Go Daddy-o

Cinematic ass-kickin' runs in the Thrillsville family

CULT FILM STAR Veteran actor Robert Viharo apparently doesn't like talking about the shlockier stuff in his résumé. Of which there is a lot — although maybe no more than typical for any long-term Hollywood player who didn't reach that plateau where one can be picky.

For each prestigious film he was involved in — Romero (1989) with Raul Julia, television's Evita Perón (1981) with Faye Dunaway, even 1967's endlessly campy but hugely popular (even before gay people were invented) Valley of the Dolls — there were gigs of lesser repute. He guest-starred in network series from good (Hill Street Blues, The Fugitive, Kojak) to iconically beyond-good-and-evil (Dark Shadows, The Mod Squad, Starsky and Hutch, The A-Team). He appeared in independent features both cool — notably Over-Under, Sideways-Down, SF collective CineManifest's forgotten agitprop 1977 feature — and crappy. The following year in The Evil, he got electrocuted by Victor Buono as a cackling Satan.

Ironically, the very private Los Angeles resident's son is East Bay "Thrillville" impresario Will Viharo, a man who looooves his retro shlock. Expressing filial affection — if perhaps not exactly as dad might prefer — Will "The Thrill" presents two of pop's prime '70s big-screen vehicles in a Thrillville "Papa-Palooza" at Oakland's Parkway. Neither assignment likely thrilled a Lee Strasberg–trained Actor's Studio protégé who had hoped his career would turn out more Brando and less CHiPs. But they're both fun throwbacks that he brings considerable presence to.

Return to Macon County (1975) has him as a Georgia cop in pursuit of hot-rodders who royally ticked him off: then-unknowns Nick Nolte (Bo) and Don Johnson (Harley). This quasi-sequel to the 1974 hicksville hit Macon County Line (which featured Max "Jethro" Baer Jr. as Viharo's equivalent) is a larkier affair, all '50s nostalgia, wacky car chases, homoerotic undercurrents (when Bo gets a girlfriend, Harley bridles), and dialogue like so: "Arright, skin 'er on back, Jack, and don't talk back!"

Viharo got the too-rare chance to carry a movie in 1977's Bare Knuckles. Los Angeles bounty hunter Zachary Kane, clad in shiny leather and tight denim throughout, is friendly-to-flirty with every street denizen, including tranny hookers — yet he kicks snarling leatherman ass in a gay bar scene. Message: sure he's hep, but still a man, muthablowahs! (Even if in private moments he assumes the lotus position to play the flute.) Kane rescues a mistress (Sherry Jackson) from her abusive sugar daddy ... in a Pizza Hut parking lot, no less. Naturally she ends up menaced by the ladykiller (Michael Heidt) Kane is hunting down, psycho son of a Hollywood socialite mother ("Bring me another double Bloody!") resented both for commencing and ceasing incestuous relations.

Thespian (Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Green Acres) turned occasional director (1975's Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS) Don Edmonds here combines blaxploitation-style action with proto-slasher horror. But the centerpiece is Viharo Sr. With frizzy 'do, thick 'stache, and middling fitness (despite a training montage), he's like a more realistic Looking for Mr. Goodbar take on Burt Reynolds, then riding high on big-budget versions of Bare Knuckles and Macon County. Kane is hardboiled sexy ("I'm in a rough business! I don't need a woman tellin' me how to do it!"), but you'd best get an STD check after sharing that hot tub.

Robert Viharo ditched commercial gigs by the early '90s, eventually finding worthy screen work again in Rob Nilsson's improv-based "9@Night" series, which premiered in recent years at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

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