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Quite probably, Arch Hall jr is more of a star noe (at least in certain
circles) than he ever was in his day. As the teen idol his father, actor
Arch Hall sr tried to launch him, he was a rather unlikely choice, he was
rather short, a little plucky, he had the perfect soft face of a
mamma's boy, and he had big, almost enormous hair, which made him
instantly recognizable. His singing and guitar-playing wasn't too bad, but as a
matter of fact, he only ever released two singles during his short-lived
Rock'n'Roll career in the 1960's - and it wasn't until the mid-2000's that a
compilation album with songs from his films and a few live-cuts was
released, as a tribute first and foremost.
Arch only ever starred in 6
films, but despite the small number, his filmography seems richer than
that of most other actors, as his films range from hilariously bad to
grossly underrated to incredibly wacky, and back again ... but let's not
get ahead of ourselves and start at the beginning.
Arch Hall jr's story starts years before his birth, with his father, Arch
Hall sr, who entered the movie business in the late 1930's, playing small
roles in serials and B pictures, mainly for Republic
(e.g. Dick Tracy Returns [1938, John English, William Witney], Overland
Stage Raiders [1938, George Sherman]) and PRC
(e.g. Lone Rider
in Ghost Town [1941, Sam Newfield], His
Brother's Ghost [1945, Sam Newfield]) [PRC
history - click here]. In 1943, his only son, Arch Hall jr, was
born to him and his wife Addalyn Pollitt - who would later have small
roles in some of her husband's productions - in Van Nuys, California.
circa the mid-1940's, Arch Hall quit the film business and enlisted in the
army - and because he, born in 1908, was already too old to be sent into
the war (remember, World War II was still going on if winding down), he
joined a program that trained pilots that were too old for combat ...
later years, Bill Bowers, who served with Hall, wrote a screenplay about
Arch Hall sr's time with the army that was turned into a movie comedy in
1961 by Jack Webb - The Last Time I Saw Archie - with Robert
Mitchum starring as Arch Hall sr and Webb himself as Bill Bowers. Hall was
less than amused and sued Bowers for intrusion of privacy. Eventually the
case was settled out of court.
But I digress.
Let's return to
Arch Hall jr, whose story begins for real in the mid 1950's, when he was
about 11 years old and started to play the guitar. It wasn't long before
he got bitten by the Rock'n'Roll bug (remember, these were the 1950's),
and by the early 1960's he had formed a rock'n'roll combo, Arch Hall jr
and The Archers,
with high school buddy Alan O'Day - who in the 1970's became a successful
songwriter (e.g. Train of Thought by Cher, Rock'n'Roll Heaven
by the Righteous Brothers and Angie Baby by Helen Reddy) and even
singer (Undercover Angel, Skinny Girl) in his own right.
was in the late 1950's that Arch Hall jr's father returned to the film
business and tried to get a production company of his own, Fairway
International, off the ground, which was to produce cheaply shot
drive-in fare - something that would quickly make its money back. However,
he did not get his started until 1961 with 2 films, Magic
Spectacles (Bob Wehling) - a nudie comedy which is in some sources
credited to have been written by Arch Hall jr - and The
Choppers (Leigh Jason), which was based on a script by Arch Hall
sr himself - which he has been trying to sell since the late 1950's.
The Choppers is a
film about a bunch of teenagers who, out of parental neglect, have started
to make a business out of stripping other people's cars of all they are
worth and selling the spare parts to crooked garage owner Bruno VeSota.
And since Arch Hall jr was at the time trying to get a foothold in
showbusiness and was just the right age, who better to cast as the leader
of our teenage hoodlums - at least that's what Arch Hall sr thought ...
around the same time as The
Choppers was released, Arch Hall jr and the Archers also released
their first single, Konga Joe - which Arch also gets a chance to
sing in the movie.
Choppers wasn't too bad a movie, it was typical low-budget
drive-in fare but nothing to be ashamed of, and Arch Hall jr's
performance isn't too bad either, he plays his character in a poor
man's James Dean sort of way, as many young actors played their
juvenile delinquent roles these days ... and take it from me, there were
far worse actors out there. Only his pompadour made him stand out of the
crowd actually. As for Arch's singing and playing the guitar: He
certainly was no undiscovered genius, but in his own way, he was almost good
For Arch Hall jr's next two films though, his image was
more pushed into the direction of a teenage heartthrob à la Frankie
Avalon, with not quite as satisfactory results.
