The Chairman (1969)

AKA: The Most Dangerous Man In The World
Country: United Kingdom / United States
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Gregory Peck, Anne Heywood, Arthur Hill, Alan Dobie, Francisca Tu, Ori Levy, Zienia Merton, Conrad Yama, Keye Luke, Burt Kwouk, Eric Young
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Based on the novel by Jay Richard Kennedy

Gregory Peck and director, J. Lee Thompson had worked together on a few very successful projects. Firstly was The Guns Of Navarone which was a critical and commercial success. Then there was the original Cape Fear (with Robert Mitchum). After that came MacKenna’s Gold which was quite successful in it’s day — however I think it’s a jumbled mess. But they had the runs on the board so I guess it’s no surprise that they’d team up again. The vehicle they chose was an overly plotted spy thriller called The Chairman.

The film begins with a jet whizzing through the sky on route to Hong Kong. On board is Dr. John Hathaway (Gregory Peck). A stewardess takes away his empty glass and out of sight, wraps it gently in a serviette and tucks it into her carry on luggage. Coincidentally, the actress playing the stewardess is Mai Ling, who you may remember as Mei-Lei, the stewardess in Goldfinger (just before Bond is introduced to Pussy Galore). Mai Ling also had an uncredited part in You Only Live Twice as one of the ‘bath girls’. The film then cuts away to a top secret US research facility and two men from opposing sides of the cold war. They are Russian General Alexander Shertov (Ori Levy) and American General Shelby (Arthur Hill). They are jointly overseeing and operation codenamed Minotaur. The operation has in fact already started and the agent involved is Hathaway. Implanted into his head (ouch), Hathaway has a tiny transmitter, and during a break in the aircraft’s bathroom he relays his report.

The film then flashes back to some time earlier – we are never really given a time frame. Hathaway is a science professor in London who receives a letter from an old colleague, Professor Soong Li, who has been stationed in China for the last ten years. The letter says that Hathaway will not be able to visit him anymore. Since Hathaway had never visited his colleague, and didn’t have plans to do so in the near future, the communiqué seemed rather suspicious. Hathaway relays his suspicions to the authorities.

But once upon a time, before he was a Nobel Prize winning science professor, Hathaway was an OSS agent, and his message to the authorities has him called in front of General Shelby. Shelby is an old school hard-ass, and to prove it, he is missing an eye – and he has a scar to go with it which indicates he lost it in combat. Now he wears glasses with one darkened lens covering the missing eye. I guess it’s a modern take on the eye patch. Anyway, Shelby’s hard and doesn’t like Hathaway, but he has his orders from higher up, so he shows Hathaway some top secret footage. The first scenes show a wheat field in a hot humid jungle location in China. Next is footage shot in Tibet of a pineapple plantation on a cold icy mountain. It is surmised that the Chinese have genetically modified the crops so that climate has little or no effect on what is grown and where. Now this may not seem like your average threat from the Red Chinese, but once the third world countries hear about this miracle ‘enzyme’, they will gladly kow-tow to the Chinese leaving America and the USSR discarded in their wake. Hathaway’s mission is to go to China a retrieve a sample of the enzyme.

Now this is year the film gets a little bit convoluted. Naturally, back in 1969, an American could not just go to China. China was very much closed off to the rest of the world. It was very hard for a westerner to get a visa. But Hathaway can go to Hong Kong, which is under British rule. Once there he receives a phone call in his hotel room. He is to meet the mysterious caller — Mr Yin (Eric Young) — at a nightclub, which is half brothel, half casino. At this point it is worth noting if you are watching the US 20th Century Fox DVD version (and at this time it’s not available in too many other formats) then you will have the opportunity to watch alternative – or international versions of some of the scenes in Hong Kong. The US version seems to be heavily censored, whereas the international version features more nudity. Now I feel this is important — not because I am a randy old pervert — but because it presents an interesting contrast against the strict and possibly oppressive regime in China at that time, with Hong Kong which, although is a Chinese community, is under western (British) control. So the West is depicted as being rather decadent.

But back to the story. Hathaway meets a Chinese official named Yin who grants Hathaway a visa to China. Now you’re probably thinking, why would the Chinese grant Hathaway a visa. He is no doubt a spy — Why? But as previously mentioned Hathaway is also a Nobel Prize winning scientist and the Chinese haven’t worked all the bugs out of their enzyme project. So they want Hathaway in China for his knowledge. So the Chinese want Hathaway in China — the Americans and the Russians want Hathaway in China. It appears that everybody wants Hathaway in China except Hathaway.

