About a month ago, I purchased the book Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large. (This is the first Shatner book I have ever read, by the way.) William Shatner turned 80 this past spring, and in this book, he talks about some of the things he’s learned over the years, and he presents them in order to entertain and educate us. And make a few bucks in the process, of course.
One of his main rules is to not pass up opportunities. If one looks at some of his career choices, it isn’t hard to see how closely he followed this one. He is, however, able to link his 1968 album The Transformed Man, which has been much maligned and laughed at for 43 years, to directly leading to his Priceline gig, which has made him millions.
So laugh all you want, Mr. and Ms. Smartypants. How many millions do you have?
Anyway, back to not passing up opportunities. This message resonates with me because I feel like a man who passed up a lot of opportunities in his life. Throughout my adult life, I have stated that I have never regretted anything that I’ve done. I have only regretted things I didn’t do. I guess Mr. Shatner can’t relate to that. He is always looking for new things to try, and at age 80, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Throughout the book he talks about past work he did and how people like to take pieces of it out of context, post them to YouTube, and make him look like a fool.
True, William Shatner is looked upon by many for being one of the great Hollywood Hams (mmm…ham…) as well as an egotistical jerk who always hogs the camera and the best lines. But who’s right? Are the clips we see online taken out of context, or is that just an excuse? How well can we judge if all we see are little clips here and there. How much of Shatner’s work outside of Star Trek has any of us actually seen?
Well, this intrigued me, and I decided to find out for myself.
Thanks to both imdb.com and Netflix, I was able to compile a list of his work and see what was easily available to view. First up were three movies Shatner mentions in his book: Big Bad Mama (1974), The Intruder (1962), and The Explosive Generation (1961).
The Explosive Generation and The Intruder are both interesting social commentaries, especially considering that they were released so early in the 1960s.
In The Explosive Generation, Shatner plays Peter Gifford, the hip, young high school teacher that all the kids love because he talks to them as equals and actually listens to what they have to say. One day, the kids ask their hip, young teacher if they can go over sex issues in class, and Gifford reluctantly agrees. He has them anonymously write questions onto a piece of paper to hand into him, and he says they can discuss them at the next class.
Well, as these movies generally go, one of the parents finds out about this and complains to the principal. Gifford eventually gets suspended, the students protest, and (Spoiler Alert) Gifford gets his job back AND still gets to teach sex ed.
Aside from the plot and characters, the main thing that caught my eye was the cast. First, Billy Gray
(Bud from Father Knows Best) is one of the main teenagers. Edward Platt (Chief from Get Smart) is the principal, and Beau Bridges (from Lloyd Bridges) is another one of the students. But the one cast member who turns this ensemble from good to great (besides Mr. Shatner of course) is character actor Vito Scotti, who has a non-speaking role in one scene as the school’s janitor. Major bonus there.
Seriously, I was impressed with William Shatner’s performance in this movie. There was no overacting. He never shouts. And there are no…random pauses…between words in his…dialog. I saw some mannerisms that seemed like typical Shatner, but there were no over-the-top Kirk-isms for which is so ridiculed.
Well, maybe he does get a bad rap, I thought, I should watch some more.
The Intruder takes place in a small Missouri town that has just been forced to integrate its high school. Shatner plays Adam Cramer, a racist who comes to town and tries to get the townspeople to make things miserable enough for the black children going to the white school that they give up and go back where they came from.
Although Cramer is a racist, he tries to keep the town’s white citizens from getting violent. But as he becomes a more powerful leader of the “people,” he begins to lose control over the angry mob that the “people” become. At then end, he tricks one of the white girls to accuse one of the black boys of trying to rape her. The mob turns violent and wants to string up the boy, but the girl finally confesses that she lied and that Mr. Cramer told her to do it. The crowd almost instantly turns its back on Cramer, and he’s left alone in the dirt humiliated.
This is another great performance by Mr. Shatner. He plays a real slimy character who tries to manipulate people for his own gain. He seduces a woman whose husband is a traveling salesman. When people say that they have to integrate the school “because it’s the law,” Cramer counters with, “whose law?” He tries to make the government look like the bad guys who are upsetting the natural balance of nature by allowing black kids study with white kids.
There’s only one point where I saw what I considered to be a Kirk-ism. At the end, as the crowd starts
turning against him, Cramer scrunches up his face and starts yelling that the girl is lying and that they all have to listen to him. This is where he can easily slip into, “I wanna live! I WANNA LIIIIIIVE!”
Now, maybe I’m being too harsh here. So far I’ve watched two movies, and in three hours’ time, I’ve only seen one thing that could possibly be considered stereotypical Shatner overacting. Just because he’s yelling, and it sounds like Captain Kirk to me doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s overacting. Maybe this is just how William Shatner sounds when he’s yelling. I still haven’t seen enough evidence to make a determination. I’ve got so see more.
Big Bad Mama. Oh boy. How do I explain this one? When I first saw it, I described it on Facebook as “Bonnie and Clyde meets soft-core porn.” This movie is probably best known as the film that showcases a naked Angie Dickinson, and maybe that’s enough for some.
The movie takes place in 1925, and Dickinson plays a strong woman who is willing to lie, cheat, and steal to provide for herself and her two daughters. As they travel cross-country evading the law, they meet up with Tom Skerritt (a bank robber) and William Shatner (a slick conman). There is a lot of gratuitous nudity in this picture and a lot of talk about sex too.
And here’s the creepiest part: the two daughters’ ages are never established in the film. When I first started watching it, before I knew what was going to happen, I figured that the girls were probably something like 18 and 16. Later, I hoped that wasn’t true (I looked it up and the actresses who played the girls were 22 and 20 at the time). As they began to run around in various stages of undress, I began to feel more uncomfortable. I did continue to watch it, though, after all, I’m doing research.
For about a minute, I wondered how this movie was going to end, but then I started adding things up. Early ’70s anti-hero picture inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. Of course! (Spoiler Alert) They all die at the end. Well, almost. During a shoot out with the police after their last heist, Tom Skerritt and William Shatner get shot to death. Mama and her two daughters get away, but before the girls notice, we see that Mama is bleeding. She dies in the car after providing her children with enough money to last a lifetime.
Okay, I’ll admit that I may have been too distracted by all the sex to properly assess Mr. Shatner’s performance in this movie, but he plays a smarmy conman, and that is a role Shatner excels at. This is a role that can be overplayed to a point because he’s a character playing the role of a sophisticated Southern Gentleman who is actually trying to steal all your money without you realizing it.
The only distracting thing about his performance is his southern accent, which I just couldn’t buy. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t do the accent well. I just thought it was kinda funny to see him doing an accent. I’m still not convinced one way or the other.
I have to see more.
The good news for me, then, is that there is a lot more for me to watch. There are Westerns, detective shows, documentaries, and a couple Comedy Central roasts still to watch. Oh yeah, and a movie whose dialog is spoken entirely in Esperanto.