When the Penguin went on strike
“What did you do during the 1981 strike, Daddy?”
/hypothetical question asked by Ron Cey’s children
“Well, kids, let me tell you about a mythical Aztec flying lizard God Quetzalcoatl…”
/children ooh, aah, and settle down for long, thrilling story…
In a battle of birds, “The Penguin” faced a winged serpent in 1982’s Q. It was a 1982 throwback to 1950s monster flicks, with eerie theme music accompanied by high-pitched “woo woo’s” a la Star Trek. It may also be the title holder for most alternate titles for a movie featuring an airborne human-eating fiend. First press coverage referred to it as Serpent: The Ultimate Thriller. After its release, it was known as Q, Serpent, The Winged Serpent and, you can see it coming, Q: The Winged Serpent.
Written, produced and directed by horror icon Larry Cohen, the creative force behind the It’s Alive mutant baby series, Cohen also traced his career back to 1950’s and 1960’s television and had a Dodger connection. It was Cohen who conceived Branded, the Chuck Connors western that became a frequent outlet for Dodger acting talent and source material for The Big Lebowski. (“Is this your homework Larry?”). With a bit of fanfare, third baseman Cey was cast as Detective Hoberman in the story of the rejuvenation of the serpent god who, from his aerie in the Chrysler Building, scooped up New Yorkers from their own rooftop haunts- construction sites, swimming pools, and window washing scaffolds.
The early reports had Cey in a co-starring credit as a sidekick to star David Carradine. Press conference stills show Cohen, Carradine and Cey behind a microphone, the squat infielder looking like he fit right in with the movie crowd. The idea to cast Cey came about during the extensive players’ strike of 1981, when a friend asked around on Cey’s behalf, looking for ways for him to fill his idle time. “Well, I don’t know if I want to make a career out of it,” Cey said of acting, “but I do plan to do as well as I possibly can. I haven’t had any acting experience, or any formal schooling. But I’ll try to concentrate, be relaxed. I plan on asking a lot of questions.”
The movie’s not half-bad: good acting with a touch of camp, provided by Carradine, Richard Roundtree, Candy Clark, and Michael Moriarity. How can you not love a movie that has scenes of heart removal, human skinning and sacrifice, and blood dripping on clueless New Yorkers from victims floating in the air above? For all his preparation, Cey doesn’t appear until 82 minutes into the 92-minute scare fest. When he does, during the climactic scene SPOILER ALERT of the beast’s demise, his acting training pays off. In a reverse King Kong (a difficult maneuver), the shooters are at the top of the skyscraper, while the monster circles the building. Cey hears a squawk and looks up in terror. A bit later he sprays machine gun bullets towards the sky. That’s it. Perhaps merely playing one of New York’s finest (imagine a Dodger in that role) is enough of a stretch. No co-starring role here, not even an opening credit, but he is most surely there and gets a nod in the closing credits. See if you can spot him in the trailer!
To the relief of Ron Cey and moviegoers everywhere, the strike was eventually settled.
Jeff Katz’ upcoming book, Split Season 1981: Fernandomania, The Bronx Zoo and The Strike That Saved Baseball (Thomas Dunne Books) is available for pre-order and will be released on May 19. He’s also the Mayor of Cooperstown. You can find him at Jeff-Katz.com and @splitseason1981.