Wild like broccoli is, like, wild, man!
US / 83 minutes / bw / Charles Bros., Emerson Dir & Pr: Rudolph Cusumano Scr: Eugene Pollock, Joseph Thomas Cine: Ray Dennis Steckler Cast: Francine York, Edmund Tontini, Robert Blair, Jonathon Karle (i.e., Jonathan Karle), Diana George, Sydney L. Mason, Mike Cannon (i.e., Mike Kannon), Joseph Thomas, Ray Dennis Steckler, Louise Norris.
Duke Walker (Mason) has been in the pen for 12 years for his part in a truck heist that netted $240,000. The money has never been recovered, and the word is that Duke’s the only one who knows where it’s hidden.
Hazel’s brother Don (Joseph Thomas) — can he be trusted?
Duke’s very much younger wife Hazel (York) has waited for him all these years, working with her crippled brother Don (Thomas, who also co-scripted) in his diner. Just these past few months, however, she’s been canoodling with their lodger, Bill James (Blair). This may be why it has seemingly never occurred to her that it might be kind to do the ordinary thing and go pick Duke up at the prison gate; instead, they simply wait for him to arrive under his own steam. Since the diner’s on the edge of the Mojave Desert but otherwise in the middle of nowhere, he has to get there by hitchhiking.
Hazel (Francine York) and Bill (Robert Blair) get friendly.
If Hazel and Don seem lukewarm about the release of Duke, others are eagerly anticipating it. For a couple of years of his involuntary vacation Duke shared a cell with a crook by the name of King Tut (Tontini). (Why does he have this improbable moniker? We’re never told, alas.) During that time, Tut learned about the stashed loot, and now he plans to follow Duke to wherever the hiding place might be. He rounds up a gang of hoodlums and they make their way to Don’s diner. The gang comprises:
- The somewhat stoic toughie Pompy (Cannon), with his girlfriend Sue (George),
- Jick (Karle), a bag of vicious nerves so hammishly portrayed he might as well have had “PSYCHO” tattooed across his forehead; Karle obviously misunderstood the director’s instruction that he should portray someone doing bad acts,
- Preacher Man (Steckler, in an unusual instance of a movie’s cinematographer also having a major role), a languidly cool hep cat who wears, ya know, the funky spex and tells babes how groovy they are. Here’s some typical dialogue:
Preacher: “Did you feed all the hungry wheels?”
Hazel (to Don): “He means, did you put gas and oil in all the cars.”
Preacher: “Hey, you’re real hip, chick.”
- Jimmie Jo (Norris), Tut’s moll,
- and (big roll of drums here) Bill James—yes, the very same Bill James who’s been canoodling with the lonely wife.
This latter revelation doesn’t come as quite the shock you might think, because it’s been pretty obvious that the rakish Bill has had more than just canoodling on his mind.
Preacher Man (Ray Dennis Steckler) thinks he has a chance with Hazel.
Duke gets home and, naturally, rather than lie low for a while, has instructed Don to stock up his jeep for Duke and Hazel to have a week’s camping in the desert—just to get some fresh air into his lungs, you know. Don knows Duke’s off to get the money. Tut’s gang, spying on the diner, know Duke’s off to get the money.
Jonathan Karle, as Jick, demonstrates how to act bad.
The only person oblivious to the possibility that Duke might be off to get the money is Hazel. Her reactions are rather odd anyway, because she seems delighted to have Duke back and in her arms despite all the recent months’ canoodling with Bill. Since Hazel seems to be in her mid-20s (which is the age York was when she made this movie) and Duke’s been in the pen for 12 years, and they were apparently married for a while before that . . . well, someone on the scriptwriting team didn’t do their math.
Duke (Sydney L. Mason) maintains he has no idea where the dough is.
Off Duke and Hazel go in the jeep into the desert. The gang members follow in their various vehicles, and eventually catch up with and capture the couple. Jick picks a fight with Pompy and it’s decided their quarrel should be settled by a game of Chicken Run. This is much the same as Chicken, only you do it by driving at top speed across the nighttime desert at each other. The cars collide, Jick is killed, and Pompy suffers internal injuries that we know will be the death of him.
Pompy (Mike Kannon) gets intense during one of his fights with Jick.
The next morning, everyone wakes up except Duke, who’s discovered to have a knife stuck in his back. Who could have killed him?
Sue (Diana George) tends to the dying Pompy (Mike Kannon).
Jimmie Jo thinks it must be Tut who’s the killer, later confessing to Bill that “Frankly I’m stuck with a guy I hate, I’m afraid to turn my back on him, I’m afraid I might wake up with a shiv stuck in it like Duke.” And that’s the explanation given at the end of the movie. But it makes no sense for Tut to kill Duke, because, while he knows Duke knows where the money’s stashed, he doesn’t, you know, know if Hazel knows.
Even so, Tut tries forcing the information out of her by waving a lizard in her face: “I’ll give you ’til tomorrow night. If you haven’t got the money by then, I’ll make you eat this.”
Tut (Edmund Tontini) looks down mercilessly on Hazel.
It would have been a waste of a perfectly good lizard, because Hazel really has no idea where the money is. She does, however, think it possible Duke might have buried it at Miller’s Place. This proves to be a deserted, dilapidated shack or two in the midst of the sandy waste.
Tut: “It could be right here.”
Preacher Man: “So let’s go for broke.”
And so they start to dig. It’s gloriously imbecilic plotting, because the loot could just as well be anywhere else: are they prepared to dig up the entire desert? But there’s more to come. After deciding the loot maybe isn’t at Miller’s Place after all, they pick out a deserted tungsten mine, seemingly at random, and decide to dig there—and this time, mirabile dictu, Tut almost immediately finds the dough . . .
All through the movie there are some quite surprising continuity errors. Early on, the windows of Hazel’s apartment as seen from the inside don’t match its windows as seen from the outside. When Tut pulls out the plug of the jukebox at Don’s Diner we hear the song very slowly grinding to a halt—odd that we hear it when the jukebox’s speakers have no electricity. Hazel runs away from the gang twice in the desert, twisting her ankle painfully at the end of her first attempted escape; needless to say, there’s no sign of the injury the next time she flees.
And then there’s the moment when the gang are scarfing burgers at Don’s Diner. Don, who’s been outside, er, feeding the hungry wheels, comes back in, and
there’s quite clearly no Hazel at the counter. A moment later the angle of shot changes and,
oops, there she is.
Despite all these hiccups, Wild Ones on Wheels is by no means the worst movie you could see. York’s very personable—and is still working, with occasional TV roles including one in the (possibly aborted) fan series Star Trek: Progeny. None of the other actors make much of an impact except Karle, and him for all the wrong reasons. The cinematography’s for the most part surprisingly competent, if never inspired, and the soundtrack, by André Brummer (under the nom de film Henry Price), is actually quite good.