Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ask Me a Question: Silent Rage

On Saturday night it was off to Hollywood for a Dammaged Goods co-presentation of 1982's Silent Rage, the Chuck Norris anomaly that pits the karate kicking tough guy against a Frankenstein-esque turned 80's slasher villain. Stopping off at favorite spot Boardner's, it was surprisingly packed for 5:30 PM on a Saturday. Turns out George, a former actor who was a bartender there, passed away and it was a memorial service for him. He was in Smokey and the Bandit which played on the bar TV's. After some snacks and whiskey gingers, it was over to The Egyptian to set up for Silent Rage where David J Moore had a plethora of lobby cards and posters featuring Norris, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and more. When Cinematic Void programmer Jim reached out to me to co-present, I contacted writer Joseph Fraley who agreed to participate. From there, producer Anthony B. Unger caught wind of the evening and attended with his family and someone passed along contact info for director Michael Miller. While Miller was unable to attend, I had a terrific chat with the amiable filmmaker who started in Chicago with Harold Ramis and Brian Doyle-Murray before moving to Los Angeles and catching the eye of Roger Corman. 1976's Jackson County Jail starred a young a Tommy Lee Jones and was a bit of a breakthrough for Miller.

Following service in the Air Force and countless wins in karate tournaments, Chuck Norris appeared opposite Bruce Lee in The Way of the Dragon in 1972 before starring in hits like Breaker! Breaker!, Good Guys Wear Black and The Octagon. Silent Rage was said to be his first studio film for Columbia and shot around Dallas. Producer Unger recalls the studio stating they wanted an action picture for Easter and Silent Rage was it. So it was a great coincidence that we were screening the film on Easter weekend 30 some years later. Writer Joseph Fraley had studied Shotokan karate in the 60's when martial arts hadn't made a big splash in the states before serving in Vietnam. He met Norris and hit it off, with the future cinematic tough guy frequently making peanut butter and jelly sammiches with the crusts cut off for Fraley's young son. Fraley wrote Good Guys Wear Black and years later was telling Norris about some studies of reptiles who regrow limbs and how that would be interesting for a villain in a film. That simple idea lead to Silent Rage in the era of supernatural villains in Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street.

We gave out a signed VHS of Good Guys Wear Black to kick things off. Jim programmed a great pre-show featuring Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommando's clips, PSA's and trailers for Fraley's Good Guys, Unger's Don't Look Now and Norris' awesome flick Sidekicks (View in Peace Mako and Jonathan Brandis). I hadn't seen Silent Rage in it's entirety ever so the screening would more or less be new to me. We meet Brian Libby as John Kirby, a disturbed young man under treatment of Dr. Tom Halman (Ron Silver) and Dr. Spires (Steven Keats) in a long shot through a house. Kirby cracks and kills a young mother before tussling with Sheriff Dan Stevens (Norris) and getting shot down. But Spires injects Kirby with an untested serum that heals wounds nearly immediately but renders Kirby a mute killer who goes after Halman and his sister Alison (Toni), who happens to be an ex of Stevens. Stephen Furst shows up as Stevens' portly police co-hort and provides comic relief. Norris' films always have a nice sense of humor and Rage continues the trend with Chuck being pretty easy going and a smooth talker with the lady, complete with a hilarious detour to a sex scene and relationship building sequence. There's also a giant bar room fight scene where Norris dispatches a dozen goons with karate kicks, spinning backfists and a broken window.

It was during the big fight sequence that reels had to be changed in the Spielberg so programmer and co-host Grant put on a ridiculous one man fight scene where he punched, threw and flipped himself all over the place culminating in Jim show slugging him with a piece of wood. It definitely made the night even more memorable as the crowd was enthusiastic and having fun. After the film, I shared some quick bites from Miller who remembers the film fondly and is proud of the uncut opening sequence that was his nod to Francis Ford Coppola and Akira Kurosawa. Unger and Fraley joined Jim for Q&A where they discussed how the film came together. While Fraley was close friends with Norris, both Unger and Miller found him charming and professional along with being a heck of a martial artist. The film shot in Dallas with the help of production manager Paul Lewis who kept things on track. Unger joked that Walker, Texas Ranger would borrow several elements from Rage and Fraley recalled that the film was number one at the box office two weeks in a row. A sequel was discussed but never materialized. Unger recalled the film wasn't expensive or cheap and they did not skimp on crew. Most of Furst's dialog was improvised and Unger and Miller would both work with the funnyman on other projects.

Unger and Fraley talked about how important karate was to Chuck's image and Columbia's original marketing materials emphasized action and showed him in a black gi even though he never dons one in the movie. Miller had mentioned he surrounded Norris with strong New York actors with Unger and Fraley both paying tribute to the deceased Ron Silver. Silver was great in the film, intense yet sympathetic with a bit of an Al Pacino thing going on. It was a fun night with great guests and a fantastic audience. After the film I got to hear about Christmas parties at Charlie Bronson's house. I can't even imagine.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific evening. Great questions thru Q & A. For the film fanatics on your site...Charles Bronson was original choice to co-star w Chuck in The Delta Force. Cannon wanted Chuck in DEATH WISH 3. Norris declined DW3 and as cross stories and re-negotiations happened...Bronson dropped out of TDF (which bummed me out tho Marvin is awesome in it) and Charlie ended up, as well all know not ONLY doing part 3 of a D.W. but also up to 5 or 6 of them...