Jan-Michael Vincent 15th July 1944 – 10th February 2019

I woke up this morning with a pain in my chest and now I have an ache in my heart because one of my very earliest heart throbs has died. Jan-Michael Vincent first impressed me when he was The World’s Fastest Athlete for Disney and Link Simmons in The Banana Splits and late one night on TV I saw The Mechanic: him learning to be a hitman with Charles Bronson – you can see my point. I think I was 9 when I caught that one. Later still I discovered him in Big Wednesday which is, you know, the best film ever. And again, a wonderfully atmospheric early 70s romantic mystery, Sandcastles.  And when I could actually see him on the big screen proper at the cinema he appeared alongside my other favourite guy, Burt Reynolds, in the fantastic Hooper (Vincent had been in an episode of Reynolds’ show Dan August). He did action roles, good ol’ boys and romantic heroes. He even did a couple of Cheech and Chong moviesBut to the whole wide world he is really best known for Airwolf, which made him one of TV’s highest paid actors in the 80s in the role of Stringfellow Hawke. He got a Golden Globe nomination for The Winds of War, the massively successful TV adaptation of Herman Wouk’s novel which brought our favourite conflict into the comfort of our living rooms. He had a charming smile and he didn’t so much walk as swagger:  you couldn’t take your eyes off him in a scene. Prestige projects had long tapered off by the 90s and he even appeared in some ‘erotic’ dramas with the likes of Shannon Tweed but in 1996 Vincent Gallo recognised his cult value and cast him in Buffalo ’66.  He endured several illnesses and one led to the amputation of his lower right leg,.  He officially retired in 2009, the glory days long behind him. His death has just emerged today. May he rest in peace. He was loved – so very much. Keep surfing, Matt. Dying is for faggots

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Shadow of the Hawk (1976)

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As a child I had a crush on Jan-Michael Vincent. After all, he was The World’s Greatest Athlete and The Mechanic! (And that was before I saw Big Wednesday … oh golly.) Here he’s a half-Indian computer programmer who experiences a weird underwater event with a strange masked body pulling him under. When he throws a party at his duplex apartment who shows up but Chief Dan George, his medicine man grandfather Old Man Hawk who’s had some strange warnings himself and fetched up in a hospital far from home. Journalist Marilyn Hassett convinces the guy to take grandpa 300 miles back to his village to battle the evil sorceress Dsonoqua, who’s trying to destroy their strong medicine because their ancestors put her to death two hundred years earlier after she killed her family. (Talk about holding a grudge.) Their road trip is filled with bad voodoo including a 1958 Pontiac appearing and disappearing and reappearing and putting them off the road. Bad things just happen, rather randomly, with some flashbacks to totemic owls and the like. And then Little Hawk (as grandpa christens him) has to battle a bear, kinda like Leo did in The Revenant. And it seems to be a real bear, not a metaphorical bear. This never comes together at the screenplay level but it’s diverting and a preparation for that near-masterpiece Wolfen, a few years later, when these kinds of themes would be crystallised more clearly in a civilisation clash.  This looks very nice but really, you can’t blame Old Man Hawk for wanting to go fishing after his grandson has risen to the challenge. It’s not easy to battle a 200lb Alsatian – I should know. I have the scars from just such an encounter. Having to watch it go down must be exhausting.

Damnation Alley (1977)

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For those in the know there isn’t much left of the source novel concerning the post-apocalyptic travails of a bunch of people who are thrown together trying to survive the impact of nuclear bombs which have tilted the earth’s axis and altered the climate (plus ca change…) Led by General George Peppard, teamed once again with Jack Smight for whom he starred in the director’s debut film (and who directed him in a couple of episodes of Banacek), this is a handsome, savvy production, undoubtedly due to the safe pair of hands it was in and the screenwriting chops of both Alan Sharp and Lukas Heller. This surely paved the way for Peppard’s A-Team role. It also stars Jan-Michael Vincent who had a few years of real stardom in the mid-70s and his charisma is tangible. Rounding out the cast are the unfortunate Paul Winfield, the beautiful Dominique Sanda who believed a promoter in Vegas that he could introduce her to Sinatra (and found herself in a shelter when the bombs fell) and the fascinating teenager Jackie Earle Haley who would be in a very interesting bicycling movie soon thereafter. It behoves us to state that should you find yourself in a nuclear explosion it helps to have a huge tank or all terrain vehicle. And beware the killer cockroaches.