Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The Instructor"

If nothing else, "The Instructor" is a great time capsule, full of images of Akron and Cuyahoga Falls in the early '80s, especially during an extended car-and-motorcycle chase around the area. Indeed, if you don't want to find an old VHS copy of the movie -- I borrowed one from the local-history collection at the Akron library -- the chase is posted in two parts on YouTube. Amazing shots of the old downtown, the Gorge and Rick Case Honda. But, when I say "if nothing else," I really mean ...

... there's not much to talk about here in terms of a movie. The acting is poor, the fight scenes so-so at best, and the plot (involving a karate instructor) nothing to speak of.

The movie was made by Tallmadge High School graduate Don Bendell, a Special Forces veteran and karate instructor who -- according to old Beacon Journal clips -- wanted to make a movie without "the carnival tricks that you see in so many karate films." He finished a script in 1975 and wanted to film in Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Cuyahoga Falls. Cleveland and Canton, he said, were not welcoming. (Dennis Kucinich, then Cleveland mayor, "broke four appointments with me," Bendell said in a 1979 interview.) Cuyahoga Falls and Akron were, and there are not only a lot of locations but quite a few local police in the movie.

The cast was heavily local: Bob Chaney, a real-life karate expert born in Akron (some other sources say Wadsworth), starred. Other performers, per the Beacon Journal, included Lynda Scharnott, a Spanish teacher at Nordonia High; Bob Saal, who worked at Uniwear in Akron; Bendell's brother Bruce; Tony Blanchard of Cuyahoga Falls, and Bendell himself. Akron police officer John McAleese drove a police car in the big chase scene. Bill Jones, a mechanic at Rick Case Honda, was a stunt man. Akron native Marti Lunn wrote and performed the music.

Bendell reportedly raised $500,000 from area business people, got the cast to work on deferred payment and still went into debt. But the movie got made, with shooting in the summer of 1980; it premiered at the Akron Civic in 1983.

According to the Bendell Web site: "Distributed by Shapiro Entertainment Corporation in Hollywood, the film was sold and shown in 164 countries around the world and was distributed on video by Vestron Video. The feature film received a good review in weekly 'VARIETY' newspaper and a number of other publications. It made plenty of money for its distributor, but not for the Bendell's."

Bendell had hoped to make more movies, but this is his only production on his Web site. It notes that he refers to the making of the movie as hit "PhD in the feature film business." Now living in Colorado, he has had more success as a writer and speaker.

1 comment:

  1. Just discovered this blog on Google search. You pretty much covered it. I moved to Colorado in 1982 and own a ranch in southern Colorado south of Florence where the Supermax Federal pen is located. I acheived a lifelong goal to become a "real cowboy with a real horse." I now have 8 horses, some cows, peacocks, and love my life. I have written 26 books with over 2.5 million copies in print and hit the best-seller list in the summer of 2011. I have a screenplay being looked at right now and miss the film business very much but will never make another film where I ask people to get paid on the "if-come." I also will not ever raise investment money again to make a project. I also own a popular martial arts school in Pueblo West, Colorado which is kind of a ministry for me of sorts. Bob Chaney has a school in Temecula, CA and makes many trips to Thailand as well promoting kickboxing matches. If folks want to visit my website, it is Lynda Scharnott and Tony Blanchard married years ago, had several beautiful kids, and still live in Akron. I lost track of Bob Saal but he did live in Ravenna. Sadly, Dick Lombardi the executive producer of Portage Lakes passed away unexpectedly a few years ago and so did my brother Bruce in 2004. I had less than $200,000 in the film, not $500,000. I went through a divorce then and ended up falling in love and marrying one of the extras, whose aunt Joyce Edwards was my art director and fixed me up with her. Her name then was Shirley (Ebert) Edwards and she lived in Portage Lakes and so did I. We are still very-happily married 31 years later. I have 6 grown kids and 11 grandkids. Thanks for the walk through memory lane. If anybody wants to write me my address is , and I am on Facebook and Twitter. Blessings, Don Bendell