Dave & Dennis Review BEST FRIENDS

Posted: September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight,the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a large newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length (80,000-word) story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill, which combines my and Dennis’ series. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. I chose this week’s review challenge: Best Friends.

Best Friends

by David Bain

Four out of five stars

You might know Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo from the original Battlestar Galactica, but three years before that role, he gave a fine performance as Jesse, the better half of two Best Friends, the first film from Noel Nosseck.

Given that, according to IMDB, Nossek went on to direct all sorts of schlocky TV fare – what looks at my quick glance like Lifetime-ish dramas and ready-for-SyFy inanity – this is a surprisingly good debut.

Best Friends starts out as a road story and, as the title suggests, something of a buddy movie. Jesse and Pat, his longtime boyhood pal and fellow recent Air Force veteran, join their girlfriends and get an RV on the cheap, heading off on one final fling before adulthood and, for Jesse and his fiancé Kathy at least, marriage.

We soon learn that Pat, who was discharged after suffering a hand and other unspecified but possibly, um, debilitating injuries and may not be entirely stable, wants the bachelor parties and good times to just continue on in a sort of endless summer. This comes to a head when, on an excursion into town, he tries to get Jesse to pick up other girls and, what’s more, buy a motorcycle and ditch the RV. Jesse stands firm; he’s sticking with Kathy, and the end of the road is the end of this stage of their lives. There’ll be other good times, they’ll just be more grown-up.

Pat rebels. He buys a motorcycle and rides as the rest of the gang stay inside the RV.

There’s a scene where Pat’s girlfriend, Jo Ella, gets tipsy and dances topless at a bar on an Indian reservation. The Native Americans are entertained at first, but the scene ends in a tense, drunken showdown. The movie turns darker when we see what Pat’s capable of, as, later that night, he takes his revenge on the Indians, unbeknownst to his friends.

Pat becomes even more determined to dislodge the wedge the girls represent; in his mind, they’re the only barrier to both the heady past he and Jesse shared and the only true means of support and companionship and security he can fathom for the future.

Pat’s subsequent manipulations of all three of his friends’ passions are diabolical, leaving big emotional scars. It’s not Shakespeare – it’s a bit ham-handed, even – but it works well enough, given we’re viewing a document from barely post-free-love era 1975. You get your heartbreak, your tears, your rage and forgiveness, and whether or not you buy it 100 percent, this skirmish of the sexes leaves you feeling sorry enough for everyone involved that you have to stick around to see how it plays out.

And it plays out … well, it’s a movie. It’s one of those closing set pieces where I found myself saying, “No way would I still be there, in that particular situation, leaving myself open to the obvious danger. I’d have done this instead of that.”

But you’re watching a drama that’s bigger and deeper than it has any right being, given that it’s a forty-year-old B movie with only one participant that went on to do anything of note, so you go with it.

I’m sitting here musing that I wish there were such a thing as 3.9 stars instead of four. The script, for instance, is really not bad at all, just, say, one-tenth of a percent below what you’d really like it to be. So’s the acting. So’s everything.

Still, you do feel the various characters’ desperations, desolations and devastations. And, unless you’re looking for comedy or pure spectacle, isn’t that what we go to the movies for?

BEST FRIENDS

by C. Dennis Moore

Four out of five stars

It was 1975 and Richard “Apollo” Hatch was still three years away from the role of a lifetime in “Battlestar Galactica” when he took the role of Jesse in Noel Nosseck’s BEST FRIENDS. Things weren’t too bad, he had Doug Chapin along as Jesse’s best friend Pat, fresh out of the military and in need of a ride home, he had Susanne Benton playing Jesse’s fiance Kathy, the only woman he’s ever loved, and there was petite Ann Noland as Jo Ella, Pat’s girlfriend. The three show up to pick up Pat and take him home, but they decide, instead of flying, it would be boss idea to rent an RV and have a little road trip on the way home. After all, once they get home, Jesse and Kathy plan to get married, and after that, there’ll be no more opportunities for road trips or anything else fun, as everyone knows.

Things are going ok for the gang. They have a blast picking out an RV during what had to be the precursor to the modern-day music montage, Jo Ella dances topless on a bar at an Indian reservation, they almost get attacked and/or arrested, and Jesse and Pat take a little time out for target practice one hot summer afternoon. But not everyone is having ye grande olde tyme. Pat isn’t ready for this grown-up business, and he tries to get Jesse to buy a motorcycle with him and just take off.

Can’t do that, Jesse says. He loves Kathy and he’s going to marry her.

It’ll be just like old times, Pat says. We’ll party, we’ll throw up, we’ll scam chicks. I’ll even let you take the pretty one, he says. Just don’t grow up on me too quick, man, I’m just not ready for all that jazz yet.

But growing up is exactly what Jesse intends.

Well, Pat can’t take that pressure. He buys a motorcycle anyway, and rides it alongside the RV, WAY more cooler than the squares inside. And just in case Jesse didn’t get Pat’s point clearly enough, he tells Jo Ella he doesn’t want to get married.

I can live with that, Jo Ella says. After all, it’s not like you’re Jesse or anything. You know he’s the dreamy one.

Light bulb! Pat has an idea. See, the real deal is this: Pay wants Kathy. Now whether he wants Kathy because he’s smitten with her or he wants her because he’s so dead inside and emotional undeveloped that he knows he could maintain some kind of relationship with her while still being true to his best friend who is the REAL love of his life, it’s never clearly understood. But he DOES want her, or more importantly, he wants Jesse to not have her.

Through a series of subtle–and some not-so-subtle–manipulations, Pat puts his plan into place driving Jesse and Kathy away from each and bringing his best friend back to him where he belongs.

BEST FRIENDS is one of those classic 1970s movies that feels for a very long time like it’s about nothing at all and only, somewhere in the third act, reveals its true plot machinations in subtle fashion. It’s not a GREAT movie, not particularly well-made or directed, and certainly not necessarily well-acted, but it is a lot of fun, and the deeper issues at the heart of the story, the themes at play here with Jesse and Pat, are managed very well.

Decades later, a story like this is old hat, but in 1975 I can see the material still being fresh enough to male it interesting. Then again, even now I can see a movie like this being remade, almost shot for shot with practically the same script, and it being one of those serious, talked about movies. Bradley Cooper and Casey Affleck could remake the hell out of this movie.

I wasn’t expecting much from this movie, as I do–or don’t–with most of these drive-in “cult classics”, but I came really appreciating this movie. Doug Chapin as Pat was completely unlikable, and he seemed to be having a blast in the role. Ann Noland’s Jo Elle seemed to start off as a player, but vanished to the background during the third act, while Benton’s Kathy was solid throughout, a somehow well-rounded character despite the fact we know almost nothing about her. And there’s Richard Hatch as Jesse. Jesse’s got a bit of a past, as Pat will tell anyone who listens, especially if her name is Kathy, and some of that comes through in Hatch’s performance as Jesse seems like a guy with a spotted history who has found the missing piece to help him find his center.

The soundtrack is full of 70s non-hits, but in this case it’s not the popularity of the music, but how it’s used, and in this case I found the music worked not only to set each scene but to keep them moving as well.

My only real criticism is that I think the last ten minutes got pretty muddled and the ending, while effective to bring home certain aspects of the characters’ personalities–Pat’s especially–felt rushed and weak. But other than a less-than-impressive ending, I really liked this movie.

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