Needless to say Hathaway goes to China and is greeted as almost a celebrity. Hundreds of people (possibly thousands) greet him at the airport — all of them waving red flags, or placards with images of Mao, or even little red books. Soon after, Hathaway is spirited off to meet Mao himself where — over a game of Ping pong — they discuss their differing opinions on humanity and the global implications and distribution of the enzyme.

The Chairman can be looked at in three ways. The first is as a travelogue and snapshot of the times (although much of the Asian footage was shot in Taiwan). On this level the film is first rate. As a time capsule and a throwback to the late sixties this film is quite an eye opener. Added to that, most spy films at the time featured the Russians as the enemy. It is quite unusual to see the Red Chinese as a villain (villain may not be the right word in this instant – but you know what I mean!).

Next if you are a spy film nut (like yours truly), then The Chairman serves up a great smorgasbord of spy talent. Starting with Gregory Peck — let’s face it, Peck was pretty good whatever genre he tackled, but he put in a few good performances in spy films. I particularly like Arabesque. I have already mentioned Mai Ling, but then there is Keye Luke as Professor Soong Li. Luke had a very long career, coming to prominence as Number One son in early Charlie Chan adventures, but his espionage credentials are solid appearing in I Spy, The FBI, Hawaii Five-O, and The Amsterdam Kill. Someone with even more strings to his bow, as far as espionage shows go is Burt Kwouk — who to me will always be Cato from Peter Sellers Pink panther films, but her appeared in The Saint, the Avengers, Jason King, Callan and the list goes on. Another character actor appearing as Yin is Eric Young — now if you saw Young you may not recognise him, but you would recognise his voice. He too, was a jobbing actor also appearing in The Saint, Jason King, Strange Report and a few Fu Manchu films.

The third way you can look at The Chairman is solely as a spy thriller, and this is where the film really lets itself down. As a positive it has an interesting and possibly even modern approach to surveillance — some aspects of this film are almost like Patriot Games and Peacemaker, with the immediate access to intel and the department heads are able to make their decisions based on that information. But the truth be told this film is very discerningly paced (a polite way of saying slow, with very little action) for the first three quarters of its running time. The last twenty minutes though, is really quite good, and manages to build up some tension and excitement, but I fear most viewers will have either turned off or have lost interest in the story by this stage.

But as you may have gathered, I didn’t think this film was too bad, but then I’m the type who thrives on this sort of thing. If you aren’t a spy film junky, then you may find this film clunky.

The Chairman (1969)

The Chairman (1969)

AKA: The Most Dangerous Man In The World
Country: United Kingdom / United States
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Gregory Peck, Anne Heywood, Arthur Hill, Alan Dobie, Francisca Tu, Ori Levy, Zienia Merton, Conrad Yama, Keye Luke, Burt Kwouk, Eric Young
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Based on the novel by Jay Richard Kennedy

Gregory Peck and director, J. Lee Thompson had worked together on a few very successful projects. Firstly was The Guns Of Navarone which was a critical and commercial success. Then there was the original Cape Fear (with Robert Mitchum). After that came MacKenna’s Gold which was quite successful in it’s day — however I think it’s a jumbled mess. But they had the runs on the board so I guess it’s no surprise that they’d team up again. The vehicle they chose was an overly plotted spy thriller called The Chairman.

The film begins with a jet whizzing through the sky on route to Hong Kong. On board is Dr. John Hathaway (Gregory Peck). A stewardess takes away his empty glass and out of sight, wraps it gently in a serviette and tucks it into her carry on luggage. Coincidentally, the actress playing the stewardess is Mai Ling, who you may remember as Mei-Lei, the stewardess in Goldfinger (just before Bond is introduced to Pussy Galore). Mai Ling also had an uncredited part in You Only Live Twice as one of the ‘bath girls’. The film then cuts away to a top secret US research facility and two men from opposing sides of the cold war. They are Russian General Alexander Shertov (Ori Levy) and American General Shelby (Arthur Hill). They are jointly overseeing and operation codenamed Minotaur. The operation has in fact already started and the agent involved is Hathaway. Implanted into his head (ouch), Hathaway has a tiny transmitter, and during a break in the aircraft’s bathroom he relays his report.

