Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Gweilo Dojo: ALLEY CAT (1984)

Even with all the damn movies we watch, there is still a ton of ground left untouched.  Case in point: the ‘80s trash actioner ALLEY CAT.  I (William) had never heard of the damn thing until Scorpion Releasing announced it for a DVD release.  Not I (Thomas) was familiar with the poster and VHS back in the day, but he was too busy renting DEATHSTALKER (1983) over and over to give this a look.  So a special thanks to our buddy Erok at Theater of Guts for getting in my ear and recommending this wild flick.

The film focuses on Belinda “Billie” Clark (Karin Mani), a karate hottie who lives with her grandparents.  She earns that description quickly as the first three minutes shows her topless and then beating the crap out of some guys trying to steal the wheels off her car. Apparently this angers the guys she emasculated so much that they go to complain to their gang leader, William “Scarface” Krug (Michael Wayne).  When underling Tom complains she was a karate “tiger,” Krug says, “When I get done with that tiger, she’ll be nothing more than an alley cat.”  Hmmm, a film where a guy named Tom has a boss named William?  I could get into this.  Krug and his crew decide the best course of action for revenge is to beat up Billie’s grandparents.  They do this in rather quick fashion, resulting in granddad and grandma being beaten and stabbed while walking home with groceries at night.  Oh, by the way, this all takes place in the first ten minutes of the film.


While looking for her grandparents at the hospital, Billie opens a door into the face of police officer Johnny (Robert Torti).  In a film this cheap, that can only mean one thing – love interest! Soon they are dating and she informs him that grandpa spotted the guy who assaulted them in police mug shot photos.  Alas, the cops don’t care.  To work out her frustration, Billie goes jogging at night but only after grandpa insists she take his gun along. Amazingly, she stumbles upon two guys attempting to rape a woman in the park.  Even more amazingly, these are the same two guys who tried to steal her tires.  Now either this lady is cosmically entwined with these dudes or the crime element is really small (and highly recidivist) in Los Angeles.  Of course, she puts an end to the attack with some karate chops and bullet ballet.  The cops leisurely arrive (“What the hell took you cops so long to get here? Do you know we’ve been waiting almost two hours?”) and they are Johnny and his corrupt older partner, who decides Billie is in the wrong and arrests her for firing her weapon within city limits without a permit.

After being bailed out, Billie decides to combat the stress of this bureaucratic red tape by…going jogging at night in the park again!  Even Charles Bronson knew never to go back to the park.  So guess who she runs into?  Yep, another rapist.  She must be in Echo Park (haha, get it?). Anyway, she lets this guy meet her fists and feet of fury.  Perhaps she had some pent up anger due to her upcoming court date.  It is warranted as Judge Taylor (Jay Walker) gives her a $500 fine and one year probation for preventing that rape.  He also warns her that if he ever sees her in his court again, she’ll be in big trouble.  To blow off some steam, Billie and Johnny head to a local dojo to throw each other around.  They then head back to his pad where he woos her with champagne served in regular old drinking glasses.  What?  The fancy McDonalds glasses were dirty?  Meanwhile, Krug breaks into the apartment of the intended rape target and intimidates her into not testifying against his pals. With the star witness unavailable, the defense attorney asks for the rape charges to be dropped and his defendants will agree to lesser charges of public intoxication.  They end up getting a $250 fine and thirty days in jail… suspended!  This sends Billie, who has just decided to show up and watch the trail with Johnny, into a rage and Judge Taylor sentences her to thirty days in jail.  Hey, he said don’t show up in her court again, right?

While in the county poke, Billie learns the hard way that these are tough broads. How?  She gets shoved during a volleyball match.  My God, the horror, the horror. This gives us the film’s best line as Billie’s new “friend” Sam yells, “You did that on purpose. That’s a foul!”  It seems Sam has ulterior motives, which are clearly stated in the requisite women-in-prison shower scene where she tells Billie she has nice hair and lets her use her shampoo.  Billie puts an end to these unwanted advances that night by punching Sam out and telling her to not do that again.  Out in the free world, Johnny is campaigning for Judge Taylor to release Billie because her granddad has like thirty days to live, but he deems her “an incorrigible.”  What is this?  1929?  So Johnny resorts to blackmail and tells the judge he has a file on his “kinky” habits.  Yay!  Our incorrigible is back on the streets and celebrates as she only knows how.  Yes, by going jogging in the park at night!  Naturally she is accosted by two rapists.  Well, one rapist hopeful and his chunky friend who has a hard enough time keeping up on foot.  She nullifies the nuts of the would-be rapist and sends his seemingly innocent friend down a hill and then screams, “Don’t mess with girls in the park!  That’s not nice!”  His muffled reply is, “Shit.  Crazy bitch.” Anyway, it seems Billie is enjoying this kicking dudes business.  After Johnny interrogates a hooker with ties to Krug to find the gang’s address, Billie heads out to get her ultimate revenge.

ALLEY CAT is definitely one of the more straightforward entries in the vigilante subgenre. It is like DEATH WISH (1974) minus the brains. The film doesn’t bother with the elaborate nuances like plot dynamics or character arcs. You get the basic outline very early on and it is very simple – Billie is good and nearly everyone else is bad.  The film is pretty segmented so that it almost seems like a series of vignettes or an old cliffhanger serial slapped together.  “See what mess will Billie get herself into this week!”  This cobbled together cheapness also results in major plot points being given by voice over.  For example, we don’t learn that grandma passed away until we see Billie and grandpa in the back of a car and Billie on the soundtrack talking about the unseen funeral. Even better, some stuff just gets completely forgotten.  Are you still wondering if grandpa lived or died?  Me too as the filmmakers never let us know.

ALLEY CAT appears to be the brainchild of writer and producer Robert E. Waters. He put an ad in Variety for casting the film (under its original title DRAGONFLY) in November 1980, where it was described as “modern action adventure” to begin filming in January 1981.  The film must have run into some trouble somewhere along the line, given that it lists three directors in the end credits; when it was shot and advertised in Variety, only Edward Victor (aka Ed Palmos) was listed as director.  Regardless of behind-the-scenes chaos, the filmmakers ended up with an enjoyable as hell product.  Lead actress Karin Mani is kind of a like a sexier Kate Jackson.  Or, as Tom said, Kate Jackson as re-imagined by Hugh Hefner. She is quite capable for her role, showing some real prowess when it comes to her kicks. Matching her high kicks with hysterics is lead baddie Michael Wayne, which may or may not be a pseudonym since this is his lone credit.  Looking like a cross between John Philip Law and AMERICAN PICKERS’ Mike Wolfe, Wayne appears to have abandoned Stanislavsky and drawn from the time honored bug-eyed, over-the-top psycho category of acting.

Of course, in a film as deliciously cheesy and trashy as this one, it only serves to make things better.  You also have to love stuff like Billie getting all prettied up in this glittery one suit…only to show up at some dive bar to kick a guy in the face.  Did she need to get all dress up for that? Or how they establish the gang as bad guys by having them drive over a homemade soccer goal some kids are using. It was definitely the right formula at the time as the film made distributor Film Ventures International some money.  A box office notation in the March 27, 1984 issue of Variety notes, “ALLEY CAT snares decent $101,000 in opening round at 17 locations, including $11,000 at Hollywood Pacific 3.”  Just knowing that Billie was able to punch and kick money out of wallets like that back in the day pleases me.  Of course, it probably pleased FVI head Edward Montoro more as he disappeared with all the cash later that year.  If Billie ever found him, she’d give him a real ass kicking.

Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. Stellar review as always! The John Phillip/ American Pickers guy is a perfect capture!

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