OG Dilbert

TW: Huntz Hall

I spent the bulk of my teen years in the latter half of the 1970s, which made my being a Cheap Trick fan pretty much a foregone conclusion. Not being music savvy, I did not know about their first two albums. It wasn’t until Heaven Tonight and specifically the song “Surrender” that I got sucked in.

I liked the music. Their songs were catchy and did not ask too much of me intellectually. Another thing I liked about the band was their look, half of them anyway. The singer and bass player were unremarkable, looking like every rock star on the planet at the time. The drummer and guitarist were a different matter and it was quite refreshing.

When I say this, please understand that I was oblivious to punk rock and took my trend-bucking where I could find it.

The drummer, Bun E. Carlos, resembled a shorter version of serial killer Edmund Kemper. The main difference between the two was that Kemper put his mother’s vocal chords down the garbage disposal while Carlos plays drums.

As for guitarist Rick Nielsen, he not only resembled but patterned his look after Huntz Hall. Hall was known as an actor and not a killer, though the two are not mutually exclusive. Just look at John Wilkes Booth. Or Matthew Broderick, for that matter.

As far as I know, Huntz Hall never killed anybody. The closest he came was playing a killer in one film. He might have done that in more than one. I wouldn’t know and I blame the Los Angeles Times for that. The TV section had a four-star rating system for movies where four stars was “New or old, a classic” and one star was “Desperation time.”

Huntz Hall vehicles, especially those with “Bowery Boys” in the title or Leo Gorcey as his co-star, got saddled with one star. Being young and impressionable, I accepted their opinion without question and avoided these films altogether. For decades, I knew him not as an actor, but only as a Rick Nielsen’s inspiration.

That all changed not long ago. One night when I was using Wikipedia as a sleep substitute, I looked up Huntz Hall. I’m not sure what brought that on. Questions about why I do anything are above my pay grade so unless it’s prima facie a really bad idea, I just go with it.

I probably need to go through some deprogramming before I can bring myself to watch any “Bowery Boys” movies, but I learned there was a wartime training film for the United States Navy that looked promising. It ran for less than 14 minutes so even if it sucked, I could get through it with a minimum of regret. And with the title “Don’t Kill Your Friends,” how bad could it be?

Huntz Hall plays a navy pilot named Dilbert. Yes, Dilbert. Scott Adams appropriated the name for his eponymous comic-strip character, but the only thing he borrowed was the name. Too bad. While Adams’ Dilbert exists in a tepid, IT corporate purgatory that reads like a watered-down Office Space, the Huntz Hall Dilbert killed people and didn’t give a shit.

He didn’t exactly do it on purpose (this was a safety and not a sabotage film after all), but it was not like Ensign Dilbert showed any remorse over his carelessness either.

“I don’t look anything like my portrait, Do I? That’s how I get away with so much. Nobody can recognize me until it’s too late,” he opined at the start of the film.

After that, the killing began. First, Dilbert ejects a dummy round from his plane while flying over a residential zone. It hits a young woman sitting on the sidewalk, ending her life. Next, he collides with another airplane because he doesn’t want to wait his turn. After that, he delegates his killing to a member of his ground crew by leaving live ammunition in the plane with the safety off. For the finale, he lands a tow plane incorrectly, decapitating some poor bastard with the target sleeve. (Full disclosure: the narrator says it’s a decapitation, but you don’t actually get to see the head do a backspin like David Warner in The Omen).

“So long, suckers. I’ll be seeing you,” Dilbert says, his bloodlust sated for now.

Four deaths may not seem like a lot, but you have to remember that this film has a run time that is about one sixth of your average slasher flick. Do the math and the body count is more than respectable.

So why didn’t Scott Adams do this with his comic strip? Sure, he didn’t have the star power of Huntz Hall to work with, but he could have at least tried. Wally and his pointy-haired boss disemboweled by office equipment? Sign me up.

It probably would have helped save Adams’ career too. When he made those unfortunate statements about race, the newspapers that dropped his strip might have thought twice if they looked at his work and concluded that he was a crazy motherfucker who was capable of anything.

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