MASTERS OF DISASTER: MARJOE GORTNER in EARTHQUAKE

In the aftermath of a cataclysmic natural disaster, one’s essential character is revealed. In the case of the Mario Puzo-scripted Earthquake, human nature itself is laid bare, revealing the assorted stresses and fault lines that push mankind to the brink of ruin. Take George Kennedy’s rogue cop, the kind of sass-first, questions-later sort who, against the odds, believes that a man who runs over a child should be chased, subdued, beaten, and set aflame, even if Zsa Zsa Gabor’s precious hedge is bent in the process. Or Lorne Greene’s wealthy businessman, who casts aside profit and comfort – and the entirety of his dress shirt – all so he can lower his underpaid secretaries from atop a burning building using little more than grit, panty hose, and the decade’s most knee-weakening moustache. And hell, what about Chuck Heston, there as always, fighting off a boozing Ava Gardner and her umpteenth suicide attempt for a chin-first assault through the city’s fallen concrete in search of the weak and wounded. Or, sadly, we could be Marjoe Gortner, the child evangelist turned actor, who believes an obliterated city is a breeding ground not for compassion, heroism, or the better angels of our nature, but rather the rape and murder of mushroom cloud-coiffed hippies and their mean-spirited, gay-baiting minions.

When we first meet Jody – just Jody – he is humorlessly running a grocery store in the middle of a flower child uprising. Moonies, Hare Krishnas, and deadbeats alike swarm his den of overpriced iniquity; the sort of place where a sign stating “Credit is Dead – Don’t Ask for It” threatens to overtake the displays. But when a cute little number sporting a white woman’s version of the Angela Davis can’t afford her groceries (Victoria Principal!), he steps in – Colonel Sanders tie and all – and gives her a pass. Generosity in the midst of a tough recession? Hardly. He knows, as we all do, that this being Los Angeles, it’s only a matter of time before the Big One hits and he is given the opportunity to exploit mass chaos and bust a long overdue nut. He has a thing for faces, and he’ll remember this young lady through flood and fire alike. In an instant, though, he hears radio chatter about the need for National Guardsmen in the wake of a tremor. Thank the stars he has just such an outfit at home – the very home where women in bikinis plaster the same wall as hundreds of naked, muscle-bound men. Within seconds of his arrival – and his parting the sea of bigots who call him “faggot” and hit him with trash – he has shaved both his head and moustache and is ready to hit the streets as a keeper of the peace.

Then, the massive quake hits and Jody disappears for a good hour of screen time. When he’s seen again, he’s walking on patrol, eyes and ears on alert for no-good sons-a-bitches. At last, one appears. It’s that broke-ass hippie girl again, daring to use a broken city as an excuse to steal a donut. Chocolate glazed! She’s damn near shot right then and there, but Jody insists he take care of her. “She’s a friend,” he pleads, and proceeds to push her towards some dark, out-of-the-way rubble where he can paw at her hair and talk about opening a karate school (“There’s a lot of money in karate, you know”, he insists). Suddenly, those same bigots from earlier that day appear, and they’ve been discovered with jewelry in their pockets. This being a catastrophe where a good 400,000 are dead or dying right at this moment, Jody declares that they must be shot. He threatens, pulls back, then jokes, all so he can shoot the men at point blank range. Another guardsman seems slightly upset, but need Jody remind him that thieves and scum, just this sort, are always at his grocery store trying to use green stamps after they’ve expired? His tormentors safely vanquished, he returns to the girl. Oh, and that tight t-shirt, which simply must come off.

Dressing her up with the stolen jewelry and droning on about taking care of her since, well, her entire family just has to be dead and all, Jody tears her clothes, prompting him to roar, “Only a whore would wear something like that!” Kennedy and Heston try to intervene, but Jody keeps them at bay with his trusty rifle. It’s time, and the penetration must commence. Then, in a flash, GK returns, putting a bullet in Jody’s chest before he buttons his trousers. He’s dead. Eyes wide open with that ever-present smirk, but dead and gone. GK comforts the poor girl: “Earthquakes bring out the worst in some guards, that’s all.” Indeed. But never let us forget the ingenuity and wit of our Jody, the sort who, while clearly conflicted about sex and love during peacetime, could not let a disaster pass without channeling his inner deviant. It’s the American spirit that makes lemonade out of lemons, or reaps millions from war and suffering. Damn Jody if you must for impersonating a soldier and satisfying a lust for both revenge and that elusive orgasm, but history is surely more than a tale of self-sacrifice and martyrdom. Sometimes, the real nobility is just being true to yourself.

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
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