The film then flashes back to some time earlier – we are never really given a time frame. Hathaway is a science professor in London who receives a letter from an old colleague, Professor Soong Li, who has been stationed in China for the last ten years. The letter says that Hathaway will not be able to visit him anymore. Since Hathaway had never visited his colleague, and didn’t have plans to do so in the near future, the communiqué seemed rather suspicious. Hathaway relays his suspicions to the authorities.

But once upon a time, before he was a Nobel Prize winning science professor, Hathaway was an OSS agent, and his message to the authorities has him called in front of General Shelby. Shelby is an old school hard-ass, and to prove it, he is missing an eye – and he has a scar to go with it which indicates he lost it in combat. Now he wears glasses with one darkened lens covering the missing eye. I guess it’s a modern take on the eye patch. Anyway, Shelby’s hard and doesn’t like Hathaway, but he has his orders from higher up, so he shows Hathaway some top secret footage. The first scenes show a wheat field in a hot humid jungle location in China. Next is footage shot in Tibet of a pineapple plantation on a cold icy mountain. It is surmised that the Chinese have genetically modified the crops so that climate has little or no effect on what is grown and where. Now this may not seem like your average threat from the Red Chinese, but once the third world countries hear about this miracle ‘enzyme’, they will gladly kow-tow to the Chinese leaving America and the USSR discarded in their wake. Hathaway’s mission is to go to China a retrieve a sample of the enzyme.

Now this is year the film gets a little bit convoluted. Naturally, back in 1969, an American could not just go to China. China was very much closed off to the rest of the world. It was very hard for a westerner to get a visa. But Hathaway can go to Hong Kong, which is under British rule. Once there he receives a phone call in his hotel room. He is to meet the mysterious caller — Mr Yin (Eric Young) — at a nightclub, which is half brothel, half casino. At this point it is worth noting if you are watching the US 20th Century Fox DVD version (and at this time it’s not available in too many other formats) then you will have the opportunity to watch alternative – or international versions of some of the scenes in Hong Kong. The US version seems to be heavily censored, whereas the international version features more nudity. Now I feel this is important — not because I am a randy old pervert — but because it presents an interesting contrast against the strict and possibly oppressive regime in China at that time, with Hong Kong which, although is a Chinese community, is under western (British) control. So the West is depicted as being rather decadent.

But back to the story. Hathaway meets a Chinese official named Yin who grants Hathaway a visa to China. Now you’re probably thinking, why would the Chinese grant Hathaway a visa. He is no doubt a spy — Why? But as previously mentioned Hathaway is also a Nobel Prize winning scientist and the Chinese haven’t worked all the bugs out of their enzyme project. So they want Hathaway in China for his knowledge. So the Chinese want Hathaway in China — the Americans and the Russians want Hathaway in China. It appears that everybody wants Hathaway in China except Hathaway.

Needless to say Hathaway goes to China and is greeted as almost a celebrity. Hundreds of people (possibly thousands) greet him at the airport — all of them waving red flags, or placards with images of Mao, or even little red books. Soon after, Hathaway is spirited off to meet Mao himself where — over a game of Ping pong — they discuss their differing opinions on humanity and the global implications and distribution of the enzyme.

The Chairman can be looked at in three ways. The first is as a travelogue and snapshot of the times (although much of the Asian footage was shot in Taiwan). On this level the film is first rate. As a time capsule and a throwback to the late sixties this film is quite an eye opener. Added to that, most spy films at the time featured the Russians as the enemy. It is quite unusual to see the Red Chinese as a villain (villain may not be the right word in this instant – but you know what I mean!).

Next if you are a spy film nut (like yours truly), then The Chairman serves up a great smorgasbord of spy talent. Starting with Gregory Peck — let’s face it, Peck was pretty good whatever genre he tackled, but he put in a few good performances in spy films. I particularly like Arabesque. I have already mentioned Mai Ling, but then there is Keye Luke as Professor Soong Li. Luke had a very long career, coming to prominence as Number One son in early Charlie Chan adventures, but his espionage credentials are solid appearing in I Spy, The FBI, Hawaii Five-O, and The Amsterdam Kill. Someone with even more strings to his bow, as far as espionage shows go is Burt Kwouk — who to me will always be Cato from Peter Sellers Pink panther films, but her appeared in The Saint, the Avengers, Jason King, Callan and the list goes on. Another character actor appearing as Yin is Eric Young — now if you saw Young you may not recognise him, but you would recognise his voice. He too, was a jobbing actor also appearing in The Saint, Jason King, Strange Report and a few Fu Manchu films.

