Impulse (1974), also released as 'I Love to Kill' and 'Want a Ride, Little Girl?', is mandatory viewing for the true Shatner aficionado. It represents perhaps the pinnacle of the Shatnerian ham style, in a heady and evocative blend of woeful dialogue and ridiculous editing. The final product manages to foreshadow a then-nascent personality cult of Shatner, and is by turns agonising and exhilarating.
The scene is set in black & white, a suburban loungeroom, a wireless broadcasting on the Korean war. Little freckly waif Matt Stone's mother is something of a whore, and he awakes to the sound of a john (to whom only the name 'Sarge' can do justice) shouting in Japanese as he slugs bourbon and waves a katana. After some slovenly banter, he mounts the couch and starts pawing at Matt's ma. Little Matt walks into the room and slurs the demand that Sarge leaves his mother alone; gets belted in the face by Sarge, who starts directing violence and abuse at his mother; and responding to her pleas for help, sticks Sarge in the guts with the sword. Sarge exclaims "crazy... kid..." and sinks to the floor; his mother gasps and mechanically drawls "oh Matt... what have you done"; and little Matt, with a determined expression of trembling fear, sticks the tip of his pinky finger in the corner of his mouth and bites down on it. This pinky-biting becomes something of a motif.
Turkish music blares- pearlescent beads flash- and we are in the dim recesses of a belly-dancing club, looking directly into the face of the man-god, Shatner. Luxuriating in pimply attire, he chews on a monochrome cigarette with gruff delicacy, savouring the backdraft of smoke that curls from the corners of his sly grin. He's a beast of velvet in a long white scarf, and the entire club seems engineered to his exultation. The dancer, a husky athletic beauty in white hotpants and hoop earrings, is dancing just for him, and as she edges closer, he deftly snares her neck with his scarf, and drags her in for a smoky kiss. We are for a moment presented with a still of this kiss, and throughout this opening sequence stills of the studly Shatner taking a smooth drag or issuing a wry smirk underly the credits (which are comparatively few). Turns out it was produced by Socrates Ballis.
Shatner exits the club, directly into a convertible parked at the door, and the belly-dancer climbs in with him, and again they kiss. (Impulse veterans get kicks out of this- it seems an uncomfortable kiss, to say the least. Perhaps he grabbed her ass? The sly dog.) But what's this? A grumpy blonde of about 38 is watching from behind a car, and boy, does she look pissed!
We jump-cut to some presumably later time, and the blonde is harrumphing the frantic defenses of the grown-up Matt Stone (for it is he). "I suppose you're going to tell me she was your sister," and when he protests, she snaps the first excellent line of the film (and there are many), "NOBODY's 'just friends' with a belly-dancer!" as she drives them off in her sedan.
They arrive, still arguing, at the edge of a large isolated dam, parking just at the edge of a steep decline into the water. 'Helen' has seen through Stone's facade and reviles him as a philanderer. Matt responds by calling her a 'cheap, over-the-hill broad' and wonders why he's been wasting his time. Shatner's acting here is a marvel - rough, authentic, excessive- but it's about to get a whole lot better. Helen shouts "Go back to her! Your belly-dancing tramp!"
"Don't call her that!" he protests.
"Well that's what she is! A tramp! A tramp! A tramp!"
Trumpets blare; the frame shimmers; the words "A tramp! A tramp!" echo into an abyss of confusion. Shatner's sweating face fades into a childhood memory- to Sarge shouting "Tramp! Tramp!"- to the thrust of the sword- and seized by ghosts of the past, Matt Stone grabs his girlfriend by the throat and chokes her life away as she screams and claws at his face. Seeing Shatner kill, for the first time, is a revelation- the black fury in his gleaming eyes, his nose squashed into his blood-gorged cheeks as he grapples with his girl. He is transformed, and the legend of Kirk is forever shattered. When Helen is quite still, he slumps into the seat, panting; then, evidently deciding he has pre-empted his cue, repeats the same set of pants with a look of wearied boredom. The trance ended, it takes some time before the horrible truth settles- and upon realising he has killed, Stone exits the car, and silhouetted against a positively ghastly factory backdrop, sobs, utterly unconvincingly, into his sleeve.
As if we hadn't seen it coming, it dawns on Matt to sit Helen's body upright in the seat, release the handbrake and roll the car downhill into the lake. As the the last bubbles rise, he gazes in horror at the receding traces of his crime.
And with a curious expression, bites his pinky.
Without spoiling everything by hammering out an excessively detailed blow-by-blow for the entirety of the film (I've only covered the first ten minutes here), I will mention a meagre few of the unmissable features of this must-see movie:
Shatner acting contrite for having run over a dog (implied by jump-cut)
Shatner in a sleeveless sailor shirt and VERY tight red jeans
Multiple scenes of Shatner seduction and sex
Not one but TWO scenes which open from a panning shot of a woman's snugly-fitted behind
Impulse really is essential viewing. If you thought you understood the genius of Shatner, and you haven't yet seen it, think again. Impulse will make you reassess the very standards by which you judge a film. The music is insane, the screenplay inane, and the star of the film, such a very great star indeed, excels even as he wallows in failure. Unparalleled entertainment- ecstasy on film- see it, see it, see it!