While many film enthusiasts can easily name a dozen or two of their favorite action stars, the action cinema of the last few decades encompasses hundreds of great actors whose work is waiting to be discovered. Author david j. moore's new book The Good, The Tough, and the Deadly: Action Movies & Stars 1960s-Present is an essential guide to both the well known and lesser known action stars that defined the genre. Midnite Ticket recently spoke with david about what inspired this project, his approach for deciding on what films and actors to focus on and much more.
MT: What was your approach for deciding what actors and films to include in the book?
dm: Once I realized that the connective tissue between all of these men and women was their athletic prowess, their abilities in martial arts or sports or bodybuilding or whatever avenue or physicality played a major role in their careers before they became actors, that seemed to be the key to unlocking the whole thing. There was a system to it from that point on. It became easier to track down people and to eliminate people, like Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson and Miles O'Keefe. It broke my heart a little bit, and I knew a lot of readers were going to be upset. I've had negative feedback and positive feedback saying, "Why did you only review Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2?" or "Why did you only review Road House 2 instead of Road House also?" I put a review of Lethal Weapon 4 in there because Jet Li is in it.
There had to be a reason for the movies to be in there on the basis of what my definition was of an action star and that is if they crossed over from a world of sports or a field where physicality played a role in their careers before they became actors. I had to make a couple of essential exceptions, like Sylvester Stallone. Without Stallone, the whole concept falls apart. He's always been sort of an anomaly because he pushed his way into the business. He's the guy at the center of the poster of the Expendables movies, so how can you not include Stallone? He is every bit an action star. You can look at somebody like Bruce Willis and think, “That guy, he started on TV and he has done lots of comedies and dramas in the middle of all of these action movies that he's known for.”
I still don't consider Bruce Willis an action star. He doesn't have the physicality that the other guys do. He's an actor. I could say the same exact thing with Matt Damon or Daniel Craig. Those guys, if they have to punch and kick somebody and use a little martial arts or whatever it is that they're using, they learn it right then and there while they're making the movie or in pre-production, but their next movie is We Bought A Zoo or whatever. That's kind of where I was coming from. You have to have a rule for a book like this. If you don't have rules, then it's not legit, as far as I'm concerned.
MT: You focus mostly on films set in the late 20th century and beyond. How did you approach this rule?
dm: I say something about it in my introduction. We had cowboy movies, the John Waynes and the Audie Murphys and the Gary Coopers, back in the day. The black and white era. Even Johnny Weissmuller, who was an Olympic swimmer, he did all those Tarzan movies. I could have gone further back, but I felt like the Vietnam era and onward is the reinvention of what we would describe as an action movie. That's a fairly recent concept if you look back on it. Before the 60s, they didn't say, “Here's a new action movie.” They would say, “Here is a new epic film with these stars.” I feel that when The Dirty Dozen came out, that was the first big action movie, even though it doesn't really get action-packed until the end. It was like a mold that they built just for that movie because they had all of those great stars in there, including Jim Brown, who I would consider an action star. He was pretty much the first black action star and he came from football. You basically have a titan in that movie and you've got Charles Bronson, who I would argue very strongly is an action star.
I grew up with The Dirty Dozen as a kid. My dad was a big fan. I've always hearkened back to that one movie as the beginning. That little time frame in the late 60s is when we had what I would consider action movies from then on. Then, in the 1970s, you had the blaxploitation films that were action-packed. Those movies were very action oriented. It was the Vietnam era and post-Vietnam and coming home from Vietnam and fighting the war all over again at home. There is something about that that somehow tapped into the public consciousness and Hollywood. The modern concept of the cop movie, the renegade cop, the Dirty Harry, that was late 60s as well. I wouldn't include Eastwood as an action star even though I kind of wanted to, but still, it didn't really add up.
