movie isn't a total washout in the action department. There is neat and lengthy shootout sequence in an elevator shaft, which is not only original, but has some excitement to it. Also, the climax, while running a bit too short, at least does has some atmosphere and coolness to it. Other than those two scenes, however, the action in this movie is not only extremely infrequent but badly executed.

In-between the few and feeble action sequences, we have a main plot that takes forever to get started, and then does everything possible to take its time to resolve itself. If the movie was cut of all its fat, it probably wouldn't last more than a half hour, and the little meat to be found wouldn't be up to the quality of horseflesh. Maybe I am being a little hard on the movie, come to think of it. The sequence at the runaway shelter shows the place in utter yet believable chaos, and that woke me up from my slumber for a minute. Also, the subplot about Betsy becoming has some interesting material. There's a well written and well acted sequence where Johnny Dee's main girl (Archer) tells Betsy (who, incidentally, has recovered very quickly from her brutal gang rape) all the positive things that can be found in the world of high class whoredom, and this is accomplished without being the least bit heavy handed. Then subsequently, the subplot seems to be going the way of Betsy accepting and even enjoying the fringe benefits of this lifestyle, but then this potentially interesting premise is quickly abandoned for what has been seen not just many times before, but better.

It's the screenplay as a whole that's the real reason why this movie sinks, not just with the previously mentioned poor plotting and lack of action, but in many other areas, such as comic relief (there's more than one instance of lame humor concerning homosexuals) and a villain who doesn't do or say enough to be despicable enough. The movie is just a tired exhale that quickly got swept up and buried in the wind of all the movies made before and since. It's just as well that the movie is not available on video, because that alone will discourage people from trying to track it down.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Outlaw Force, Speedtrap, The Stranger

homeindexgenree-mail