Bob Chinn’s Johnny Wadd series had come to an end when hardcore became a very risky business in vice-cop heavy L.A. and he had to hang back in the cut while biding his time producing softcore features. But after that had run its course and then dipping his toes back into the waters by helming a successful run of hardcore features in 1974 (including the freewheeling and spirited The Married Woman and the deep dark noir The Love Slaves), Chinn was given the opportunity to make some more appropriately budgeted movies for Freeway Films, headed up by producers Dick Aldrich and Armand Atamian.

The film Bob Chinn initially pitched was White Gold, an epic Johnny Wadd film that went from Los Angeles to Mexico and, finally, back up to San Francisco; a coastal adventure which would require a budget of $20,000. As he was attempting to keep his budgets at $15,000 apiece, Atamian balked at the idea. So Chinn pitched two films for $20,000, Atamian bit, and White Gold got split into Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here and Liquid Lips.

In Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here, the titular private eye (John Holmes) is summoned to Ensenada by old Army pal Sam Kelley (Aldrich), agent in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and whose doomed relationship to ex-wife Doreen (Veronica Taylor) has intersected with a federal drug smuggling case he is working involving San Francisco playboy and lethal heroin kingpin Travis Elliott (Tyler Reynolds). Wadd travels to Mexico to lend an assist but ends up getting caught up in an even bigger and more dangerous game.

The Johnny Wadd figure begins to come into full blossom in Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here with the more robust budget afforded to Chinn and full utilization of its incredibly evocative south of the border setting. As perfectly balanced as Tropic of Passion was for the more primitive age in which it was made, Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here is as close to perfect as you could get for a film with its budget. The difference in filmmaking between this and Tropic of Passion is pretty stark as it is much more refined, keeping a fantastic blend of colorful exteriors and well-cloaked interiors with a far better sense of direction in the former. Like Tropic of Passion, the exotic location serves the film well but this one has a hazier patina and a grittier quality shared by low budget drive-in films from the same era. But what’s most impressive is that Chinn successfully pulls off the illusion that every frame of the movie that is set in Mexico was actually shot there. This film had a semi-complicated production schedule as the Mexican exteriors had to match those interiors (and some exteriors) shot later in L.A. Chinn does an amazing job knitting it together, most impressively during a scene in which Wadd has to exit the inside of Cantina to walk to an adjacent bathroom outside.

With the hand-to-hand combat coming off as especially energetic and raw, Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here marks Chinn’s trademark sense of grown up play at a delightful high point. Baddies get blown off of rooftops, launched into cars, and hurled through doorways with an inertia that could be safely described as furious; homemade powder charges and low-budget squibs are employed with aplomb; and Chinn overcranks the camera to get some very fine action sequences in slow motion. Some folks fall hard on their ass but at least none of the wild swings, made at close proximity and with shocking passion by the actors, actually connect.

On top of all of that, Chinn squeezes a very hot and sweaty look out of Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here. Characters on both sides of the law creep in and out of dark shadows or are bathed in blood red. Everything looks mysterious and has a sultry energy that recalls something out of Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Bob Chinn and cameraman Frank Mills make the interiors look appropriately ominous and seedy which is helped immeasurably by the story’s melancholic tone.

And, to underscore that point, the Ennio Morricone music that blanketed many moments in the previous Johnny Wadd films surfaces again but, this time, Chinn primarily chooses selections from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) and Duck, You Sucker! {aka A Fistful of Dynamite} (1971), films much more elegiac in spirit than the trilogy of Leone/Clint Eastwood westerns that came before. And this is fitting as Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here itself feels operatic and tragic. There is a dark undercurrent that runs through this film and a real sadness that rolls on from Sam Kelley’s sad story about Doreen’s miscarriage down to Holmes’s well-played melancholy during his final confrontation with Elliott.

By the time cameras rolled on the film, Holmes had become a star and in Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here (and in Liquid Lips), audiences get the absolute best of him before he began to speed-run to an early grave. Lean but not emaciated, Holmes’s confidence might very well be measured by how much jewelry he’s wearing during the sex scenes in which, it should be noted, he’s absolutely and completely engaged. His heartfelt anti-drug screed at the end of the picture may get a chuckle these days given the path he’d eventually go down but those kinds of things really only have the benefit of hindsight and in 1976, everything looked like a golden horizon without an end. And let’s be honest, that bit of unfortunate irony cannot hold a candle to the majesty of Chinn’s beautiful coastal cinematography that runs on top of the dialogue. That stuff is gold. White gold, if you will.

Although marquee name Annette Haven was brought in for her star power and gets the film off on the right foot, Holmes’s sex scene with Felicia Sanda has to rank as one of the most genuinely erotic of the entire series. Cast, lit, and blocked as a softcore scene, the performers decided to call an audible on the field when they got completely overtaken in the moment. While explicit sex is obviously the “get” of adult films, the kind of realism captured by this particular situation is rare. Chinn makes the most of it by keeping Sanda’s facial reactions front and center while doing what he can to get cinematic proof that the deed was, in fact, the real deal. As shot and cut together, there is no doubt left in the mind of the viewer to its veracity.

The supporting cast of Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here turns in really fine work, as well. Producer Richard Aldrich is really good in his role as the doomed, lovesick narc agent as is Tyler Reynolds as the central heavy. Veronica Taylor projects a mournful aura, Felicia Sanda is fantastically alluring and, last but definitely not least, filmmaker Carlos Tobalina gives an adorably energetic performance as Captain Enrique Torres which actually captured him a Best Supporting Actor award from the AFAA in 1976 (where Chinn’s script was also nominated).

For all of its lavish splendor, Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here ended up getting shuffled behind Liquid Lips on the release schedule as time was needed to complete some of its additional sound effects. This may have made a certain amount of sense purely from a business vantage point but it sort of undermined the storytelling craft Chinn put into the effort. And it might have even confused some viewers who, at the end of Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here, saw the end credit that he would return in Liquid Lips, which they had probably already seen. But time has mostly flattened that decision and the films can be viewed in the way they were intended. Well, outside Chinn taking the two films and doing a super edit into one big, epic White Gold extravaganza.

I’m ready to sell a kidney to help fund that project, by the way.

(C) Copyright 2023, Patrick Crain

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