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Summer Rerun: Targets (1968).

August 14, 2009

The busy minions at Desuko World HQ are taking a well-deserved summer vacation, so in the meantime, enjoy these favorite posts from the past. [Originally published Dec. 14, 2006]

The Scoop:
While “Targets” presents the story of a moral crossroads, it also represents a cinematic crossroads — the end of the brilliant Boris Karloff’s career and the start of Peter Bogdanovich’s.

In his writing and directing debut, Bogdanovich crafts this cautionary, semi-autobiographical tale of aging horror movie star Byron Orlok (played by Karloff), who decides to leave the business when he realizes his life’s work can’t compare to the real horrors taking place on America’s streets everyday. The clips of Orlok’s past work are taken from the classic performances of Karloff, and to complete the real-life parallels, Bogdanovich even casts himself as the young director making Orlok’s last film. There is also a parallel plot concerning a troubled young man who goes on a shooting spree that is sadly all too familiar in our post-Columbine world. These two plot strands cross when the young shooter takes refuge in a drive-in theater that turns out to be the site of Orlok’s last public appearance before retirement.

This film offers an interesting exploration of the role of the entertainment media in the social upheaval of the late-’60s (it was released in the late spring of 1968, shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, but before the shooting of Robert Kennedy) that has grown even more prescient today. And Bogdanovich challeges the viewer by filming from the point of view of the shooter, putting the audience in the killer’s shoes.

Despite his obviously failing health, Karloff gives the strongest, most human portrayal of a career marked my more depth than most horror actors’. In a perfect world, this swan song performance would’ve been recognized with an Oscar. Instead, the poverty-stricken Karloff followed his performance here with appearances (confined to a wheelchair) in a quartet of bad Mexican cheapies, filmed over the course of a couple weeks, before dying in 1969. But forget those duds — this is the true, final summation of one of the truly great acting careers in film.

Best Line:
Karloff’s summation, “Is that what I was afraid of?”

Best Bit:
The staging of the freeway shooting scene.

Side Notes:
1) Bogdanovich originally offered the lead role to Vincent Price, who turned it down. 2) The film showing in the drive-in at the end of the movie is “The Terror” (1963), in which Karloff costarred with a young Jack Nicholson. 3) The victim who dies in the phone booth is none other than Mike Farrell, who went on to a more distinguished career in television, starring in “M*A*S*H” and “Providence.”

Companion Viewing:
Two of this film’s cinematic descendents — “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “Natural Born Killers” (1994).


Take a Look:
A kinda spoiler-y TV spot:

Here’s Boris Karloff spinning a classic scary tale:

And then there’s this…

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