The third way you can look at The Chairman is solely as a spy thriller, and this is where the film really lets itself down. As a positive it has an interesting and possibly even modern approach to surveillance — some aspects of this film are almost like Patriot Games and Peacemaker, with the immediate access to intel and the department heads are able to make their decisions based on that information. But the truth be told this film is very discerningly paced (a polite way of saying slow, with very little action) for the first three quarters of its running time. The last twenty minutes though, is really quite good, and manages to build up some tension and excitement, but I fear most viewers will have either turned off or have lost interest in the story by this stage.

But as you may have gathered, I didn’t think this film was too bad, but then I’m the type who thrives on this sort of thing. If you aren’t a spy film junky, then you may find this film clunky.

The Chairman (1969)

Hercules Against the Barbarians

Film GenericAs with most of the Peplum films that are out there, there appears to be many versions of this film, varying in running time from about 90 minutes to 120 minutes. As well as differing running times, the films hero seems to change from either Hercules or Masciste, the son of Hercules. But that shouldn’t matter too much. The version I am reviewing here is the shortened American version, Hercules Against The Barbarians from, you guessed it, the Mill Creek Warriors 50 Movie Pack.

In many ways this is a follow up to Hercules Against The Mongols. Both films feature Mark Forest as Hercules (or Maciste), Ken Clark, and José Greci; and they are directed by Domenico Paolella. Unfortunately this film isn’t as entertaining than it’s ‘unofficial’ prequel.

In Hercules Against The Mongols, Ken Clark played one of Genghis Khan’s sons (Sayan), but this time he plays Kubilai. But in both films he had to sport a silly hairpiece and a droopy moustache.

The movie starts off with Genghis Khan and his Mongol army invading Poland. Actually we don’t see the invasion, only lots of Mongols, waving spears of horseback. The narrator tells us the Mongols have suffered their first defeat. We are also told that Hercules has fought alongside the Polish, like a ‘tornado’. And when we finally clap eyes on Hercules, he is being thanked, slapped on the back and sent on his way. The opening seems like a bit of a ripoff to me. We hear of a great battle but don’t see it.

Hercules is heading back to Arminia (Jose Greci), his fiancé, but before he arrives, strange things are happening in her village. Firstly a woman, Arias (Gloria Milland) is being chased by an angry mob. They accuse her of being a witch and want to burn her at the stake. She finds refuge in Arminia and her father’s cottage. However, he protection doesn’t last too long, as a band of Mongols arrive and kidnap Arminia, and kill her father. Arias is left arrive, and blamed for the atrocity. The mob quickly pick up their flaming torches once more and tie Arias to a stake. But just before going up in flames, she is rescued once more, this time by Hercules.

It is determined that the Mongols have taken Arminia to the city of Tornapol, where she is being held captive by Genghis Khan (Roldano Lupi). Naturally enough, Hercules and his new lady friend, Arias, set off in a bid to rescue Arminia.

The real villain in this movie is Kubilai (Ken Clark). Kubilai is a vicious piece of work, prepared to kill anyone who hinders his ascension to power, including his father and his brother. His malevolence is shown when he stabs one of his lovers in the heart after she has learnt too much about Kubilai’s plans.

At times, Hercules Against The Barbarians veers into Tarzan territory. Hercules battles various rubber creatures during his travels including a giant python, and a crocodile. Forest makes an admirable attempt at making the croc fight seem real, but cannot overcome the glaringly fake rubber reptile.

For me, Hercules Against The Barbarians is a weak entry in the Sword and Sandal series. Forest is not my favourite Hercules. He takes the role far too seriously and always looks to be in pain. At best the Hercules films are the antecedents of the swashbuckling films of the thirties and the forties. Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power always had a cheeky smile. Not so Forest. He is workman like in his approach.

