The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (1976)

Not that long ago, I covered the movie The Single Girls which starred Claudia Jennings.  Our lovely leading lady is back in a fun little action/exploitation/heist movie this week!

The Great Texas Dynamite Chase comes to us from director Michael Pressman.  Pressman is hardly a schlock auteur.  He would go on to make the cult classic Boulevard Nights which has been selected to be preserved by the Library of Congress as well as working with comedy heavyweights like Dan Aykroyd (Doctor Detroit) and Richard Pryor (Some Kind of Hero).  He’s more recently gone into television directing having done episodes of some Law and Order shows, Blue Bloods, and winning Emmys for Picket Fences.

My point is, this is hardly a flash in the pan kind of filmmaker.  And of course, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase would also be released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.  However, it should be of note that this is an exploitation movie that comes with fairly decent reviews.  This was praised for being exciting and sexy enough for the drive-in crowd while still being tongue-in-cheek with its comedy to attract the older audiences.  I suspect it played better to the Texas and southwest crowd, but found an audience over the years and is truly an exploitation gem.

I didn’t go too much into Claudia Jennings and her story when I covered The Single Girls, but I feel like I probably should.  I did mention she would make other cult classics (especially with the Sebastians) like Gator Bait.  I also made note of her 1970 Playmate of the Year claim to fame.  And I mentioned that she unfortunately passed away in 1979 before she even turned 30.

Jennings is a little bit of a cautionary tale in terms of models who hit it big and then went into movies and then sadly got into some less than good practices.

For the most part, you would have to dig a little deeper than Wikipedia to find out more about her.  Jennings was a sensation out of the gate after she posed for Playboy in 1969.  She had worked at the Playboy offices in the magazine’s original hometown of Chicago, Illinois in 1968 just out of high school.  She decided to pose because it would pay her $5,000 and that would be more than enough for her to pack up and head out to Hollywood to become an actress.

Naturally, she was stunning and it worked out.  Claudia Jennings was her stage name that she chose to avoid any embarrassment for her Midwest family due to her posing in the nude.  She would go on to appear several times in the magazine and was a legitimate favorite among the magazine’s readers (read: guys who really like the pictures).  She was in a serious relationship with songwriter Bobby Hart (who wrong many of the songs for The Monkees).

However, by the mid-70s, that relationship had ended and things began to spiral for Jennings in her life.  She developed a fairly hefty cocaine habit.  As she began using drugs and alcohol, her career began to dip.  Not because of her abilities, but her reliability started to fade.  She was seen in a Playboy special during this time obviously high and drunk.  She seemed more interested in partying with her lady co-host than doing the show she was hired to do.

After a pretty shitty relationship with a realtor, she decided to go sober and get her life back on track.  Besides, she was nearly considered as a replacement for Kate Jackson on Charlie’s Angels and was still very much liked and was a huge draw.  Sadly, the morning of October 3, 1979 proved fatal as she headed to her ex-boyfriend’s home to get the rest of her belongings.  She fell asleep at the wheel of her VW convertible and ran head on into another vehicle.  She died from the massive injuries suffered from the incident.

In an odd way, I think of her as someone who, like B-Movie Enema favorite Candice Rialson, was a perfect representation of lovely and lovable 70s exploitation stars.  As the decade ended, they wouldn’t be part of the 80s.  While Rialson would live into the 2000s, she had long quit acting.  Jennings may have had her best years yet in the 80s, but she belonged totally to the 70s.  It’s almost like how The Beatles existed solely for the 60s.  Anything beyond would be left to the next round of stars.

Alright.  Enough of that somber shit.  We have a fun ass heist movie to talk about!

I should also state that this movie also stars Jocelyn Jones who was our final girl in Tourist Trap.  Now, Tourist Trap stars the awesome Chuck Connors who was the titular Rifleman.  The Rifleman’s son was played by child actor Johnny Crawford.  Johnny Crawford plays the character Slim in The Great Texas Dynamite Chase.  How’s about that?

The movie opens with Candy Morgan (Jennings) escaping from prison.  She used a lighter and a stick of dynamite.  It worked.  She meets up with her sister, Pam, who brought a car for her to escape in, asks about how Candy will get cash, but Candy says not to worry and she’ll figure something out.  Cut to Ellie Jo, bank teller.  She oversleeps and is called into work.  When she gets to work, her boss fires her and basically calls her a whore to boot.

In walks Candy with a couple sticks of dynamite.  Ellie Jo stops a girl from tripping a silent alarm and then puts the money in a bag for Candy.  They are BFFs at first sight.  Candy takes off and Ellie Jo seems pretty proud of herself sticking it to her shithead boss.  A goofy cop shows up but parks on top of Candy’s lit stick of dynamite and gets his car blown up.  This will not be the last cop car to be blown up in this movie.

