Moon of the Wolf (1972) Starring David Janssen, Bradford Dillman, Barbara Rush, Steve Beradino, Geoffrey Lewis, Royal Dano, John Chandler, Claudia McNeil, Paul DeVille, Dan Priest, Robert Phillips, Serena Sande, George Sawaya, Dick Crockett, Sonny Klein, Emory Hollier, Teddt Airhart JR.
Directed by Daniel Petrie.
Runtime: 75 Minutes.
Set in the deep swampy bayou (is there any other kind?) of Louisiana where the people are apparently anything but deep, a large, carnivorous beast stalks human prey. As the body count rises two possibilities present themselves as to the cause; murder, or a local legend about a giant wolf that most have forgotten or do not believe.
The uber macho sheriff Aaron Whitaker (Janssen) has his hands full investigating even though I can’t imagine anyone who sees this having much trouble figuring out what the plot twist is after 15 minutes in. After 40 minutes the suspects start getting killed off until the mystery solves itself. As the film runs only 75 minutes a great deal of potential suspense is the real casualty.
The fine cast soldiers on earnestly treating the material like Tennessee Williams wrote it. The supernatural aspects of the plot require such sensitivity and that which is on display give it a real chance to succeed. In the end it doesn’t work and the conclusion is an enormous letdown complete with bad monster make-up and painfully obvious “day-for-night” shooting. Since the cast has performed so ably in leading us to believe the material is not rubbish one cannot but lament when it turns out to be just that.
Bradford Dillman plays the effete local sophisticate Andrew Rodin and Barbara Rush stars as his flirty sister Louise. Whatever resentment Dillman might have had for not getting the lead role in this production is channelled into his performance particularly his scenes with Janssen. Other than that he is very suitably a tabula rasa. Whatever he is showing, we just know there is more to it even if there isn’t.
Steve Beradino, the mainstay of the General Hospital cast before people actually to watch it plays the condescending local doctor/coroner. Not much of a change of a pace but then his previous claim to fame was his portrayal of Sgt Emile Klinger opposite Cary Grant in North by Northwest. He adds colour to the performance by hinting at having a drinking problem and another interesting predilection.
Geoffrey Lewis, way back before Clint Eastwood started to hire him appears as a hot-headed Cajun southpaw whose sister has been killed. I guess since it is not an Eastwood film and he is still working means this sometime before he had started handing out Scientology pamphlets.
Barbara Rush provides a suitable love interest for our hero Sheriff Whitaker as an unrequited high school crush almost his own age. I have heard tell she was a real stunner back in her day and here you can get a sense of what she must have looked like when she was younger.
The real treat is David Janssen in all his glory in the lead role. The weird hairline, enormous ears partially obscured by massive sideburns, protruding gut and harsh vocal cadences are all on display. Janssen even leaves his shirt open a few buttons so the eyes of his female fans can feast upon the banquet of his nest of scuzzy salt and pepper chest hair.
Those that wonder how such an unorthodox looking leading man rose to prominence need look no further than his performance here. Janssen, aside from his flaws, was quite talented and photogenic. His performances exuded a natural quality only accentuated by the unglamorous aspects of his appearance and the eccentricities of his manner. He was believable in almost any role because of, not inspite of, how he looked. His face had enough character to make him seem like he belonged on screen. But he also looked and sounded enough like a real person. Other actors who were stars during the days of the studio system did not look or sound like real people. By the time Janssen was middle-aged a screen image such as he could project was in vogue. Also, the world-weary quality of his on screen manner matched his age.