MT: You organized an incredible team of contributors for the book. How did that come about?
dm: While writing the first book, World Gone Wild, I got the idea for this book about action stars. I had written reviews for stuff like the Terminator films, Cyborg, Fist of Steel with Dale Apollo Cook and Hell Comes to Frogtown with Roddy Piper. That was the seed of the idea. I thought, “I love these movies, I love these guys. I want to write a book about these guys.” I worked on The Good, The Tough, and the Deadly for probably close to a year by myself. Then I came to the reviews that I would have to write for the movies that I had reviewed for the first book. I didn't want to write the same reviews or pour over those reviews again because it just didn't feel right.
That's when I thought I should maybe get at least one or two contributors to write those reviews and see how that goes. I tested it with a buddy of mine, Corey Danna, who writes for Horrornews.net and SlackJawPunks. I reached out to him and I said, "Hey, would you be interested in writing some reviews?" He thought that was a great idea. He sent me a handful of reviews for those basic titles like TC 2000 with Billy Blanks and I said, “This is kind of interesting. Why don't we push this a little further? I've got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of movies that I have yet to watch and review for this action star book. Why don't we have a system going where you write five a week or a couple a week.” He was happy to do that.
While he was doing that, I thought, let me reach out to my buddies Vern and Zack Carlson and some of the other guys and I said, "Hey, I've already got a contributor here. This book is a steam train and I have a deadline already. Could you help me out or would you guys be interested?” Everybody was 100% on board. When World Gone Wild came out, there was another book called Heavy Metal Movies by Mike McPadden. Our books came out, I think, on the same day or the same week. When people would talk about his book, they would mention my book and vice versa. On Amazon, our books were paired up together, like if you bought this, you should buy this one, too.
I reached out to Mike and I said, "Hey, we should be friends instead of competitors. Why don't we have a chit chat?" We talked on the phone, we got to know each other, and I got a good feel of him right away. He had bought my book and I had bought his book. I said, "We need to be friends. You should come on over and write some reviews for this book." He was totally happy to do it. It was just a favor. All these guys did me a favor by doing this. I feel like the book became a collaborative effort with me as the overseer editor type thing. I managed to organize everything and everyone turned their stuff in and it really worked out. I was very happy with the different voices in there and everybody seemed to understand what I was doing so I really appreciated that.
MT: You have included a huge number of posters, lobby cards and other cool images in the book. How did you go about acquiring all this material?
dm: I grew up in Hollywood and there were lots of poster shops and collector's stores right there on Hollywood Boulevard and right off of Hollywood Boulevard. Even when I was a kid, I was collecting this stuff for some use some day. I didn't know what it was for. If you walk through my front door I have lobby cards and posters all over the place in my house. Everywhere. Everything is framed. My whole house is plastered everywhere.
I got these images from all over the world, from Ebay. After ordering so many times from different sellers on Ebay, I finally kind of got an in with some people who had stuff they weren't even listing. They asked, "Are you looking for anything else?" I said, "Yes! I'm looking for this. I'm looking for that." I got a lot of inside stuff that I've never even seen anywhere. I've made all kinds of contacts all over the world. I've had people come to me and say, "Are you looking for a lobby card set of Invasion U.S.A.?" I said, "Yes! How can I find that? I've never seen it anywhere." People will just send it to me for free, scans from their lobby card sets. I've got people coming out of the woodwork to this very day sending me stuff or asking me if I need anything.
It's really nice to have people helping me out. It also helps to have a huge collection of VHS tapes that have really nice scannable covers. All you've got to do is scan a magazine insert or scan press kits from the 80s. They don't really make press kits, hard copies, anymore. I've got so much stuff and Corey Danna, I've got to say that he helped out too. When I was running low on cash, I said, "Dude, there's this lobby card set of Supercop from China. Get your hands on that if you can because I can't afford it right now," and he would jump on it and he would buy a set here and there, and posters too.
I've never been to Cory's house. He lives in Michigan. He tells me he's got a huge collection and I believe it because he would send me scans of really cool posters that I had never seen before. That just got collated into the "author's collection" moniker. The author's collection is everything that I have accrued from other people who sent stuff to me or lent stuff to me. Even some of the directors and stars that I interviewed, they would send me pictures from movie sets and other stuff. I thought, “Oh, cool! Here's stuff that I'd never see anywhere else.”