Candy returns home with the cash which is enough to save her Pa’s farm.  He’s quite pleased that she busted herself out of prison.  I love that this is a time in which bustin’ out of prison is something a father would sure be proud his daughter do.  He asks how she got this money and she talks about how she was on a road construction team in the slammer and she learned lots about the dynamite business.  Pa isn’t so happy at first, but then decides he and her dearly departed ma would be proud of her.

For busting out of prison.  And holding up a bank.  Threatening to blow everyone up.  Proud.

Ellie Jo decides to leave Alpine, Texas behind.  She’s had enough of this podunk town.  Meanwhile, Pa gives Candy a car to take off in and beat a hasty retreat from the fuzz.  By pure coincidence, Candy picks Ellie Jo up on the side of the road.  Candy wants to drop Ellie Jo off on the outskirts of the next town.  Candy is dangerous to ride with, but Ellie Jo has another idea.  She wants to rob another bank – with motherfuckin’ dynamite!

Pink shirt, you’re the tits!

This is a surprisingly easy sell.  Really, Candy wasn’t interested in being a bank robber.  She just wanted to get money for her dad’s farm.  Ellie Jo was really turned on by the excitement of the action at her bank.  Candy eventually decides that, fuck it, let’s rob banks with dynamite!  Their first attempt does not go over well.  The sticks they have are duds and they are unable to blow the vault open.  They go on a chase to get away from the cops, and barely make it.  Some good driving on the part of Candy gets them out of town and out of trouble, but not for long.

A single cop car finds them.  They try a stick of dynamite, but it flames out.  However, when the cops pull up along side, they try one last stick of dynamite, and this one is not a dud.

Cop car #2 to get blowed up.

After a scary car chase with the fuzz and explosions and such, the only thing to do is to go a bar for some dinner, and plan their next steps!  First, they are going to rob a shitload of banks.  Next, they are going to travel south to Mexico.  But they gotta get some dynamite that actually works.  They go to a mining company and find a hunky a dude named Jake that might have some dynamite to sell to them.

“Yes, ma’am. These permits do seem to be in order.”

He asks for their permits, but they don’t have any.  I mean they have sexy ass bodies, but they don’t have any permits.  She gets the guy off and then tells him that she and Ellie Jo are bank robbers and they use dynamite to do it.  He seems fairly cool with this.  I mean…  What’s he gonna do?  Tell her to get off him and go on while he calls the coppers?  Nah, he’s cool with this.  She gets Ellie Jo and Jake asks Candy to stay there with him to mine for gold in the hills.  When she refuses, he gives her a shotgun just in case things don’t work as expected.

They get a new car and head into the next town.  Ellie Jo goes in and asks to see the president to open a new account.  While she is talking to him, Candy calls in a bomb threat.  Everyone is told to evacuate while Ellie Jo hides and sets up some dynamite to blow the vault.  Candy pretends to be her sister, desperate to find her.  The vault blows while the cops restrain Candy.  This allows Ellie Jo to clean out the vault and exit pretending to be scared and shaken.

On their way out of the town, they get pulled over by a cop for speeding.  After seeing the girls, he radios in saying he’s gonna get him a piece of ass.  The rest of the station start taking bets on whether or not this copper, Carl, will be able to seal the deal.  He finds a Lone Star in their car and says that driving while under the influence is a steep fine and possible jail time.  But he’s willing to make an exception in their case.  So Ellie Joe is like, “Yeah sure, whatever.”  She gets his pants down and Candy grabs his gun while Ellie Jo cuffs him to a tree.  They light a piece of dynamite and it turns out to be a dud.

The next morning, they are at a resort and read a story about their robberies.  They are identified and also are labeled as killers as it says they are wanted in connection to the murder of a bank guard too…  Which they did not do.  It’s trumped up to make them that much more of a wanted duo.  They miss the closing time for another bank, and decide to go to store to get some food.  Ellie Jo is caught by the store manager for stealing something, and that leads to Candy needing to pull the gun she got from the cop and take a hostage – Slim.

They take a liking to Slim.  He seems relatively harmless and is a bit of a petty thief himself because he was stealing a bag of pretzels at the store they just hightailed out of.  They decide to have some fun with their new friend so they go to a nice hotel and get the bridal suite.  After the bellhop leaves, I’m pretty sure Jocelyn Jones and Claudia Jennings made the Rifleman’s little boy a man.  Many times over.

It’s really Ellie Jo that falls hard for Slim. This scene is actually kind of sweet while being overtly sexy.  There’s this slow, romantic song playing while they dance and have some wine.  While it is a nice sex scene and Jocelyn Jones is ridiculously hot in this scene, there is an itty bitty moment that makes this scene that much more interesting.  As they start to kiss and stuff, in the background, Claudia Jennings just quietly leaves the room and turns out the light.  This isn’t her scene.  This is for the other two.  It’s a nice little moment that helps kick start the sex scene.

