The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Night of the Grizzly

So that 1975 movie about a great white shark terrorizing a summer vacation locale? What's it called? Jaws I think? Yeah, it's halfway decent. It spawned far too many ripoffs, knockoffs and lousy sequels, many of which I've reviewed here. Here's a twist for you....what about a movie that inspired Jaws? It comes from a genre you might not have thought of, the western. Here's 1966's The Night of the Grizzly.

Having worked for years as a marshal, Big Jim Cole (Clint Walker) has decided to turn in his badge. He has acquired a ranch in Wyoming from a family member and with his wife, Angie (Martha Hyer), three kids, and his former deputy, Sam Potts (Don Haggerty), is uprooting and moving for a new life. The nearby town is welcoming -- for the most part -- and the land is good farming land. Cole even has plans to raise some cattle, but he's got two problems to deal with. One, the rich landowner and fellow rancher in town, Jed Curry (Keenan Wynn), desperately wants his land and is going to stop at nothing to get that land. Two, a grizzly lives in the mountains that has terrorized the area for years. Dubbed Satan by the townspeople, the bear kills randomly, killing man and livestock alike and not just for food. If he wants his family to stay on their new land, Cole has his work cut out for him.

So did you notice how I didn't mention that whole man-killing grizzly until late in the plot description? Yeah, that wasn't an accident or oversight on my part. For a movie named 'Night of the Grizzly,' director Joseph Pevney sure doesn't seem too interested in doing much with the whole grizzly bear plot. It's just an odd movie in the end, one that can't pick a rhythm and stick with it. It is equal parts family drama that would seem more comfortable on The Waltons, odd, out of place humor, some typical western land/rancher drama, and oh yeah, that killer bear who everyone is terrified of. Dun-dun-duh!!! If you just commit to the bear story and go with it, maybe we've got something, but it plays out like there wasn't much of a script so things got fleshed out with all those other odds and ends.

The most disappointing thing about 'Grizzly' is that the cast alone has plenty of potential. Whether it was on TV or in feature films, Walker was an underrated western star. For starters, he looks like a wild west sort of guy you wouldn't want to tangle with in a fight. The former marshal turned rancher is weighed down by the family drama, Walker left to deal with his worrying wife and a gaggle of troublesome kids. Not given much to do but be the cliched bad guy, Keenan Wynn is slimy and sinister as Jed Curry, ready to do whatever it takes. Jack Elam similarly isn't given much to do other than hang out with Cole's precocious daughter, Gypsy (Victoria Paige Meyerink), in a rare change of pace good guy part. Showing up at the hour-mark in full-on intimidation mode, Leo Gordon is a convict and crook from Cole's past brought in to cause some trouble.

But's an unstoppable killer grizzly bear!!! Focus on the bear!!! An attempt here and there at a mood-lightening laugh is one thing. But repeatedly? And at the expense of the story? Talk about a potential killer. One extended bit has little Gypsy chasing after a skunk she thinks is a cat. Oh, no! A smelly little kid who has to eat outside! Oh, and there's Nancy Kulp (of The Beverly Hillbillies) as a general store owner who's got a crush on the drunken Potts. There's also a mountain family that moonshines where we even get to see a drunken rooster stagger around the barnyard. And also, Curry's kids are stupid and awkward. They trick Potts into giving them money for whiskey...but it's a dry county. The acting is anywhere from rough to awkward to watch, and it's hard to tell whether it was because of the actors or the script. Maybe both.

The biggest comparison to Jaws comes in the finale. Much of the movie has the bear shown via a stomping paw or his fuzzy head as he stands up. When we do see the bear, it doesn't look particularly big. In the end, Cole and Gordon's baddie end up chasing the bear around a mountain. Again, lots of potential but it never adds up to anything too interesting. Steer clear of this stinker.

The Night of the Grizzly (1966): */****