Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Defective Detectives: CONCRETE COWBOYS (1979)

Much like football stars turned actors, county music stars make for some entertaining filmmaking in the '70s and early '80s. I'm not saying they are great actors, but like football stars, they may only be good for one chord, but it's usually a highly entertaining one. Oddly, this rule of thumb does not extend to basketball stars and rock stars - though I make an exception for Gene Simmons because he picked some interesting films to be in, if you can get past the fact that he is a conceited, pompous, fan-gouging, nut-bar. Err.. what was I talking about? Oh yeah, country music stars.

Take Kris Kristofferson, probably the best example of country singer turned actor, playing memorable characters in everything from the obvious choice of western (1973s PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID) to the surprising choice of neo-noir (1985s TROUBLE IN MIND). While the subject is wide open for debate, for my money Jerry Reed runs a close second.

Reed, a Georgia born epitome of a suthun' good ol' boy, dropped out of high school and signed his first recording deal at 17 years old. Like so many others he suffered a string of flops before he moved to Nashville and made a name for himself - with a stint in the army in between. He was given a boost by the legendary Chet Atkins and became a star in the '60s, even doing some pickin' on Elvis' 1968 comeback album in which he covers Reed's own "Guitar Man". So what would be the next step in his career? Movies of course!

Reed kicked off his silver-screen career with the under-appreciated Burt Reynolds outing W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS (1975). Even though he had been writing music for TV shows and movies since the mid-'60s, he never appeared in something until then. After a slight misstep, stretching his range by playing the villain in GATOR (1976 - and I'm not dissin' the movie, just saying), Reed stuck with the charming, happy-go-lucky, bullshittin', wisecrackin', beer-drinkin', fist-fightin' redneck persona that according to some was not really much of an act.

In 1979  Reed took the next logical step as an actor and moved into the world of the small screen with none other than the mustache man himself, Tom Selleck.

Spanning only a mere eight episodes (including the movie), the pilot for the series CONCRETE COWBOYS starred Reed and Selleck as a couple of country bumpkins from the wilds of Montana. The pair are attempting to get to Hollywood via their thumbs with J.D. (Reed) lookin' to "drink all the beer and love all the women," while Will (Selleck) is content with spending his free time reading encyclopedias. After getting in a brawl over a rigged poker game and tearing down the entire auto shop on the heads of the crooked sheriff and his boys, the modern cowboys hop a freight train. Next stop Hollywood! ...or not.

Finding themselves in Nashville, J.D. calls up a guy named Lonnie (Randy Powell of DALLAS fame) that he met once while blind drunk. As luck would have it, Lonnie is going out of town on business, but invites the boys to stay at his condo and drive his car while he's away. All they have to do in return is pick up a package for him. As it turns out Lonnie's car is a '73 Corvette C3 rag-top and his condo is a swinger pad with all of the amenities including a CCTV in the bedroom. J.D. marvels at it all saying "lookit that couch, it'll take you all week to sit on it."

Of course things get complicated quickly after they pick up the brown-paper parcel from a bus station locker and a shady character starts following them. Adding to the intrigue, a woman named Kate (Morgan Fairchild) shows up looking for Lonnie, who she believes to be a private investigator, to look into the disappearance of her sister Carla, who is presumed dead. Will wants nothing to do with it, but J.D. lights up when Kate hands them one thousand dollars to look into it. Says Will, "we ain't detectives!" To which J.D. replies, "neither is Jack Lord or Buddy Epson!" Can't argue with that logic.

So begins their trek to discover what happened to Carla by interviewing a number of characters around Nashville, each with their own story about their perception of the woman who may have been a conniving manipulator hell-bent on being a star, or another beautiful belle being eaten alive by the big city. Yes, it's a Southern-fried gumshoe outing with shades of RASHOMON (1950) and COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1980). Say what you will, but I got cashmoney that says you've never run across that high concept before.

During their investigations, they visit a country wax museum run by The King of Country Music Roy Acuff, meet up with Ray Stevens and Barbara Mandrell at the original Alleycat Club, get shot at, crash into a police station, get into a fist fight at a floating craps game, get thrown in jail, get chased out of the Opryland Hotel, put the moves on an aging cathouse madam and finally end up following the trail to (fictional) country music star Woody Stone (Claude Akins).

Directed by Burt Kennedy, who seems tailor made for the project, and written by celebrated Hammer Horror veteran Jimmy Sangster, who moved into TV during the '70s dabbling in redneck television with the likes of his other country TV mystery movie THE MUSIC CITY MURDERS (1979). this pilot really shouldn't be as surprisingly entertaining as it is considering all of the talent on board. Unfortunately for Reed, Selleck decided to move on to other projects (including MAGNUM P.I. in 1980) with Geoffrey Scott and his mustache (of DARK SHADOWS fame) taking over the role of Will, to the disappointment of all concerned.

In spite of Selleck struggling with his southern twang and seemingly attempting to impersonate Burt Reynolds' signature laugh, he made a great straight man for Reed's fast and loose charmer. The series lasted only seven episodes, which is a shame as it should have been a hit given the pilot that got the ball rolling. The episodes, to my knowledge, have never been released on video, except for one that was packaged with the pilot on VHS as RAMBIN MAN and RAMBLIN MAN 2. The retitling of the pilot as RAMBLIN MAN was released several times by different companies sporting cover art that seemed to want to eschew the fact that Jerry Reed was top billed and one even including the image of a black Porche for no apparent reason than to give the impression that it might be some sort of MAGNUM P.I. spin-off that everyone seems to have missed. Though, if that is the case, wouldn't you put, I don't know, maybe a red Ferrari on the cover? Eh, details, details.

While this signaled the end of Reed's TV acting career, it certainly isn't a failure in anything other than ratings terms. Matter of fact, it is better than your average TV pilot with plenty of on-screen talent and another of Reed's catchy theme songs (this one being "Breakin' Loose") that, like so many, doesn't seem to have ever been released. Don't feel too bad for Reed though, as 1981 saw his return to the big screen as a hit man in the Robin Williams and Walter Matthau team up THE SURVIVORS (1981). What? No, I don't know what you are talking about. There is no such thing as SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 3.

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