Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Jan-Michael Vincent, Going to Seed on Roger Corman’s Dime

If you’re thinking about the Roger Corman world, the letter V could stand for Virginia Nugent. Ginny, one of the nicest and most capable assistants I remember from Concorde-New Horizons, parlayed her Corman experience into a series of studio line-producer jobs, then was named Vice-President of  West Coast Production at HBO. I also want to salute the feisty Pamm Vlastas, a Corman distribution ace who eventually moved out on her own.

But instead I’m going to talk about Jan-Michael Vincent. If you look at Vincent’s IMDB page, you’ll see a photo of a Golden Boy, a shirtless hunk who starred in Seventies films like the surfing flick, Big Wednesday. I paid little heed to him until 1992, when he was sent to the Philippines to star in a Vietnam picture I had a hand in writing. In that era, with America’s involvement in Vietnam long over, we at Concorde took advantage of warfare’s dramatic possibilities to produce a whole slew of battlefield epics. Fortunately, some of our writers -- like Tom Cleaver -- had actually done combat in ‘Nam, once upon a time. The rest of us just faked it as best we could: there was hardly an opportunity for detailed research. And in a Concorde movie, realism didn’t much matter, as long as the script had plenty of blood and guts and derring-do.

Here’s the official Concorde description of Beyond the Call of Duty, as posted on IMDB: “While leading a maverick band of warriors behind enemy lines, a U.S. Army Commander is forced to lead a beautiful American journalist through the treacherous Mekong River Delta aboard a high speed gun boat while being pursued by a cunning Vietnamese enemy.” The cunning Vietnamese enemy forces were  of course portrayed by devil-may-care Philippine stuntmen, who specialized in remarkable flips and somersaults when hit with prop bullets. And the tough but tender U.S. Army Commander was played by Jan-Michael Vincent, who was in a downward career spiral but still had enough of a name to be useful for Roger Corman purposes.

Director Cirio Santiago had seen a lot of shenanigans on his sets, but Vincent apparently took the cake. His drinking was a constant problem for cast and crew. For one particular scene, his feet were so swollen that he couldn’t pull on his boots, so he was photographed from the knees up to mask the fact he was barefoot. His situation on our film wasn’t unique. When Clark and Isabel Henderson were working on a non-Corman picture in the Philippines, they remember something of the same. In medium shots there’d be two guys out of camera range holding up Vincent, who was simply too drunk to stand. Said Henderson, “I’ve never seen a guy so totally bombed and out of it in my life.” 

Such is life in a low-budget company. Your cast is usually filled with newbies (not to mention, if you’re shooting abroad, foreign nationals with shaky English skills), but there’s often a role for a headliner who used to be something of a box-office draw, ‘way back when. And many of those veterans are much the worse for wear. It’s sadly ironic how he-man looks and acting talent don’t last, while Roger Corman goes on and on.


  1. i think it is funny that the lower the budget the longer the movie title... movies are weird like that.... sorry off the grid due to an illness.

  2. Welcome back, Jeremy. Regarding long titles, what about Gas-s-s-s! -- Or it Became Necessary to Change the World in Order to Save It?

  3. Wow. I've heard stories about Mr. Vincent - very similar to these. Sad end to a once promising career.

  4. Yes, and not a unique end for a one-time Hollywood star, alas.

  5. Update: I've heard via Steve Carver that Jan-Michael Vincent has gone off the sauce and has totally remade his life. Good to hear.