The 1970s was the golden age of the TV movie. There was a weekly series of original productions called The ABC Movie of the Week. Production values were generally high, the writing was above par, and the movies spanned across the genres. The Night Stalker was the crown jewel of the show, but there were many highlights: Duel, Brian's Song, Tribes, Trilogy of Terror, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, The Morning After, Killdozer. Writers like Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson were employed.

One of the most heralded movies from The ABC Movie of the Week was called Pray for the Wildcats (1974). The coming attractions looked positively freaky. The ads showed a demonic Andy Griffith doing a predatory dance with a young lady. The rest of the star-studded cast included William Shatner, Brady Bunch Dad Robert Reed, and Christian evangelist whistleblower Marjoe Gortner.

Shatner, Reed, and Gortner are advertising execs. Ad men were portrayed as shamans in prime time TV in that era. Griffith is an alpha male business owner who has a lucrative account with the firm. He convinces the guys to accompany him on a six-hundred mile motorcycle expedition across the desert to Baja.

Robert Reed is kind of a smarmy rising office type without much of a soul. Marjoe Gortner is a gawking acidhead hippie hoping to make it in the big corporate world. William Shatner plays against type as an uncertain suicidal type. He sees the trip as a way to solve all of his problems. Permanently. Don't worry Bill fans, by the end he regains the smarmy Shatner charm and certitude you've come to tolerate.

But it is Andy Griffith who steals every scene he is in. It's impossible to look away as he marauds his way across the desert, groping women and humiliating men. He's the kind of character you love to hate and hate to love. Rather like his character from A Face in the Crowd, but even more despicable.

Hard partying turns to cold-blooded murder, and the admen struggle with their consciences and their ambitions in dealing with the charismatically deranged Griffith. All the characters receive the fates they deserve by the action-packed finale, which is complete with a death-defying motorcycle duel along a cliffside.

While Pray for the Wildcats is no Night Stalker or Duel, it's a taut, believable thriller with an ensemble of talented performers. The Kino DVD looks good, if not great, but then these movies were never intended to enter into the National Film Registry.

Written by Mark Sieber

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