A slack-paced stab at d.i.y. filmmaking by New Orleans entrepreneur Michael Nahay, THE THURSDAY MORNING MURDERS steals its setup from ACROSS 110TH STREET and then adds elements of THE SEVEN-UPS, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE and THE NICKEL RIDE to a potentially intriguing mix that unfortunately never congeals. As vanity productions go, this one’s too oddball and technically competent to deserve its fate -- near total obscurity -- but not good enough to be of interest to anyone but the most dedicated follower of low-budget regional filmmaking. Spotty theatrical roll-out began in August of 1976 through M & M Releasing, with additional playdates in 1977 and ’78 handled by Nahay’s own Aurora International Pictures. Except for a video release in Denmark over twenty years ago, pic has pretty much fallen off the face of the earth.
Title refers to the bloody robbery of a syndicate drug operation that opens the movie, perpetrated by a gang of African-Americans intent on pushing the Mafia out of New Orleans and taking over the local narcotics racket. Operating a number of local businesses and desperate to maintain that façade of legitimacy, ailing capo Bruno Casseli (Hank Sordelet) and his hothead son Mario (J.B. Young) drag former hitman Philip Balon (Nahay) out of retirement to clean up the mess before their next shipment arrives. With a hit list of fifteen names and not much else to go on, Balon stocks up on guns and plastic explosives and hires his old buddy Dugan (Gordon Austin), a mechanic with a hot Mustang, to drive him from one rub-out to the next. While the Balon-Dugan team works its way down the hit list in the most unenthusiastic and inept way imaginable (at one point they accidentally administer a lethal dose of sodium thiopental to a gang member they’re questioning!) and drug dealers fly into town with large amounts of dope, only to be wiped out in broad daylight by gun-toting blacks, the New Orleans Police Department does little more than examine Balon’s long distance telephone records in what has to be the least effective and compelling police procedural ever committed to film.
Final result looks like the work of a capable first-timer who bit off way more than he could chew. Not content with merely being the writer, producer, director, editor, distributor and leading man, Nahay apparently did his own stunts -- including a mid-air hang from a helicopter! -- and went so far as to get a federal license to handle explosives so he could do the film’s pyrotechnics (special effects are credited to “Krestco” -- as in Krest Human Hairgoods, his freakin’ wig making business). I have no doubt the guy had talent to burn going into the project. The problem is, he reduced it to cinders well before the production wrapped.
Biggest culprit is his script, which contains some good ideas but plays out like a first draft written without the benefit of an outline. This is the one responsibility he really should've delegated to someone else, because it doomed the movie from the start. Pacing is slow in the first two acts but sloppy to the point of incoherency in the third; height of confusion comes when Balon survives a bloody shotgun blast to the gut from the double-crossing Mario, only to escape a fiery car crash seemingly five minutes later during a second attempt on his life, with only an awkward exposition scene at the police station in between to tie the two setpieces together. The dialogue tries for EDDIE COYLE-style realism but instead seems purposely obscure. Nahay has major Philip D'Antoni envy, but despite the presence of a car chase with revving engines and squealing tires in place of musical accompaniment, this is a far cry from BULLITT and THE FRENCH CONNECTION. Negligible or nonexistent female characters usually equals box-office poison for a drive-in movie. The race issue is troublesome, as no attempt is made to show the opposing black gang members as anything more than boogiemen who jump out intermittently to shoot at someone or get rubbed out, while a large percentage of the running time is devoted to a couple of white cops who say and do absolutely nothing of importance. A few rewrites, preferably by someone other than Nahay, could've solved the majority of this film's problems.
And then there’s Nahay the actor. While the role doesn’t exactly call for a whole lot of charisma, he comes across less like a burned-out hitman than a distracted, sleep-deprived filmmaker. With that said, the story still works better when it's following Balon’s half-assed preparations and clumsy contract killings than it does when focusing on anything else. Having a pro like Saxon, Silva or Devane in the lead instead of Nahay would've helped a little, but without a better script THE THURSDAY MORNING MURDERS still would've moved like one long Sunday afternoon. A shame, because Nahay -- who went on to do effects work for MARDI GRAS MASSACRE and not much else -- had potential as a filmmaker and I really wish he had stuck with it long enough to do that sophomore film he promised, a horror movie titled ELECTRA.
Special thanks to T.O.S. contributor Mike MacCollum for providing us with a copy of this long sought-after film, as well as the two articles and a few of the scans posted here.
The following is from a Boxoffice article entitled "Louisiana Film Commission Promotes Locations for Feature Producers" [February 28, 1977 - p. SE-7]
The only Louisiana film made by a Louisiana filmmaker this year turned out to be something less than a box-office success. "I was incredibly naive," admits Mike Nahay, a wig-manufacturer turned director, who also distributed and starred in "Thursday Morning Murders."
After two years of filming and a personal investment of $200,000, Nahay's gangster action-drama opened and closed after a week's run at local theatres. He is still in something close to a state of shock. "I spent $9,000 advertising the movie during what is universally considered the worst playdates in the film business -- the last week of August. I believed I had a good movie and I just did what people told me."
"No one did me over," Nahay continued. "It was just a question of experienced theatre owners working with someone inexperienced. That's what is called business and I took my lumps."