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Retro Review: MR. NO LEGS (1978)

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MR. NO LEGS
(US - 1978)

Directed by Ricou Browning. Written by Jack Cowden. Cast: Richard Jaeckel, Ron Slinker, Lloyd Bochner, Joie Chitwood and the Danger Angels, John Agar, Ted Vollrath, Rance Howard, Courtney Brown, Joan Murphy, Luke Halpin, Suhaila, Billy Blue River, Templeton Fox, Jack Belt, Beverly Shade. (R, 89 mins)

MR. NO LEGS' status as one of the WTF?! exploitation oddities of the '70s is obviously due to the presence of non-actor Ted Vollrath in the title role. Vollrath (1936-2001) was a US Marine who lost both of his legs in combat during the Korean War. Refusing to be hindered by his disability, he began studying martial arts in the 1960s, earning black belts in several different styles of karate and eventually becoming a grandmaster. He founded a martial arts school for the disabled in the 1970s but MR. NO LEGS marked his sole foray into movies. A film so grungy, cheap-looking, and sloppily-assembled that it's a shock to discover it isn't directed by Al Adamson, MR. NO LEGS was shot in Tampa, FL in 1975 by some of the creative team behind 1963's FLIPPER and its subsequent TV spinoff, namely series co-creators Jack Cowden and Ricou Browning. Cowden wrote the script and directing duties were handled by Browning, best known for playing the Gill Man in the underwater scenes of the 1954 classic CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and its two sequels. MR. NO LEGS is about as crudely-made as '70s drive-in movies get, but Cowden and Browning were able to call in some favors from friends and past collaborators, including REVENGE OF THE CREATURE hero John Agar, grown-up FLIPPER star Luke Halpin, and Rance Howard (Ron and Clint's dad), who co-starred on the CBS series GENTLE BEN, which had Browning in its regular rotation of directors.






Shelved for three years before finally hitting drive-ins and grindhouses in the spring of 1978 as the one-and-done release of Cinema Artists Productions, MR. NO LEGS has Tampa vice cops Chuck (Richard Jaeckel) and Andy (pro wrestler Ron Slinker in his only acting role) trying to bust up a drug smuggling ring run by mob-connected asshole businessman D'Angelo (Lloyd Bochner). It gets personal for Andy when his sister dies from an accidental head injury during an argument with her dirtbag boyfriend Ken (Halpin), a low-level D'Angelo flunky. Under the direction of D'Angelo's double-amputee top enforcer No Legs (Vollrath), whose wheelchair comes equipped with stealth machine guns and ninja stars just in case, Ken and cohort Lou (Howard) shoot Andy's sister full of heroin and dump her at the hospital, making it look like she hit her head after OD-ing. Andy and Chuck aren't buying it, and D'Angelo is getting fed up with No Legs going rogue and not following orders. He puts a hit out on No Legs, which of course backfires in a spectacular poolside karate melee that has to be seen to be believed, and as No Legs seeks revenge on his boss, Andy and Chuck uncover a trail of corruption that might go all the way to the top of the Tampa P.D., all the way up to their boss, Capt. Hathaway (Agar).





MR. NO LEGS opening in Toledo, OH on 5/12/1978


Just out on Blu-ray from Massacre Video (because physical media is dead), MR. NO LEGS has all the slipshod craftsmanship, inept editing, muffled sound, K-Mart menswear, and hideous combovers that you expect from low-budget regional exploitation of the 1970s. It speaks to Cowden's and Browning's connections and long-lasting friendships in Hollywood that they managed to corral a group of reputable character actors--some of whom, unlike the stars of Al Adamson movies of the period, didn't really need to be in MR. NO LEGS to make their mortgage payment that month. That includes busy TV guest villain Bochner and especially Jaeckel who, at the time of filming, was just four years removed from an Oscar nomination for 1971's SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION. Reportedly shot as KILLERS DIE HARD, it apparently didn't dawn on the filmmakers until later that they had an incredible hook with Vollrath's villain, but despite being the title character, he's really not the main focus, and he's given an unceremonious exit with almost 20 minutes left in the movie. It's then that Browning focuses on a long car chase that involves some significant pre-SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT levels of destruction (and randomly-placed stacks of empty crates and some huge blocks of ice for no reason whatsoever), so much so that old-school racing daredevil Joie Chitwood and his "Danger Angels" crew are billed fourth in the credits, between Bochner and Agar. MR. NO LEGS is a pretty shoddy piece of work, but the uniqueness of Vollrath's secondary villain makes it an undeniably fascinating relic of questionable taste from a bygone era and a precursor to the dubious likes of THE CRIPPLED MASTERS. Massacre's Blu-ray is hardly demo quality but it gets the job done. The camera negative is long gone, and surviving prints were mostly a wreck, so it's sort-of a patchwork of various best-available elements, including a couple of decent-quality video inserts in order recreate a composite of the uncut version. It's not exactly Criterion but then, neither is MR. NO LEGS.


"Razzle-Dazzle Action Thriller!"
in Toledo, OH on  5/12/1978




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