Monday, July 30, 2007

Jaws with Claws

Last week I went to see “Jaws” at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove, and that marvelous movie experience inspired me to put in the DVD player a movie I picked up awhile ago, but had yet to watch, “Grizzly” (1976), one of the first of the nature runs amok movies that were made in the wake of “Jaws.”

It was OK, nothing great, but perfectly serviceable, and nice and gritty in the way a lot of 1970s horror movies are. It does follow the “Jaws” formula pretty slavishly. There’s an exceptionally large and ferocious grizzly bear attacking and eating campers in a national park. Park management does not want to publicize the bear attacks for fear of driving away the tourists. It’s up to forest ranger (Christopher George), an expert in grizzlies (Richard Jaeckel) and a helicopter pilot (Andrew Prine) to join forces and track the bear down.

The bear attacks are swift and bloody and more explicit than the attacks in “Jaws.” I was amused to watch how the title creature is dispatched and it all moves along fairly painlessly for 90 minutes.

A big plus for the film is the score by Robert O. Ragland, a talented composer who never broke out of the B movie arena. My favorite score of his is for a Charles Bronson picture called “Messenger of Death” (1988) which features a massive main title piece for orchestra and chorus that would not be out of place in an “Omen” movie, instead of an action thriller about feuding Mormon families.

I met Mr. Ragland in the 1990s at the Society of the Preservation of Film Music tribute to Jerry Goldsmith at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. He was there with his wife Martha (the former Mrs. Alfred Newman). I met quite a few composers and directors there that night and my program boasted quite a few autographs. I was talking to Martha when she introduced me to her husband. I told him how much I enjoyed his work and asked him to sign my program. He agreed and looked at my other autographs and said, “You’ve got all these great people here. Why do you want my autograph?”

I said, “Are you kidding? “Messenger of the Death” is a great score.”

“Ah,” he said with an amused look on his face. “So you’re the one person who saw that movie.”

Nice man, and a good composer.

Rating for “Grizzly”: Two and a half stars

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