On top of that this movie is fairly slowed paced and drags between action sequences. There is one sequence that is worth mentioning though. It is in the palace of Genghis Khan, and we are treated to an array of ‘regal’ entertainment, including oriental dancers spinning plates on sticks, and acrobats spinning and tumbling over giant flags as they are swirled around the room. The entertainment culminates with Hercules and one of Genghis Khan’s warriors fighting to the death in a gauntlet of (rubber tipped) spears.

Hercules Against the Barbarians

Fire Monster Against the Son of Hercules

Film GenericThe version of Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules that I viewed seems to be an American repackaging of another English version of the film. It features a toe-tapping theme song, “The Mighty Sons Of Hercules” which appears to have been tacked onto a few Sons Of Hercules Adventures – for example Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules starring Mark Forest. In this film Reg Lewis plays Maciste, but the very weird thing is that whenever he says his name, he has been re-dubbed (by another voice that sounds nothing like the original dub). He says “My name is MAXIS – SON OF HERCULES

This film is a bit different to many of the other Hercules, or Sons Of Hercules films. It doesn’t take place in ancient Greece or Italy. It takes place in the Ice Age. Which brings us to a very interesting question. How could the Son Of Hercules being wandering around the planet, when his father wasn’t born till several thousand years later? Maybe it’s best that we ignore that.

The films opens with the Sun Tribe venturing out of the ice, trying to find a new home where they can set up camp. These are the good guys. You can tell, because they wear white fur skins as clothing. Amongst the Sun Tribe are Idar (Luciano Marin) and Fuwan (Andrea Aureli). They are set to be married. As they stroll along the foreshore of a lake, a giant rubber water dragon attacks them. It looks like it is curtains for our young lovers, but from a cliff top over-looking the lake, up jumps Maxis (Reg Lewis). Lewis, who is suitably beefy for the role, looks like a blonde Elvis on steroids. His slicked back, rockabilly haircut seems a little bit out of place during the Ice Age, but that is just another thing that it is best that we ignore. Maxis tosses a spear at the dragon which hits it in the eye. The dragon dies and Maxis walks off, having completed his good deed for the day.

Later, Idar and Fuwan are married. As the ceremony finishes, the Sun Tribe’s camp is attacked by the Moon Tribe. You can tell the Moon Tribe is bad because they wear black fur skins. The Moon Tribe kill most of the men, and take the women prisoner. They march the women back to their camp, which is hidden in a cave.

Idar is now leader of the surviving Sun people, and naturally wants Fuwan (and the other girls) back. He sends out search parties for Maxis, who is undoubtedly wandering around in a forest nearby awaiting some kind of calamity, where his strength and services will be required. He responds to the call, and tracks the Moon Tribe to the underground lair.

Inside the cave, Maxis meets and teams up with Moa (Margaret Lee), and that folks is possibly the main reason to watch this film. There is something special about watching Margaret Lee scantily clad in animal skins.

Despite the title, Maxis doesn’t really have to battle a giant Fire Monster in this film. There are two dragons and a few snake like water monsters, but this film isn’t really a rubber monster flick. It is about the two warring tribes.

There are some decent set pieces throughout the film, mostly fights with bloody great clubs, and of course, Maxis gets to throw around a few paper mache rocks and trees. The cheesiest moment happens when Maxis and Moa have been captured by the Moon Tribe and are buried up to their neck in sand. How the couple escape form this dire predicament is laughable.

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules is pretty average. If it didn’t feature Margaret Lee, I would have switched off half way. Reg Lewis is wooden and very low-key as the hero. As a screen presence, I’d say he was over shadowed by Luciano Marin as Idar. And I am not too convinced about the Stone Age backdrop to this film either. I miss seeing the grand palaces with their evil Kings and Queens, the staple of so many peplum films. All in all, I think this film is a bit of a failure.

Fire Monster Against the Son of Hercules

Sinbad the Sailor

Film GenericAs this Sinbad movie predates Harryhausen’s 7th Voyage Of Sinbad by about ten years, this film doesn’t feature any rubber monsters or mythical creatures. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It simply means this film relies on old fashioned adventure and swashbuckling.

The film opens around a campfire, and Sinbad (Douglas Fairbanks Jnr) is retelling the tales from his previous seven voyages, but the audience is bored. They have all heard his fantastical stories before. And furthermore, they didn’t believe him, the first time he told them. In an earnest attempt to make believers of the men gathered around Sinbad begins retelling the tale of his latest (the 8th) voyage.

