Lensed in 1966, premiering in 1969 and still playing theatrically under various guises as late as 1973, this inspirational drama was loosely "suggested by" the alcohol and dope fueled early life of Golden Gloves boxer (and future Hollywood stuntman) Tom Harris, before he discovered God. Starring, written and produced by Don Murray (in his third religious biography that decade, following ONE MAN'S ARMY and THE HOODLUM PRIEST), with actor-turned-filmmaker John Derek (long before stinking up multiplexes with 1981's TARZAN THE APE MAN) photographing and co-directing -- along with OZZIE & HARRIET's David Nelson -- it was envisioned as a hard-edged film with a proposed title of "The Sinner," only to get watered down to a PG to make it more acceptable for Christian church-goers. It's still exceptionally warped... Telling his story in a voiceover confessional laced with 'groovy' lingo, Tom Harris (Murray) is a horrible excuse for a human being. After his court-martial by the Navy, the guy gets soused on the beach and ends up raping a pretty young blonde under a pier. But Tom's sinfulness is ladled on so thick that's it's laughable, as he collects for a loan shark, steals a good samaritan's Corvette and casually drives off with a motorbike as the owner watches, yet no cops are ever called. The plot takes a particularly fucked up turn when Tom inadvertently runs into Pat Jennings (23-year-old Linda Evans, then starring on TV's THE BIG VALLEY), the woman he once raped. She doesn't recognize her old abuser though, while he's drawn to Pat's purity and begins stalking her, ending up at a farm-commune for recovering alcoholics run by her father (INTRUDER IN THE DUST's David Brian), who sees potential in damaged Tom. So this allegedly spiritual film is all about a rapist attempting to romance a past victim and befriend her dad? Damn!... Yes, it's all hideously contrived, but on the upside, Derek's loose and expressive cinematography gives it all a slick edge (particularly during Tom's date with Pat, which winds up at a colorful, psychedelic party). And unlike most current religious-themed films, its proselytizing is fairly restrained, with the exception of some heavyhanded Last Supper symbolism in the final reel. Through much of it, Murray makes a wonderfully sweaty, boorish dirtbag straight out of any drive-in exploitation fare -- boozing it up, whoring around, displaying his sadistic streak in the boxing ring, and acting like he's god's gift to females -- but that only makes the ending feel even more hollow, as this shitstain's bad behavior is abruptly washed away just in time for the end credits. Evans is lovingly photographed by future-husband Derek, but her character is a vapid nitwit, and co-stars include Logan Ramsey as a sleazy boxing promoter, THE VIRGINIAN's Gary Clarke is glimpsed at the very end as Tom's psychologist/interviewer, Angelique Pettyjohn (the alien chick from STAR TREK's "The Gamesters of Triskelion") gets picked up by Tom for a quickie, plus '60s health/fitness freak Gypsy Boots shows up in an oversized diaper as one of Mr. Jennings' more eccentric "disciples."
© 2017 by Steven Puchalski.