The first of the two
films was the infamous, notorious and notoriously infamous Eegah!
(1962), directed by Arch Hall sr himself based on his own story
(screenplay by Bob Wehling, by the way).
is the story of a caveman (Richard Kiel [Richard
Kiel profile - click here]) who is inexplicably (and
unexplained) alive in modern times and falls for a young girl (Marilyn
Manning) - who is of course the girlfriend of our teenage lead, Arch Hall
jr, and when the caveman kidnaps the girl and her father (Arch Hall sr)
and takes them to his cave, it's up to Arch to save them ... but of
course, when our caveman finds his girl gone again, he goes to the big
city to retaliate. This might all sound (unintentionally) hilarious,
unfortunately the finished film is far from it, the laughs are few and far
between while the whole film was apparently shot on such a low budget that
all the effects that a story of this kind would have demanded are totally absent,
leaving behind an uneven mixture of teenage lovestory, science fiction,
comedy and drama - and rather surprisingly, the film did incredibly well
at the drive in circuit and was since reissued on tape and DVD numerous
times - though one really wonders why.
As for Arch Hall jr: he is not
really good in this one, actually he is pretty bad - but in all fairness,
his role was bad as it is, he was not cut out to be a teenage heartthrob,
and he had to fight an awful script - and was defeated.
Arch was allowed to sing a few songs in Eegah!,
but that was nothing compared to his next film, Wild
Guitar (1962, Ray Dennis Steckler), in which he played a singer
and had thus to sing by default.
Guitar - a melodram about a hick songwriter (Arch Hall jr) who
comes to Hollywood to make it big only to fall prey to a crooked producer
(Arch Hall sr) - was the first film directed by cinematic weirdo Ray Dennis
Steckler whose heritage to wacky cinema would come to include The Incredibly
Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies
(1964), The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (1965) and Rat
Pfink a Boo Boo (1966). It is safe to say that Wild
Guitar, a typical music biz melodram scripted by Arch Hall sr and
Bob Wehling, is one of Steckler's most normal films, even if his genuine
wackiness is shining through in this one as well - especially in the
character of Arch Hall sr's psychotic PA, a role Steckler chose to play
By and large, Wild
Guitar is not a great film, but it's a definite improvement over Eegah!,
with Arch Hall jr getting a better grip on the role - even if he still
fails to totally convince as teenage heartthrob.
By the way, to promote Wild
Guitar, Arch also released another single (his second and last one
so far) and went on tour with his band.
After both Eegah!
and Wild Guitar tried
to establish Arch Hall as teenage heartthrob though, his next movie saw a
complete change of pace (and not just because Arch did not sing in it): In
The Sadist (1963),
directed by the much underrated B-movie auteur James Landis, young Arch
plays a total psychopath who relishes in torturing and killing - and in
the course of the (approx) 90 minutes movie, which is shot in real time,
he kills no less than 5 people before meeting his end in a snake pit. The
Sadist is and extremely tight thriller shot entirely in and around
service station/salvage yard and is directed as a game of cat-and-mouse
between young Arch and his girlfriend (Marilyn Manning) and a trio of
teachers (Richard Alden, Don Russell, Helen Hovey, the last actually being
The direction is very efficient in this film and helped
by great cinematography (by Vilmos Zsigmond, who eventually made his way
to being one of the top cinematographers in the business), but it's really
(and surprisingly) Arch Hall jr's performance that makes the film
worthwhile and disturbing (even if he at times hams it up a bit too much).
And interestingly, Marilyn Manning, who played Arch's sweetheart in Eegah!
(a role that was about as bad as all the rest of the film), plays the muse
for Arch's killing spree in The
Sadist - and is quite effective as well, almost as if Eegah!
had never happened.
By the way, the whole film was based on the then
recent killing spree by Charles Starkweather and his muse Caril Ann
Fugate, but the similarities are rather fleeting.