Sinbad’s tale begins with a ship floundering off the shore during a violent thunderstorm. Sinbad and his buddy, Abbu (George Tobias), swim out to the ship and take control. On board, the crew is all dead. The water bag has been poisoned. Also on board, Sinbad discovers a map to the fabled land of Derriobah where Alexander The Great is said to have hidden his treasure. Adding to the mystery, in the captain’s quarters, a stained glass window has the same image as an amulet that Sinbad wears around his neck. It is an amulet that he has had since birth.

The legend goes that the King of Derriobah feared that pirates would kidnap his son in an effort to have him reveal the whereabouts of the treasure. So he sent his son off to be brought up in a far away land – away from brigands and pirate treasure seekers. Once the young Prince had grown to manhood, a ship was sent out to find him and bring him back home.

Now the ship has been found, many people believe it will lead them to Derriobah, including Sinbad (who may or may not be the Prince). But as he makes port to take on a crew, the map disappears, and with it, his guide to riches untold of.

Adding to the adventure is Shireen (Maureen O’Hara). Now that Sinbad has lost the map, he believes Shireen is his link to Derriobah. But unfortunately for Sinbad, she has teamed up with the cutthroat Amir of Daipur (Anthony Quinn) in their own quest to find the treasure. Regardless, Sinbad sets sail with his own crew of miscreants in a race to find the lost land and the riches of Alexander The Great.

This film is a nice little adventure tale, but it isn’t too frenetically paced. The running, jumping and swinging style of swashbuckling doesn’t really kick in till the forty minute mark. That’s not to say that the film is boring. It isn’t, but for the first third it concentrates on it’s characters rather than action set pieces. As far as swashbucklers go, this film isn’t bad, but it is a step down from the type of film that Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power had done previously.

Sinbad the Sailor

Satanik

Film GenericBecause of the marketing of this movie, a masked girl in a black or red catsuit, Satanik is often compared to Danger: Diabolik. It’s an unfair comparison because they are totally different styles of film. Satanik is in fact a variation on the Jekyll and Hyde story, and has very little to do with masked heroes or villains. Like Diabolik, there is a Satanik comic book, but even then some extreme liberties have been taken with the character. There is a lot of history to the Satanik character, more than I can list here (and I am far from an expert on this), but believe it or not, this film belongs to the same family as the Turkish Kilink fims or the Italian Kriminal films, rather than Danger:Diabolik.

The film opens with Marnie Bannister (Magda Konopka) walking the street on a dark miserable night. She hails a taxi. Inside the taxi we finally get to see her face. It is horribly disfigured, and we wonder what had happened to her. She is in a hurry and gives her instruction to the taxi driver. She is taken to a Doctor. When she enters the room, we expected him to be shocked at her appearance, but not so. That is just the way she looks. She hasn’t been beaten up or involved in an accident (not recently anyway…we are never given a reason for her disfigurement)…she has lived with her scars for quite some time now. And this doctor is not your standard medical doctor. He is in fact a research scientist and Bannister is his research assistant.

The doctor has been working on youth serum and has had a minor breakthrough. He tried his latest formula on an old decrepit dog and it had staggering effects. The dog reverted back to being a puppy. It appears that the Doctor’s research has been successful, except for one small side effect. The dog is now extremely aggressive. It has become a vicious beast.

Bannister is so impressed with the breakthrough that she immediately volunteers to be the first human guinea pig. The Doctor advises against it. Who knows how it would affect humans. He wants to do more research. This isn’t good enough for Bannister. She has been living with the disfigurement for a long time now, and cannot wait any longer.

Bannister kills the doctor and takes the formula. She begins to convulse and passes out. But when she awakes, she is no longer the ugly, disfigured hag, but a gorgeous, super-model type. Now she is a killer on the run. None-the-less, a beautiful one.

This introduces us to Inspector Trent (Julio Pena), the Scotland Yard detective who is working on the case. It doesn’t seem to matter what country Trent is in, he is given any of that jurisdiction guff. He is allowed to investigate wherever he likes? Trent is a workman like detective. He follows his investigation where it leads, but even at the end, doesn’t truly understand that this case is different; that something (almost) supernatural is happening.

