Thursday, July 8, 2010
IMPULSE (1974) - and you thought Shatner seemed a few marbles short in those Priceline commercials
Bill Shatner is just minding his own business, strutting through a lackluster Florida resort with a tasty young lady under his arm. Suddenly, a local peon unceremoniously invades his space, carelessly smushing a bundle of balloons against his chest, rudely knocking into the wireless mic clipped on his shirt. The nerve! Bill’s smooth operation is interrupted by this lady’s careless folly, and he retaliates by angrily swatting at the balloons, yelling “people like you outta be ground up into dog food!”. While maybe a tad over the top, his building frustration with the common man has to go somewhere.
You see, Bill Shatner is an ubermensch, establishing his own Shatner code of living that exists outside of the artificial structures of mortal man. Their self-inflicted mediocrity includes things like getting a job, getting married, finding religion, the quashing of dreams, and the desire to act like a “normal” person. Bill urinates on these outdated values with every twitch, every signature “start and stop” bit of dialogue, every polyester shirt, and every lady bagging smirk. His ultimate goal is not to achieve some agreed upon societal ideal, but rather, to achieve a total fulfillment of the Shatner persona.
Well, Impulse stars Bill as a cigar loving ladies man who uses women, both financially and in the carnal sense (although you could argue that money is a small price to pay for several nights of bliss with Mr. Shatner). His current victim/lucky lady has a young daughter named Tina, who is still upset over her father’s death, and bitter about his replacement (not everyone can be a Star Trek fan, I guess).
He plans to scam this woman out of her fortune, and enlists the aid of “Karate Pete” (Odd Job from Goldfinger). The two men get into an argument about something or other, and Pete threatens Bill for some reason. I wasn’t really able to follow their scheme, but I’m sure it was brilliant and fool proof. Anyway, Pete probably thinks he’s dealing with a normal person who'll shut up and take it when a large Asian dude with a karate prefix issues an order with the threat of violence.
Pete is, of course, completely wrong, as Bill retaliates in exceedingly clever, “out of the box” fashion. He waits atop Pete’s trailer (thankfully it has a giant “Karate Pete” banner on the side so people can recognize it), lynching him from above as soon as he exits. Instead of running away and leaving Pete to die, he uses him as a de facto punching bag, asking him to “hang around” (providing the rare but still splendid lynching pun). However, Pete cuts himself loose with a knife, and Bill is forced to kick him in the face a couple of times (showing off his Shatkwando skills). He gets in his dirty station wagon and chases Pete through a car wash, eventually driving over his head, effectively using one stone to kill two birds.
Unfortunately, young Tina lay hidden in the back seat the whole time, bearing witness to the entire showdown. She tries to explain to her mother that Bill is not the suave gentleman he appears to be on the surface, but is actually a psychotic murderer who thinks that human beings are merely nature’s punching bags. Of course, the mother doesn’t believe (nor does anyone else) that such a studmuffin could be capable of such curious malfeasance. Young Tina is key to the ending as you might imagine, never giving in to Bill’s attempts to shut her up. After all, you can’t charm and booze your way into a young girl’s head like you can with a full grown lady (let’s hope not anyway).
The film is sort of a low budget regional inversion of Hitchcock’s Marnie. The centerpiece scenes in both films are very similar. In Impulse, a young Shatner finds his father (played by Bill Kerwin of Blood Feast fame) roughing up his mother, and takes care of business by twice sticking a sword near his dad, letting the audience imagine the horrors of a sword actually breaking the skin (special effects are expensive, after all). The central scene in Marnie, revealed at the end instead of the beginning, shows a young Tippi Hedren witnessing her mother getting the shit beat out of her by a boyfriend, and little Tippi steps in, armed with a fireplace poker.
Both scenes involve children being incited to kill while their parent(s) are involved in sexual behavior. If Freud made a list of things that are sure to scar an impressionable tyke in regards to future relationships, I imagine this one is gotta be near the top of the list. However, in the case of these two characters, the results are completely antithetical. The grown up Marnie is so frigid that she doesn’t even want to boink her brand new hubby (played by Sean Connery…yeah, James friggin’ Bond) on their honeymoon. Bill, on the other hand, is a lothario of epic proportions, willing and able to seduce any woman he comes in contact with. Neither, however, develops a proper moral conscience. The discrepancy here may be chalked up to the differences between men and women. However, I gotta imagine that attempting to compare William Shatner to any other human being is a futile exercise; apples and oranges, as it were (or, to stay on point, man and ubermensch).
Hitchcock also uses an interesting technique in Marnie involving color. When Marnie is free of her past and at her most carefree, riding a horse for example, the color pops off the screen. However, the more that her traumatic past comes into conversation, the more the frame is drained of color. When the murder scene finally unfolds, it is almost completely desaturated. Marnie’s emotional state is thereby subliminally conveyed throughout the film, from anxious horror to mild happiness and back again.
Impulse also refuses to maintain a consistent visual palette. Day-for-night shots and day-for-day shots interweave in utter chaos, and exposure levels are an ever-shifting beast. Look no further than the scene where Shatner chases Tina through a cemetery. We can hear some loud ass crickets, but the scene is clearly shot during the day, with only a thinly veiled attempt at day-for-night. A psychotic Shatner, moving from drink to woman to drink, with no discernible schedule, probably feels like day and night have blended into a perpetual hazy dusk, and this is how the movie conveys this mental state. Of course, it may just be the accidental result of shoddy photography, but sometimes a sad attempt can end up as a happy accident.
Director William Grefe, the godfather of Floridian exploitation (Sting of Death, Stanley, et al), attempts his Hitchcock influenced masterpiece with Impulse, but falls short in the technical department. The script lurches from scene to scene, as the editing lurches from shot to shot. Thankfully, Shatner’s presence carries the film through any rough patches, even transcending any notion of performance. After all, we come, not to revel in the exploits of a mere mortal, but rather, to get properly Shatnerized. Experience Shatnerfication. Live under the rule of a Shatneracy. You get the idea.
-Submitted as part of the "She Blogged By Night Shatnerthon". Check out Stacia's review of Impulse