Sadist gave a taste of Arch's talent for playing more demanding
roles - but with his next film, Nasty Rabbit (1964, James Landis),
it was back to the land of wackiness ... even the premise sounds
ludicruous, Arch plays a James Bond-style secret agent who
disguises himself as a pop singer (yup, Arch sings again in this one) - or
is it even the other way round ? -, who is one of an ensemble of secret
agents from all over the world chasing a rabbit that carries a lethal
virus. Actually, the film is more Looney Tunes than James Bond, and is at times even funny (and intentionally so), but by
and large the film falls short of translating cartoon-like humour into a
live action enviroment, mainly due to a very tight budget.
Arch Hall jr is
of course an unlikely choice for being an international top agent in the James Bond-mold,
but for a change that works for the movie (and its inherent wackiness)
rather than against it.
In 1965, Arch made his last film (to
date), Deadwood '76
(James Landis), which was once again a deviation from his usual output (if
there is such a thing): Rather than another light comedy to turn him into
a teenage heartthrob, Deadwood
'76 is a serious Western that has Arch playing a gunman who is
thought to be Billy
the Kid, just because his name is Billy, he is young enough
and a quick draw. Actually he just wants to be left in peace and dig for
gold, but in the end he gets into more trouble than he can handle and is
made the guest of honour of a necktie party held by the local lynchmob -
which is maybe the most downbeat ending in Arch's short career.
performance in the film might not be great, but he is convincing enough
enough as the tough, quick drawing but essentially innocent youngster to
carry the movie - at least as long as his big (and un-Westernlike)
pompadour doesn't get into the way. Fortunately though, this being a
Western, Arch gets to wear a hat most of the time.
'76, gave up acting, which was never his greatest passion in the
first place. Plus his movies, while doing ok in the drive-in circuit,
weren't successful enough to make him a rich man. And when he married in
the mid-1960's, he needed a real job that could support his family - so he
made another one of his hobbies - aviation - his job and became a pilot,
first with the Flying Tigers from 1967 to 1989, and when they were
purchased by FedEx, he stayed with the company until his retirement
in 2003. It is rumoured though that he is occasionally piloting for a private
company even now ...
When young Arch quit acting, this pretty
much also meant the end of Fairway
International, and some sources claim Arch Hall sr was heartbroken
about his son's decision - which is possible but not terribly likely since
all young Arch did when quitting acting was to exactly follow his father's
footsteps and become a pilot instead.
Be that as it may, Arch the older by and
large retreated from the film business as well in the mid-1960's, and only
took occasional film jobs, like acting in, writing and producing the talk show parody
Irv Carlson Show (1971, Anthony M.Lanza),
co-writing Ted V.Mikels' The
Corpse Grinders (1972) and playing a small role in Robert Altman's
Thieves Like Us (1974), starring Keith Carradine and Shelley
Duvall. He died from a heart attack in 1978 ...
By and large,
Arch Hall jr's career as a pilot was much more rewarding than that as an
actor, and he was awarded with the Air Force Civilian Air Medal
twice during his career - first for his work in the
1975 Cambodian ricelift and again in 1991 during operation Desert
After his retirement, Arch wrote an adventure novel, Apsara
Jet, under the pen name Nicholas Merriweather, a hommage to his
father, who was often credited under this name (although spelled slightly
different) as well. Though the novel is entirley fictional, Arch Hall jr
drew heavily on his aviation experiences for it.
In 1984, the Medved
brothers included Eegah!
in their highly dubious The Fifty Worst Films Ever Made,
which sparked new interest in the cinematic output of Arch Hall jr, and with the
introduction of video and later DVD, his work was made accessible to a
whole new (and probably much broader) audience made up of trash movie
enthusiasts, drive-in fanatics and collectors of cinematic obscurities.
Eventually, the new-found interest in Arch culminated in the release of Wild Guitar, a
album-length CD finally
collecting his music from the 1960's (remember, all he released back then
was 2 singles) in 2005, the year he also gave a concert at the Ponderosa
Stomp festival in New Orleans.
Of course, with only 6 films
to his credit, Arch Hall jr's output is rather meagre, and with the
Sadist, his films might be anything but overlooked classics, but
trashmovie- and drive-in-land would be a much poorer place without him.