Candy isn’t completely left without some fun, though.  She orders a bottle of champagne and asks for the bellhop to bring it to her and join her in the tub.  However, it is also soon found out that the people hanging out in the bridal suite are the bank robbers.  The hotel manager calls the cops and Johnny the bellhop warns them to get dressed and get out of there in a hurry.  When the cops bust into the bridal suite, they come in shotguns blazin’, but they are too late to stop them.

Slim joins the duo as someone who is constantly taken as a hostage in heists.  During one, he gets shot in the arm but recovers quick.  They continue their string of robberies, getting very good at being a threesome.  They even revisit some of the banks they’ve previously knocked over in the past.  They go to a dinner at a topless joint, and happen to get seated next to the bank manager they just threw into his own vault.  It’s a nice little reminder that the movie is tongue-in-cheek.  It’s also a wonderful reminder of what I often say about the little things making a movie fun or better or whatever.

Slim and Candy have a bit of a falling out because he isn’t used to the idea of laying low like Candy wants.  He suggests that he and Ellie Jo quit because they’ve made enough money.  There’s no need to do one more job before going to Mexico.  Candy wants to move onto that next gig.  Slim says he’s done, but Ellie Jo is staying with Candy.  They take him to the bus station, but he doesn’t get on the bus.  They go to a campsite and rent a secluded cabin to hang low for a bit.  However, the man who runs the site recognizes his face.

A few days pass and the police show up.  They find Slim and Ellie Jo by the lake.  While they close in on the couple, Candy returns from, I dunno, running errands, to find the cop car and goes to see what might be the deal.  Now, you might think the cops are moving in for an arrest.  But, motherfuckers, this is Texas.  You’re lucky they called out “FREEZE!” before blowing Slim away.  They don’t just shoot him once to, you know, make it easy for them to arrest him.  Didn’t you see what I said about this being Texas?  They pump that dude so full of led, he turns the fucking lake red when he falls in.

Candy comes to blow those pigs away and she takes the distraught Ellie Jo (who had just said she loved Slim before he got a lead sandwich from the PoPo Diner) to the car and they get the hell out of there.  Three days pass.  They are out of money and Ellie Jo only wants to sleep.  Candy refuses to sell the Rolls Royce she bought with some of their past heist money, so it’s the final big score she’s promised.  After that, they are leaving the country.

They pull into a quiet town near the border named Del Rio.  They go in, rob the place, and get in the car.  Ellie Jo mentions it seems way too easy.  Just then a cop pops up from the back seat and tells them she’s right.  Cops surround the girls, but Candy hits the officer in the back seat and Ellie Jo backs up quickly and gets out of the trap.

They steal a car and speed toward the border.  They think they found it and just have to get down the hill to a ranch right next to the border before they can cross it.  Candy is hurt from dealing with the cop in the back seat and the wreck.  They find a family who speaks Spanish, but they aren’t in Mexico yet.  Candy tells Ellie Jo to leave her but she refuses.  Seeing the cops have pinned them in, Ellie Jo decides they haven’t blown up nearly enough cop cars in this movie yet.  She straps some dynamite to the front of their car and sends it out to blow up two more cop cars.  In the ensuing madness of the cars exploding, they hop onto the horses the Mexican family had in their barn and cross over into Mexico.

The movie ends telling us that Ellie Jo is now married to a coffee bean magnate and lives quietly on the outskirts of Mexico City while Candy is going steady with the president of the Bank of Brazil.

This movie is fantastic.  It’s one of those movies where you do root for the outlaws because, aside from Candy and Ellie Jo being incredibly sexy women, they are incredibly likable.  They don’t really ever intend to hurt anyone with the dynamite shenanigans.  They just want to take that money.  The romance between Jones’ Ellie Jo and Crawford’s Slim is sweet and makes for a nice second half surprise to a movie that seems to originally just want these two girls to flirt, playfully make cops strip so they can get out of a ticket, and rob banks.  It also leads to that really big surprise in the final reel where Slim gets blown away.  It’s only at that point that you root against the cops and the only time our girls actually cause harm to anyone else directly.

The movie also shows just how good Claudia Jennings is as an actress.  She never was just another pretty face.  Sure, that helps get those ozoners into the drive-ins, but her performances were never second rate.  I most definitely recommend this as a fun little heist flick.

Next week, we’re going from one B-movie icon in Roger Corman to another – Russ Meyer.  Finally, after 200+ articles, I’m going to cover a Russ Meyer classic.  In fact, fuck it!  Let’s do a whole month, yes?  May is Russ Meyer Month here at B-Movie Enema and things kick off with 1965’s Mudhoney!

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