The Falcon and the scaremeister

There was a movie that came out in 1986 called Maximum Overdrive. You might have seen it. It starred Emilio Estevez as a truck stop cook who gets caught in the middle of a worldwide assault on humanity by machines. The movie was a gore-fest, written and directed by Stephen King and featuring a musical score by AC/DC. It was one of the worst movies I have ever loved. It was also one of the most educational, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

In an early scene, Estevez’s character is taken aside by his boss – a seedy southern fat-cat caricature named Bubba Hendershot – and told that from now on, he would be putting in nine-hour days but only getting paid for eight. When Estevez refuses, Hendershot brings out the big guns: “You’re on parole, boy. Either your ass belongs to me, or it belongs to the state of North Carolina.”

I was a kid then, but that scene stuck with me. More than anything, I saw it as a cheap ploy to get the audience to hate Hendershot – all the better to revel in his violent death later on. I remember scoffing at the notion that any real employer would be able to get away with holding someone’s freedom over their head just to squeeze a few extra dollars out of them. Surely, that could never happen. Not here. Then two weeks ago, I read Cait Boyce’s blog post Of Rehabilitation, Human Dignity and Second Chances and it occurred to me how naïve I’d been for most of my life.

She spoke of the struggle most ex-cons face when finding work, and talked about bosses just like the one above, who would essentially tell their paroled employees, “You’ll work when I tell you, for what I want to pay you, and if you refuse I’ll have you sent straight back to where you came from.”

Reading those words brought the past and present colliding. I sat there slack-jawed, nodding my head in belated appreciation of the artistry behind King’s ploy to sandwich a slice of important social commentary in-between all the rampaging trucks and automatous electric knives. Maybe Maximum Overdrive wasn’t that lame, after all.

But it wasn’t until later that the real kicker to this story smacked me square between the eyes: Bubba Hendershot, that cruel and cold hearted S.O.B. whose on-screen message took 27 years to sink in, was portrayed by none other than Pat Hingle. The guy you might remember as Christopher Boyce’s father in a movie called The Falcon and the Snowman. Talk about irony. My mind is now officially blown.

Vince Font is the co-author of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman with Christopher Boyce and Cait Boyce. The book is available now in hardcover from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and elsewhere.

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