Please, turn away, find an Andy Milligan movie instead.
This week we plumb the depths not of Netflix Instant or YouTube, but one of the forgotten archives of streaming entertainment: Dailymotion. You probably don’t even think of the site unless it’s as a last resort; there are Abbas Kiarostami titles, for instance, that can only be streamed here. While you can’t blame Through the Olive Trees for being hosted on such a media also-ran, you might want to hold it against this little-known 1975 adventure.
Timber tramps are itinerant loggers, you see, tramps because they follow the next job and, appropriately, don’t have time to stay in one place to put down roots. When elder timber tramp Deacon (Leon Ames) learns of a big job in Alaska, he convinces his foreman Matt (Claude Akins) to recruit a brawny team that includes Redwood Rosenbloom (Rosie Greer) and Big Swede (Tab Hunter).
Yet Deacon has an ulterior motive; the Alaska gig is headed by Corey Sykes (Eve Brent), an old flame of Matt’s, and Deacon would like nothing better for the pair to get back together—and for Matt to become a father to the son he didn’t know he had. Unfortunately, two evil sawmill moguls (Cesar Romero and Joseph Cotten), for reason I couldn’t figure out, stand in the way of a successful job.
The set-up is both unusual and predictable, the rugged natural locations and melodrama somehow suggesting the intersection of Douglas Sirk and Russ Meyer without either’s flair for character, plot or visual sense. Still, the movie comes with an impressive pedigree. Akins may have never transcended his signature role on ‘80s TV as Sheriff Lobo, but with co-stars like Cotten, Romero and Rosie Greer, you’d expect this to be at least campy fun.
It’s not. When I interviewed Hunter a few years ago and mentioned Timber Tramps, which I’d never heard of, he told me that while it was a great experience to work in Alaska, the movie “was without a doubt one of The Worst Films Ever,” and he very nicely persuaded me not to watch it. I should have listened.
The film is credited to two directors, Chuck D. Keen, who directed the 1977 grizzly bear adventure Claws, and Tay Garnett, best known for the 1946 noir The Postman Always Rings Twice. This was the last film Garnett made, and it’s technically competent, although its humor is often painted with a broad brush that suggests a low-budget feature length sitcom set among lumberjacks.
Monty Python got a catchy song and a funny sketch out of this milieu, but Timber Tramps plays like a feature-length sitcom complete with music cues that make the broad comedy that much broader. Typical of the film’s humor is the young professional woman seducing elder timber tramp Leon Ames, who pays her just for paying him a compliment. (I didn’t say it was a good joke.)
The cast acquits themselves well enough, but the human scale is frequently overwhelmed by environmental horror: huge redwoods felled one after another, a runaway truck caught in a devastating accident, more trees felled. This is a setting for comedy?
For good measure and a brief nod to the majesty of nature, incongruous shots of an orca jumping out of the sea intermittently appear. Even better, Leon Ames gets to rescue a baby faun from the non-stop deforestation, but that tender scene is an anomaly in a film where Akins’ character, when he’s not cutting down trees, is either drinking himself into a stupor or picking fights with other timber tramps.
If your nightly movie picks are driven by morbid curiosity, I wouldn’t blame you for choosing not to heed this warning. Please, turn away, find an Andy Milligan movie instead—YouTube is lousy with them. Perhaps it’s best that we never speak of Dailymotion again.