1975 was a unique year for the actress Pamela Hensley. She appeared in two motion pictures, and her roles were both strikingly different and eerily similar.
One film, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, was a campy adventure with aspirations to be a blockbuster. Its tone was upbeat and innocent. She plays Mona, a love interest who appears far too intelligent for her surroundings, and who is rejected by the hero (though with quirky gallantry).
The second film, Rollerball, was a futuristic violent sport/social commentary with aspirations to be a blockbuster. Its tone was downbeat and jaded. She plays Mackie, a love interest who also appears far too intelligent for her surroundings, and is rejected by the hero (in a blunt and dismissive manner).
In Doc Savage, her role is based on Princess Monja, a Mayan aristocrat from the novel The Man of Bronze. For the movie her character is modernized, becoming Mona Flores, who helps Doc find the legendary Valley of the Vanished (which will become Doc’s source of financing his crusade against crime, using a Mayan treasure of gold).
Though her role is a somewhat thankless one (she is dedicated and brave, and it could be safely said that without her assistance Doc’s quest would not have been successful), she brings considerable dignity to the character of Mona — which is noteworthy in a film loaded with so much over the top camp.
Ultimately she professes love for Doc, but he gently (if clumsily) rebuffs her — as seen in this trailer for the film. He calls her “a brick”…which was actually a somewhat complimentary term in 1933 when it was also used in the novel (meaning someone who is steady, even-tempered and dependable), but didn’t play so well in 1975.
The Doc Savage film tanked at the box office and was critically eviscerated — it was such a resounding failure that the proposed film series was cancelled.
Rollerball was something of a different story.
Again Hensley plays an unappreciated woman — essentially a sexual escort given to the movie’s main protagonist, Jonathan E,. the star attraction of the violent futuristic sport of the film’s title.
Once again, she brings considerable dignity to the role. Jonathan rejects her despite their having spent months living together. She is angry and bitter, having done nothing to merit being essentially kicked out of his life. For a while she disappears from the film, but then returns in a remarkable scene — a lavish party is being given for Jonathan, and she appears as the companion of a corporate executive. She vents some of her anger toward him, to which he seems oblivious.
Then, as the party winds down, she and other guests wander out onto the grounds and indulge in a fit of hedonistic violence…using an incendiary pistol to set a row of trees on the property on fire.
Mackie at first seems to feel a degree of release from the fiery spectacle, but afterward appears traumatized and horrified.
It’s an intense scene, in which a viewer who has watched both films can very viscerally experience the emotional storm of frustrations felt by both characters, Doc Savage’s Mona and Rollerball’s Mackie.
Certainly a intriguing year of roles for Hensley. Rollerball was commercially successful, so her career was not sunk by Doc Savage. She would go on to appear in several TV series of the later 70’s and 80’s.
Her charisma and balance of elegance and emotion in both films from 1975 is memorable…though intended to be overshadowed by others in both films, I find when I watch them that it is Hensley who shines brightly among more highly-touted stars.