Robert Michael Lewis’ Pray for the Wildcats is a very entertaining made-for-TV film produced at a time in television history when these filmed productions were offering an impressive weekly dose of drama in many different genres.
The Production: 4/5
With the exception of his brilliant performance in Elia Kazan’s masterful A Face in the Crowd, Andy Griffith spent the first part of his career on the stage, in films, and on television playing the kind-hearted, good ol’ boy that made him a household name in America. His 1974 TV-film Pray for the Wildcats put an end to that persona for good demonstrating to all those who had forgotten that he was an actor capable of dramatic, nuanced performances playing people along the full spectrum of human behavior. And for those who think made-for-TV films were shallow, slapped together quickies of little polish or merit, Robert Michael Lewis’ Pray for the Wildcats definitely proves the falsity of that mistaken impression.
Megalomaniacal industry titan Sam Farragut (Andy Griffith) insists that three corporate executives from the Norlan Advertising Agency, head of accounts Warren Summerfield (William Shatner), second-in-command Paul McIlvain (Robert Reed), and graphic designer Terry Maxon (Marjoe Gortner), accompany him on a dirt bike excursion through the punishing Baja peninsula. The three ad men are all in dysfunctional relationships to one degree or another, but rather than stay home to work out their problems with their significant others Lila Summerfield (Lorraine Gary), Nancy McIlvain (Angie Dickinson), and Krissie Kincaid (Janet Margolin) respectively, the men accept the challenge of the dangerous week-long motorcycle trip. Along the way, the quartet meet a couple (Skip Burton, Marilyn Hearn) in a cantina whose female member so enthralls Farragut that he’s willing to disrupt the entire journey in order to possess her.
Screenwriter Jack Turley’s script could have gone in so many more predictable directions. The story could have been a hellish test of man against the terrain a la Deliverance. It could have been a cat-and-mouse pursuit of the three men, all of whom have secrets that Farragut is privy to, by the psychopathic corporate head. But what it turns out to be is more subtle and surprising: an examination of the men’s characters and their possession of or lack of real decency. The script occasionally returns to the domestic sides of their lives with the women they’ve momentarily left behind (Nancy has been having a secret affair with Warren whom she intends to have by ditching her own husband Paul), but the real interest lies with the men and their motivations on this week long trip. Director Robert Michael Lewis makes elaborate use of overhead tracking shots of the men hauling off through the tough Baja terrain (the stars did their own motorcycle riding except for the most dangerous stunts) giving the movie a grandeur and expanse that belies its TV-movie origins. While there are thriller elements in the narrative (there’s an exciting climactic chase between the story’s two alpha males that’s superbly shot), the movie’s psychological underpinnings are the real meat-and-potatoes of the screenplay and are never a disappointment.
Andy Griffith has a field day with his bombastic s.o.b., stirred to near sexual explosion by dancing with the lithe young girl in the cantina and equally deplorable in his bullying of the three men to get what he wants at all times. As his psychological opposite but equally determined to do the right thing, William Shatner offers a complex performance, too: suicidal in the early going but gaining in fierce resolve the longer his mettle is put to the test. Robert Reed likewise has a flavorful change of pace from the jovial Mike Brady he was playing at the time of this film’s production as the ambitious ad man striving to do right by his firm by humoring their big potential client as much as humanly possible. Of the four leading men, Marjoe Gortner gives the weakest performance, a brittle, rather erratic take on a young artist faced with the chance to make a leap into the big time just by keeping his mouth shut. The women’s roles are less colorful or dimensional. Lorraine Gary, unaware that her husband is tottering on the verge of bankruptcy, is acceptable but rather bland as is Janet Margolin as the pregnant girl friend with a major decision to make. Angie Dickinson is forceful as the unfaithful Nancy McIlvain, but her performance is pretty one-note: dissatisfied and brusque to everyone. In their brief roles, both Skip Burton and Marilyn Hearn make striking impressions. John Brascia has a good scene or two as dominant Mexican policeman Captain Guiterrez.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s made-for-TV aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is faithfully replicated in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Though there is a slight bit of flickering, the movie on the whole looks outstanding, very sharp (you can easily make out the perforations in the men’s motocross shirts) and clear with excellent flesh tones and impressive black levels. The image is clean and dirt free throughout. The movie has been divided into 9 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is typical of the era of audio recording for television films. Dialogue is strong and clear and has been mixed well with the eclectic music score by Fred Myrow and the various sound effects used throughout. Though the bass seems a bit slight in the mix, there are no problems with age-related artifacts like hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.
Special Features: 2/5
Audio Commentary: film historians Amanda Reyes and Bill Ackerman offer lots of information about the film’s production personnel both before and behind the camera. Both sometimes take unnecessary side trips into discussing the biker films of the 1960s or some of the other significant TV-movies of the era, but overall, they keep their discussion lively and interesting.
Kino Trailers: High-Ballin’, Return to Macon County, The Border, Vigilante Force.
Robert Michael Lewis’ Pray for the Wildcats is a very entertaining made-for-TV film produced at a time in television history when these filmed productions were offering an impressive weekly dose of drama in many different genres. The Kino Blu-ray looks and sounds very good indeed and comes with a definite recommendation.