Thursday, December 29, 2011

South Pacific Sexpot

Beefcake B-movie star Ken Clark’s first big role was in an A-Plus-movie (from the producers’, not critics’, point of view) – South Pacific, the film version of the biggest musical hit of the 1950’s, which was the biggest film of 1958 as well. (Clark also had a supporting role in the Elvis Presley western Love Me Tender, but it was not significant.) Although Clark’s role as Stewpot was only a supporting one, it was still a major, high profile part in a blockbuster film, and unfortunately for Clark this first big break turned out to be the high point of his Hollywood career. After South Pacific he would go on to work in increasingly less prestigious productions, first in quality television shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, then as a domestic B-movie star in drive-in fare like Attack of the Giant Leeches and 12 to the Moon, and finally as a leading man in foreign secret agent (“eurospy”) and sword-and-sandal (“peplum”) flicks.

But at the time of South Pacific, his star seems to have been rising, and he’s all over the film – and there’s a lot of him to see, even in minor moments. His brawny, muscular frame looms large over every scene involving the crew of the , and he even has a solo, “There is Nothing Like a Dame” (although Clark in fact only lip-synced the song; the dubbed vocal was actually done by Thurl Ravenscroft, better known as the voice of Tony the Tiger and as the vocalist for “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”). But what really, ahem, stands out about his performance is the huge bulge in his sailor jeans. As in the aforementioned Attack of the Giant Leeches and 12 to the Moon, he’s busting at the seams, the size and shape of his manparts at times almost “indecently” well defined. Stewpot indeed – Clark seems to be packing plenty of beef and potatoes in his denim bellbottoms. As the film progresses, you start to wonder why they didn’t just name him Sexpot – it’s that obvious. Someone was having a very good time staging this Pacific Theater version of the Battle of the Bulge.

There’s also lots of shirtless action, showing off Clark’s great physique. In one scene, he appears wearing nothing but a pair of red speedos (surely no actual GI’s wore bikini briefs in the South Pacific during WWII?), parading his blond hairy pecs and grapefruit-sized shoulders around the island.

Then in a later sequence, said torso is shaved smooth as a baby’s butt as Clark appears as a Bacchus figure in the movie’s “musical within a musical,” a clump of grapes dangling suggestively in front of his crotch (although after watching his bulging crotch for the previous 90 minutes, the hanging fruit of his loins seems almost chaste).

It’s not clear why Clark’s career never took off – he wasn’t a bad actor, and he seems to have had a lot of opportunities (including a failed TV show of his own, Brock Callahan), but in any case, Hollywood’s loss was Europe’s gain, and Clark enjoyed a long career in Italian films.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Attack of the Bulging Breeches

Some of the best finds come when you’re not looking. Late one night years ago I was channel surfing when I came across an odd little horror flick produced by Roger Corman (Executive Producer) and his brother Gene (actual Producer), Attack of the Giant Leeches. I’ve always liked Roger Corman’s movies, because they do so much with so little and are almost always quirkily entertaining.

Gene Corman, who around this time (1958) also produced Beast from Haunted Cave (starring Michael Forest) and Night of the Blood Beast, seems to have shared his brother’s talent for both thrift-shop moviemaking and offbeat storytelling.

Leeches fits the “quirkily entertaining” Corman mold, all right. The film has an amusing group of characters, including superhot cheating wife Yvette Vickers (of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman fame) who is chased, along with her white trash lover, into a nearby swamp by her obese buffoon of a husband, where they are kidnapped by the giant leeches of the film’s title. (I say “kidnapped” because the leeches don’t kill their prey immediately, but carry them off to an underwater cave where they feed on them for several days.) This was not typical "Monster of Teen Beach” fare, but the intersection of Swamp Thing and rancid redneck romance.

Ms. Vickers and the Southern trash theme were more than enough to get my attention, but on top of that the flick introduced me to Ken Clark, a brawny stud who has been aptly described as a blond Clint Walker. Blond, blue-eyed, tall, broad, muscular, and hairy, Clark was like a comic book character come to life. Clark plays the hero, the local game warden upon whom the burden of solving the problem of the giant leeches falls. Even his name sounds like a comic book character’s – Steve Benton – calling to mind a host of blond, uniformed he-man comic book characters: Steve Rogers, Steve Canyon, Steve Trevor. He could have played any one of them and looked perfect for the part.

Clark first gets our full attention when he answers his door shirtless, showing off his broad, muscular, hairy chest. Holy Sean Connery, Batman! – talk about a golden fleece! Even in black and white you can appreciate the blond rug on this guy’s sculpted pecs. But it gets better a few minutes later when, strutting down a hillside to join his girlfriend (Jan Shepard), Clark lets us know in no uncertain terms that his endowments go way beyond huge delts and biceps and a chiseled torso. Sure, the guy is handsome and you can make out his broad shoulders and chest under his tight uniform, and he looks hot as hell and all, but you forget all that pretty quickly when you notice his bulge swelling and shifting as he walks. VPL? More like VP&BL+++. It looks like he’s got a sausage and two tennis balls stuffed down there.

Clark’s bulge goes on to entertain and fascinate for rest of the flick, almost a character in itself, until the end, when he has to don a pair of swim trunks and diving gear, the straps of which unfortunately conceal his crotch. But that’s okay – by that point you have a pretty good idea of exactly what Mr. Clark is packing down there and are ready to appreciate some closeups of his hairy chest, which arrive soon enough. A blond Clint Walker for sure – although with perhaps an even deeper voice and certainly hairier chest. The guy is just a walking sex bomb.

Clark started out as a physique model before he got his big break as Stewpot in South Pacific (which deserves its own post in the future). But he wasn’t destined for the big time. He appeared mostly in b-movies, first in the U.S. and then in Europe, where he starred in Sword and Sandal, Western, and Eurospy flicks made mostly in Italy. He died recently in Rome.

Some early physique photos of Clark.

From a European magazine - the Clarktastic bulge.

Clark starred in another Sci-Fi flick, 12 to the Moon. Their spacesuits are something else (apparently in the future imagined in 1958, crotches were custom-tailored and compartmentalized).

Clark was a frequent guest star on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In the 60s, Clark starred as Agent 077 in a series of Eurospy films.