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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Pray for the Wildcats (Blu-ray)
Pray for the Wildcats (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // Unrated // March 3, 2020 // Region A
List Price: $20.49 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted March 12, 2020 | E-mail the Author
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User Reviewers for the 1974 TV-movie Pray for the Wildcats (1974) over at the Internet Movie Database run the gamut from those pleasantly surprised by its intelligence to others who regard it as unintentionally hilarious, a high-water mark of delirious camp. I'm of the former opinion.

When Kino's new Blu-ray turned up in our unloved screener pile, I found its cast list irresistible: Andy Griffith, William Shatner, Robert Reed, Marjoe Gortner (former preacher-turned psycho creep in Earthquake), Angie Dickinson, etc. Many who find Pray for the Wildcats so enjoyably awful are undoubtedly influenced by the actors' iconic TV roles: Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor, Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Robert Reed as Mike Brady, and so on, while forgetting Griffith's acclaimed pre-TV stardom film role in A Face in the Crowd (1957). Or that Shatner had been one of the most respected and sought-after guest stars of early '60s anthology shows, or that Reed had starred in the superb TV drama The Defenders. Though produced at a kind of low point career-wise for many of these actors, Pray for the Wildcats harkens back to more prestigious material they'd all done before. (With slight alterations, one can easily imagined this being made a dozen years earlier, with, say, Ed Begley, William Windom, Shatner, and James Darren in the Griffith, Shatner, Reed, and Gortner parts, respectively.)

Though filmed in the usual drab, mostly artless style of ‘70s TV movies (even the good ones), the teleplay by TV-scribe Jack Turley is subtle and ambitious.

Though its title suggests some kind of melodrama about an underdog high school football team, Pray for the Wildcats is a strange genre fusing of ‘50s business executive drama with late-‘60s/early ‘70s biker films, with a dash of Deliverance (1972). I was expecting yet another variation of The Most Dangerous Game but the script moves in different, mostly unexpected directions.

Advertising agency executives Warren Summerfield (Shatner), Paul McIlvain (Reed) and art director Terry Maxon (Gortner) covet the million-dollar account of manipulative Sam Farragut (Griffith). He compels them to a Sunday dirt bike excursion/picnic all but Farragut dread, where their spouses -- Lila Summerfield (Lorraine Gary), Nancy McIlvain (Angie Dickinson), and Terry's girlfriend Krissie (Janet Margolin) -- are clearly disgusted by the men's sycophantic behavior, Terry even allowing Farragut to openly flirt with Krissie. Enjoying his power over everyone, Farragut next insists the men join him for a weekend bike ride down the Baja Peninsula.

Warren, in the process of losing his job and unhappy at home, is suicidal, taking out a $200,000 life insurance policy, intending to kill himself during the trip. Nancy, who briefly had an affair with Warren, suspects his plans, but can't act without confessing the affair to Lila. At the same time, Nancy and Paul are on the verge of divorcing, while Krissie tells Terry that she's pregnant. But all three men are under too much pressure to pay much attention to their problems at home.

At the Mexican border, the men bid the women farewell and the weekend begins, with Farragut pushing the three ad execs to keep up with his relentless, maniacal pace. At a remote cantina Farragut openly lusts after a young woman (Marilyn Hearn), ignoring the protests of her boyfriend (Skip Burton) and clearly wanting to "grab her by the pussy." An altercation follows, the ad men having to restrain the clearly psychotic millionaire. Later, accompanied by Terry, Farragut tracks the hippie couple to a remote beach, and after crudely offering the boyfriend money to have sex with the girlfriend, another brawl ensues, this time with deadly results. What will the ad agency trio do next?

Pray for the Wildcats is a pleasant surprise with strong performances, particularly from Shatner. The actor was at a kind of low point career-wise; royalties from the wildly successful syndication of Star Trek hadn't yet kicked it, he'd divorced his first wife and needed to support her and their kids, and ended up doing a lot of dinner theater to keep up with the alimony and child support. Some of this may be reflected in his atypical characterization. The disc's audio commentators liken his work here to Captain Kirk, but I can't imagine anything further afield -- except, maybe, when that transporter malfunction aboard the Enterprise made two Captain Kirks, one weak-willed and dysfunctional.

Warren is drowning in self-loathing and hopelessness, at one point telling Paul, his former best friend, about how he can no longer find himself in the mirror. The dialogue offers an accurate portrait of suicidal depression, and Shatner here is excellent. Indeed, he eschews his familiar mannerisms playing a man hiding his true feelings and ultimate intentions from everybody, behind a veneer of weary, strained confidence. It's a performance that harkens back to his best work on television in the early 1960s. (In a weird coincidence, the colored shirts the four leads wear under their customized leather jackets are dead ringers for the tunics worn aboard the Enterprise. Shatner and Griffith wear yellow/gold with black trim, very nearly identical as Capt. Kirk's uniform, while Reed wears the dreaded red.)

Andy Griffith, for his part, is genuinely disturbing as the psycho millionaire. Farragut is a guy who believes he's entitled to take anything he wants, do anything that pleases him, with the consequences of his actions never a consideration. His brazenness offering the hippie boyfriend a hundred bucks to screw his girlfriend is disquieting because Griffith is so casual yet so certain that none of his demands will ever be refused, and only rarely questioned.

Angie Dickinson's unhappy wife is also a surprise, she down-to-earth and a realist, contrasting Lorraine Gary's (Jaws) clueless wife, who can't grasp that her husband is as deeply depressed as he is.

The darker side of office politics have been ripe for movie and TV drama since the 1955 publication of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and Rod Serling's seminal live television drama Patterns, airing early that same year. The awkwardly sycophantic relationship the others have with Griffith is nauseatingly authentic. The cross-country dirt-biking aspect is overdone, seemingly a way to burn up running time between the moments of interpersonal drama. The locations are interesting and, really, only their too-colorful wardrobes and hairstyles have dated (badly).

Video & Audio

Kino's Blu-ray of Pray for the Wildcats, in color and 1.37:1 standard size, looks fairly good and reportedly sources a 2K master. It was shot fast and cheap, so visually there's not much here beyond watching the actors at work and the Baja and Old Tucson scenery. The DTS-HD Master Audio (mono) is likewise fine. Optional English subtitles are included on this region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

Writers Amanda Reyes and Bill Ackerman provide the new audio commentary track, which sounds like it was recorded in a closet while the two struggle at times to come up with something original or interesting to say about the film, but overall it's okay.

Parting Thoughts

Not Great Art but way above average for a 1970s made-for-TV film, Pray for the Wildcats is worth a look for its cast and unusual approach to its story. Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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