Shitty Movie Sundays: The Specialist (1975)

The Specialist, 1975 movie posterMarlene Schmidt was on top of the world after winning the Miss Universe pageant in 1961. She later married TV cowboy Ty Hardin and moved to sunny California. The marriage did not last, but sometime thereafter she got the shitty movie bug, and teamed up with her new husband, Iraqi-born auteur Howard Avedis, to produce some hilarious sleaze. We here at Missile Test salute her and Howard, both. Immigrants living the American dream. Sure, they could never break into the big time, but everyone knows the fringes of the party are the best place to be.

From 1975 comes The Specialist, a neo-noir ersatz thriller adapted from a book by Ralph B. Potts. Potts also has a screenwriting credit alongside Avedis and Schmidt.

This is Potts’s only credit on IMDb. The book the film is adapted from is called Come Now the Lawyers, and, according to Potts’s obit in the Seattle Times, is a non-fiction history of the courts of the state of Washington. Only in the world of cinema could a work of history be twisted and turned into a shitty drive-in flick, with the participation of the author. It’s like Edward Gibbon working on the screenplay for Caligula.

As for Avedis and Schmidt, not only did they contribute to the screenplay, they also had substantial supporting roles in the film, and Avedis sat in the director’s chair. This was typical of the working marriage they shared.

The film stars Ahna Capri as Londa Wyeth, the titular specialist. An ‘actress’ from San Francisco, her character is more call girl than actress. She is hired by crooked lawyer Pike Smith (John Anderson) and private detective Alec Sharkey (Avedis) to woo and seduce another lawyer, Jerry Bounds (Adam West), who is opposing Smith in a land condemnation case.

Land condemnation? Not a murder trial or something else real juicy? Snooze, right? One would say that, until the moment in court when West, hamming it up in a way that would make William Shatner blush, describes the view of the setting sun over the disputed land. It’s a singular scene in this dog, and is worth the price of admission all by itself. Everything else is just gravy. Lumpy, undercooked gravy.

Avedis made sure there was a decent amount of nudity in this film, but there was room for plenty more. And I’m not referring to the gratuitous kind. The plot involves seduction. There could have been nudity that had something to do with the plot, but all the boobs viewers get seem thrown in as an afterthought. In skilled hands, this film could have been steamy erotica, but then it would have been too highbrow for Missile Test, so…

Wyeth’s efforts to seduce Bounds bear fruit, and they are caught in flagrante delicto, ruining and chance Bounds had of winning the case. The final act features Bounds and his mind-bogglingly faithful wife, played by Schmidt, attempting to clear his name.

This movie is a real dog, but it’s livened up quite a bit by the low-rent presentation, by a Lou Rawls-sung lounge theme song, and by the performances.

Anderson and West were both Burbank veterans by this point, and knew exactly the kind of movie they were in. Anderson’s performance is full of bombast, while West was at his most Westian — almost a parody of himself. Avedis as the private eye Sharkey had trouble stringing his lines together, but his efforts at playing the tough guy are kind of endearing.

Another television vet, Alvy Moore, turns in a comedic performance as a bailiff that is straight out of Blazing Saddles. Amongst all this, Capri plays the straight woman. She’s this film’s Graham Chapman, rolling with events while everyone else is acting silly.

The Specialist isn’t the easiest of watches. It gets slow at times, and there’s never a moment when any of it is believable. It’s a wonderful package of ineptitude, has a howler of an ending, and features performances that I’ll never forget. The Specialist takes over the #142 spot from Dracula 3000.

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