The Mad Bomber (1973, Bert I. Gordon)
In his early 70s movies, Bert I. Gordon was prone to utilize players like Orson Welles or, as here, Chuck Connors, whose considerable size (admittedly in different ways)was seemingly called upon to embody the director’s famous acronym in more realistic terms than the gallery of gigantic men, monsters and animals upon which much of his career was built. Despite somewhat routine plot development, Gordon’s The Mad Bomber is built on the offbeat premise of casting archetypal he-man Connors as a gauche, gawky, mild-mannered, rather nerdy eccentric loner who makes bombs in the solitude of his home, which he later uses to murder people in their dozens as a punishment to the society that accommodated the death from overdose of his daughter and the ensuing breakdown of his own marriage. One of his deeds is witnessed by a rapist (Neville Brand), who will later be given a light treatment by the police in exchange for his collaboration.
The audience is given glimpses into the lives of both criminals. The still-married Brand regularly watches porn home movies featuring his wife (possibly suggesting an inability to physically realize his marriage) and it is during one such session that he dies from one of Connors’s bomb attacks while jerking off in the solitude of his private screening room. Meanwhile, in contrast with the rapist’s unambiguously antisocial stance, a very stentorian Connors, gawkily walking from one desolate-looking LA location to the next, aggressively takes to task assorted passersby, motorists and shop clerks while lecturing them on the evils of littering, reckless driving and overcharging customers. One is not sure whether audiences are meant to detest the man on this count alone (as one would dislike the cranky Frankland, of The Hound of the Baskervilles) or feel a measure of sympathy for his stand against sloppy, selfish neighbors, perhaps even find this mass murderer of innocent people some kind of Monsieur Verdoux, a potentially decent man driven to homicidal activity by large-scale impersonal evils he can’t control. One thing is certain: this is a film of the seventies, in which anti-heroes and moral grey areas were common and also when acts of what might be termed terrorism were committed by lone individuals or small groups with no chance to effect any change to the republic. In today’s political climate, one could simply not make a film whose protagonist, however much presented as a criminal, was a bomber.
The cop character played by Vince Edwards is given no equivalent scenes to those given Connors or Brand, even if the script flirts with the notion (more novel at the time than it is now) of the law enforcer as being almost as obsessive and disturbed (and in this case, similarly beset by family troubles) as the violent criminals it is his job to pursue. Tossed about occasionally and inconsequentially, this idea goes for little, particularly since Vince Edwards’s bland performance fails to flesh out the role, thus leaving the viewer to settle for the more successful characterizations of his two co-stars. Chuck Connors’s quasi-senatorial voice serves him well during his character’s moralizing diatribes, but his performance is ultimately better in design than in actual realization: he somehow lacks the depth and fullness of a good character actor, especially when set aside Neville Brand’s admirable turn as the rapist.
Much of the film’s low budget would seem to have gone into special effects (explosions, the mutilated corpses left in their wake) that impress in so modest a production but which may have distracted from showing equal care elsewhere: while the cinematography, credited to Gordon himself, suits the film’s gritty tone well, it is often marred by mistimed racking and unwanted loss of focus.