Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Playing Friday night only at FilmBar Phoenix, for those who might want to kick off their Independence Day weekend with a feast of Canadian ham:

Shatner!!! The Lost YearsFrom 1969, when the original Star Trek series ended, until the late ‘70s, when the first Star Trek feature film hit theatres, William Shatner was extremely…available. Divorced and broke, he lived for a time in a camper and essentially answered the phone not with “hello” but with “I’ll do it.”

To call this period in Shatner’s career “The Lost Years” is, in a sense, a misnomer, since he was rarely more visible—he racked up a staggering number of credits on episodic television, TV movies, low-budget schlock films, game shows, talk shows, commercials, anything. I myself saw him during those years, in a 1973 Kenley Players production of Arsenic and Old Lace in Warren, Ohio, with Sylvia Sidney and Peter Lupus. It was certainly one of the highlights of my eleventh year on earth.

Well, Friday at FilmBar, The Unfathomable Film Freakout presents this compilation of movies, abridged down to their Shatnerian essence. We see him at his tortured best as the lapsed priest facing druidical evil in The Horror at 37,000 Feet, alongside the likes of Chuck Connors, Buddy Ebsen, Paul Winfield, Jane Merrow, France Nuyen, Russell Johnson and Roy Thinnes, among others, besieged by angry arachnids alongside Pamela Tiffin, Woody Strode and my friend (even if he is, now, a conservative member of the Arizona legislature) Jay Lawrence in Kingdom of the Spiders, battling a demonic Ernest Borgnine in The Devil’s Rain, or pursuing David Carradine in an episode of Kung Fu. In the latter his character asserts that, after long travels, he is “Rump-sprung and callused where no man ought to be callused,” which may have described Shatner’s actual feelings about his own life at the time.

This facetiously-edited footage is enjoyable for Shatner fans, although I would like to have seen shorter clips and a wider selection—especially, Shatner clashing with a scary Andy Griffith in the 1974 wheeler Pray for the Wildcats. But the really juicy and nostalgic items are the clips which connect the movie footage, showing Shatner on the talk shows of Dinah Shore or Mike Douglas, turning songs like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” or “How Do You Handle a Woman” or Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” into overwrought spoken-word monologues, or doing commercials for Loblaws supermarkets or Promise Margarine, or competing on Celebrity Bowling with Fran Jeffries, against Hugh O’Brian and Michele Lee, or breaking boards with his fist on Circus of the Stars.

The songs are excruciating. Like, really excruciating. But everything else in Shatner!!! The Lost Years transcends the snark. Eventually, of course, Shatner got in on the joke, and like his countryman Leslie Nielsen, became an improbable comedy star. But it’s exhilarating to watch a sample of the years before that happened—to see the guy gut out a decade’s worth of paychecks, working with other vivid performers of the period, particularly since you know that wealth and Emmys and a Golden Globe are in his future.

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