“It’s the middle of the week and he’s looking both ways for Saturday.”
Welcome to Missed Connections, a weekly column where I get to highlight films that are little known and/or unfairly maligned. I’ll be shining a light in two directions ‐ I hope to introduce you to movies you’ve never seen and possibly never heard of, and I’ll attempt to defend films that history, critical consensus, and maybe even your own memories haven’t been very kind to.
This week’s pick is a late 70s crime “gem” well worth seeking out despite the difficulty you’ll have in finding it, but the recent passing of character actor Rance Howard makes it even more timely. Sure, it’s just a small role in one of the more than 250 films/shows to his name, but it’s a bonkers one most people haven’t seen.
Keep reading for a look at this week’s Missed Connection… 1978’s Mr. No Legs.
The basic synopsis of this late 70s tale of cops vs crooks seems pretty straightforward on the surface. A young woman is found dead, the victim of an apparent overdose, but the police realize the drugs were administered postmortem. They quickly discover a link to the city’s most infamous dealer and a leak high up in their own department, and soon the evildoers will be made to pay. Complications arise, though, when it’s revealed that the dead woman is Det. Andy’s (Ron Slinker) younger sister. He partners with the wise-cracking Det. Chuck (Richard Jaeckel), and together they chase down leads and set their sights on the titular mob enforcer, Mr. No Legs (Ted Vollrath).
It’s here where the movie walks a fine line between traditional action/thriller and exploitation, and it delivers B-grade thrills on both fronts. The high points are clearly with Legs, though, as his introduction comes by way of rolling into frame, saying hello, flipping up shotguns that were previously hidden in the armrests of his wheelchair, and blowing away a pair of low-level thugs. Legs is a bad guy, but he has zero patience for others of his ilk who fuck up their minimal duties. His attitude eventually rubs the boss man, D’Angelo (Lloyd Bochner), the wrong way, leading to a poolside attempt on Legs’ life that is among cinema’s greatest achievements. He uses karate, a throwing star hidden in his chair’s wheel, and slow-motion ferocity to kill a half dozen able-bodied men, and it is glorious.
Legs gets the film’s best scene, but other gems abound. A woman with an unidentifiable accent takes Andy home to an apartment carpeted wall to wall in polar bear-skin rugs. A fight breaks out in the world’s most inclusive bar involving whites, blacks, a midget, a transvestite, and of course, Mr. No Legs. A nameless thug attacks — with slashes, stabs, and thrusts — Andy’s Camaro with a broad sword. There’s even a twelve (!) minute car chase featuring neither Legs nor our hero detectives — seriously, it’s twelve minutes of a different bad guy running faceless cops and their cars off the road, causing crashes and fires, and ending in a conspicuously placed pile of ice blocks.
It’s unclear which of the two plots is the A story line and which is the B as they’re both given equal weight, and shockingly — audaciously even — the two don’t even end together! The film has the absolute gall to set up these extremes between the good guys and the bad, and then doesn’t even bring Legs and the detectives together for a final face-off. It’s a ballsy move that can’t help but fascinate and infuriate.
The filmmakers are every bit as odd and compelling as their film as both director Ricou Browning and writer Jack Cowden are perhaps best known as the creators of Flipper. Browning actually has one other claim to fame as the man inside the Gill Man suit in three Creature from the Black Lagoon films. The dialogue and direction here never quite reveal a talent or skill behind them, but there’s fun to be found in the action sequences as fist fights, gun battles, and that epic-ish car chase all deliver thrills and entertainment despite the clear limitations of budget and talent.
On the one hand it’s clear why Mr. No Legs has never been released onto DVD or Blu-ray. The acting is rough, the language is rougher, and a legless guy nicknamed Mr. No Legs flexes in front of leggy molls before unleashing martial arts fury and shotgun blasts upon his enemies. But on the other…
Follow along every Monday with Missed Connections — my appreciations of movies that failed to find an audience for one reason or another.