When Overdrive (briefly) went Hollywood
Now on DVD is perhaps the oddest trucking movie ever made: iMoonfire, the long-unseen low-budget 1972 release written, produced and directed by iOverdrive founder Michael Parkhurst. Hard to follow and hard to forget, it’s about a lost space capsule, a gang of Mexican bandits and a fortune hidden inside a load of lettuce.
The DVD has no audio commentary track, alas, but here’s our poor substitute, based on the scene-by-scene notes we took as the movie unfolded. (The comments below assume you’ve seen the movie already; they make no attempt at a summary, though they do give away a number of spoilers.)
Parkhurst’s biggest coup may have been getting Marty Robbins to sing the theme song, “The Wheel of Life,” over the opening and closing credits. Robbins was just about country music’s biggest star in the early 1970s, though we can’t recall his being known for trucking songs.
Top billing goes to Richard Egan. Egan, who died in 1987, was a leading man best remembered today for getting top billing in Elvis Presley’s first movie. His top billing in iMoonfire may be equally unfair, as we will see.
Second billing goes to Charles Napier. This tall, muscular, blond actor with a Dudley Do-Right jawline was known in Hollywood at the time mainly for his full-frontal nude scene (known in the trade as a “pickle shot”) in Russ Meyer’s bizarre softcore iCherry, Harry and Raquel. Napier learned to drive a truck for this movie and subsequently spent a couple of years as a roving correspondent for iOverdrive, before returning to the character roles and voice-over work with which he has made his living ever since. His best-remembered movie role may be the vengeful leader of the Good Old Boys in iThe Blues Brothers, but his best performance was as a bigamist trucker in Jonathan Demme’s iCitizens Band, the best movie to emerge from that short-lived 1970s craze. He subsequently had small roles in a number of Demme movies.
The third big name in the acting credits is Sonny Liston, the former heavyweight champion who lost the title to Cassius Clay in 1964, before Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Liston was found dead at home in Las Vegas by his wife in January 1971 – from a drug overdose, according to authorities, though many found the circumstances suspicious – which means his iMoonfire scenes had to have been filmed about two years before the movie was released. (He actually delivers his lines pretty well, and may have had a Jim Brown-level acting career had he lived.)
Note that deep in the credits, Ed Begley Jr. is credited as a camera assistant. Yes, the future actor-comedian star of iSt. Elsewhere and iLiving with Ed was doing camera work at this very early stage of his career, mostly on TV commercials.
As the movie unfolds, fans of old Westerns immediately will ask: Is the more talkative of the sinister Mexican bandits – the one clearly intended as comic relief – the diminutive actor who played the bartender in iRio Bravo? No, that was Pedro Gonzales Gonzales; this is his older brother, Jose Gonzales Gonzales. Their Frito Bandito roles in U.S. movies, which doubtless make La Raza activists wince today, were interchangeable.
The other Mexican bandit is played by Joaquin Martinez, a well-known movie “heavy” of the 1970s, sort of the Mexican Charles Bronson. He had the title role, for example, in the Burt Lancaster Western iUlzana’s Raid.
The title iMoonfire, like the later James Bond movie title iMoonraker, refers to a space mission. We learn this early on, as Egan listens to a news report in his cab. Note that the goal of the secret launch is a satellite TV network to rival ABC, CBS and NBC. In that one respect at least, this is a prophetic movie, as satellite TV networks became commonplace a few years later.
Egan’s character is named Sam Blue, which sounds like the name of a character in a Russ Meyer movie. At the truck stop, Sam visits with his friend Ira Morris, played by actor Sandy Rosenthal. Ira Morris was the actual name of the manager of the truck stop where much of iMoonfire was filmed, the Triple T in Tuscon, Ariz., and the real Morris briefly will show up later.
Sam brandishes his collection of bad checks from crooked brokers. This is one of the moments Parkhurst refers to at the Internet Movie Database, where he calls iMoonfire “>the most technically accurate trucking movie ever made.”