John Phillip Law – Memorial Page


John Phillip Law was a studio back lot child of Hollywood studio backlot parents Phyllis Sallee (deputy sheriff) and John Philip Law (actress). Law first made his screen debut as an Otto Preminger Western, Hurry Sundown (1967). Roger Vadim would cast him opposite Jane Fonda for Roger Vadim’s lavish sci-fi fantasy Barbarella (1968).

His bright eyes, blond hair, and impressive physique made him popular with filmmakers during the late 1960s.

Barbarella (1968)

By any objective measure, this sci-fi sex comedy is an absolute mess – yet somehow manages to stand the test of time (unlike other classic films that have fallen out of favor, like Chariots of Fire). Yet awkward editing, inadequate special effects, and silly double entendres combine into an engagingly entertaining campy film experience for audiences who enjoy tongue-in-cheek humor.

Jane Fonda shines in this sci-fi story set in the distant future. As its sole natural anchor, her buoyant yet straightforward performance as the heroine of this sci-fi adventure tale is genuinely charming; almost as though taking inspiration from classic Hollywood sex comedies, she pulls it off quickly and wins comic timing.

This film contains sexual innuendo and occasional nudity that earned it an X certificate in the UK, yet still features intelligent comedy. For instance, when Barbarella and Mark are having their hand-to-hand encounter, she tells him that people on her planet don’t engage in penetrative intercourse but rather consume “exaltation transference pills,” pressing palms together when their “echocardiograms are in perfect harmony,” offering to reward him with a massage after which they have an enjoyable sexual encounter together.

The Devil Rides a Horse (1967)

Law’s early career saw him feature in both European and American films. Still, due to a lack of significant budget westerns in Hollywood, he returned to Europe, where he began appearing in low-budget westerns like The Devil Rides A Horse that didn’t hit the box office but showcased Law as an engaging actor who gave a solid performance as the two-fisted lawman who must protect his ranch from bandits stealing it away from him.

Hammer was revived with this film directed by Terence Fisher, and it marked something of a comeback for them after their Dracula and Frankenstein franchises had become outdated. Furthermore, it marked an experimental phase at Hammer that would result in such “nude horror” films as The Gorgon (1963) and Island of Terror and Island of Death (1966).

Although its final scene involves the Angel of Death dragging Simon Aron off a digital cloud by an Angel of Death is ridiculous, this film remains well-made and atmospheric. Additionally, its depiction of occultism and Satan worship was becoming popular at this point, helped in part by Aleister Crowley being featured on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover artwork. Roman Polanski revisited these themes when making Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

Skidoo (1968)

After appearing in two hit gangster flicks (The Devil Rides a Horse and Hurry Sundown), John Phillip Law found himself cast as Stash, a California hippie caught between old hoodlums and an insane God (Groucho Marx) before Otto Preminger cast him in Skidoo, his infamous psychedelic black comedy directed by Otto Preminger and released as an acid comedy dubbed Skidoo by Otto Preminger. Although an initial failure, Skidoo has found great cult status since. Law’s performance as Stash earned him many fans over time as fans have since found delight in watching its unique vintage all-star cast.

Mickey Rooney, Jackie Gleason, and Carol Channing give solid performances but ultimately cannot add much energy or excitement to the material onscreen.

Law delivers his lines with a lively hippie accent and meditates in a yoga position in his battered Rolls, yet the film lacks the wit needed to make this material funny. Instead, its script resorts to crude, lowbrow humor reminiscent of Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik movie, which contains nude body painting scenes and openly endorses hallucinogenic drugs.

Olive Films’ DVD transfer of Skidoo is crisp and vivid, featuring enhanced widescreen. This version looks much better than its VHS equivalent and includes all technical credits sung by Harry Nilsson himself; an ideal collectible for cinephiles! Additionally, critic David Thomson wrote an excellent booklet essay for this release that makes for great viewing fun! Unfortunately, Skidoo never succeeded, as its cast was incredible and entertaining.

The Love Machine (1971)

Law, the son of an actress and deputy sheriff in Hollywood, had an eclectic acting career that ranged from Neighborhood Playhouse to Broadway before making his silver screen debut in three psychedelic movies. French director Roger Vadim put Law’s 6ft 5in frame and steely blue eyes to good use playing a blind angel in Barbarella (1967) by French director Roger Vadim; Otto Preminger used Law as part of Hurry Sundown (1967) before casting him in Skidoo (1968).

Law attempts to climb his way to power in this behind-the-scenes documentary about a television network based on Jacqueline Susann’s best seller by sleeping his way there. Although an expressionless actor, Law proves effective against other campy actors such as Dyan Cannon, Robert Ryan, Jackie Cooper, and David Hemmings. Unfortunately, director Jack Haley Jr (That’s Entertainment!) cannot transform such dull material into anything lively and enjoyable.

Law plays a ruthlessly immoral TV executive yet still carries the film with his commanding physique and vibrant eyes. While not particularly innovative or groundbreaking in terms of its exploitation elements, there’s still an effective no-holds-barred fight scene at the end that makes up for any shortcomings or repetition in terms of plot development or storytelling. Other noteworthy bit players include Shecky Greene and Sharon Farrell, who make appearances.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Law first made his debut as an actor in Roger Corman’s cycle of World War I dogfight films, The Red Baron (1971). Following this debut role, Law went on to appear in various supporting roles throughout his film career – such as Garson Kanin’s Come One Strong (1969) as an escaped convict, The Hawaiians (1970), and Italian Strogoff (1970). Law was born and raised on Hollywood back lots, later attending high school before embarking on an adventurous international travel life after leaving Hollywood behind him.

The story is an homage to earlier swashbuckling adventures, particularly The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1940). Here, Sinbad is charged by Grand Vizier Marabia to retrieve three golden tablets from Lemuria; along the way, he battles giant cyclopses and Kali statues under possessive control by spirits, genies, and fire-breathing dragons en route.

Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation techniques remain spectacular, as well as his creatures and environments. Haroun, the titular “Crouching Moron,” begins as an idle stoner before coming through in time to save Sinbad by shooting down Koura’s homunculus while climbing out of the Oracle temple and then attacking Kali over a cliff, shattering her statue and saving Sinbad’s life by shooting it down while climbing out.