Satanik is not a bad bit of Eurosleaze, but I think it could have been more. It is quite slow in parts and all supporting characters are drawn pretty thin. But then again, the enjoyment from this film comes from watching Bannister move from one problem to the next and how she resolves each of the situations. We don’t really need to dwell on her co-stars. This is where the pacing problems do come into it though. Often we can see what is going to happen, and we want the film-makers to get on with it.

On the plus side, the film has a jet-setting late sixties feel to it. There are playboys in bars, performance art, casinos, go-go dancing, and a swinging sixties soundtrack.

If you enjoy sixties cinema, you may enjoy Satanik. Others may find it a bit slow, and the violence and horror aspects of the story too tame by today’s standards.

Satanik

Light Blast

Film GenericLight Blast is a trashy B-grade cop thriller starring Erik Estrada who was swept to fame in the late 70’s and early 80’s playing Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncharello in the TV series CHiPs. For those too young to remember CHiPs, it was a show about two California Highway Patrol police officers, Estrada, and Larry Wilcox, who rode motorcycles and arrested crooks. In Light Blast, again Estrada plays a cop, but this time he’s decidedly more ‘Dirty Harry’ than ‘Ponch’.

To readers, it must seem lazy for a reviewer to continually mention Dirty Harry, but Harry casts a very long shadow. If a cop film features a tough, violent loner who is good with a gun, then the film is undoubtedly influenced by Harry Callahan and his 44 magnum. Likewise, if a film is more gritty and character driven, it probably owes a debt to The French Connection. And in keeping, if a film features a black actor as the lead, then the film is measured up against Richard Roundtree’s Shaft. All three films were made in 1971. It was a good year for cop movies (although Shaft was a ‘private dick’). And all three films provide the template for the cop films that followed.

It could be argued that over the years in police films, although the cops have battled a various assortment of psychos, it wasn’t until the success of The Silence Of The Lambs, that the style of cop films changed from the model set up in the early 1970’s. These days, cop shows on television (like C.S.I.) and at the movies are pretty dark affairs, with serial killers, stalkers, paedophiles, and bizarre cults plaguing society.

As entertainment, I must admit I find it all rather distasteful – that’s not to say that some of them aren’t good productions. But I long for the days of good old fashioned ‘cops and robbers’. It’s easier to understand the motives of your old style villain. It’s greed and selfishness. He wants money. But today’s villain tends to keep a collection of body parts in his basement, which I can’t really relate to. And furthermore, I am not too enamored when it is served up as entertainment night after night (C.S.I. and Bones – I am looking at you), and yearly at the movies (how many Hannibal Lechter films do we need?)

But I have digressed. Light Blast is from the Dirty Harry school of cop films. Estrada is Ronn Warren, a San Francisco cop. The film opens with Dr. Yuri Soboda (Michael Pritchard) test firing a new high tech laser weapon at a railway depot. At the depot a young couple are engaging in a bit of hanky-panky in a train carriage. Unusual location for a secret tryst, but whatever works for you! As the ray hits the carriage, the young lovers melt…yuk!

Then we cut to a hostage situation. Two armed robbers are holding a dozen people hostage in a bank. Police have circled the building and are trying to negotiate a resolution. But it isn’t easy to reason with the gunmen. To prove that they mean business they shoot one of the hostages. They demand a plane. The police officer in charge of the negotiation – the one with the megaphone – tells them that the plane will take time. Next, the gunmen want a meal. They also want the food delivered by someone without clothes, that way they can see if the person is armed.

Naturally the police don’t send a civilian. They send Ronn Warren. He walks up to the bank practically naked, holding a giant turkey and french-fries (or ‘CHiPs’ as I like to call them – sorry, bad pun). Warren quickly overpowers the ‘perps’ and frees the hostages. He does this with a pistol hidden in the turkey – er, yeah!

Meanwhile, a message is sent to the mayor of San Francisco, by Soboda saying that he wants five million dollars. But first he will fire the weapon again at 5:48pm to prove that the threat is legitimate. As a precaution the city’s police officers are sent to cover and protect all the public event happening that day. Warren is sent to the Freemont Speedway. And of course, that’s where Soboda and his team of extortionists strike. They fire the weapon and melt the announcers booth at the speedway.

Warren observes this, and pursues the laser, which is housed in a television broadcast truck. This leads us to the first of the films four car chase scenes. As the film is set in San Francisco, you will naturally think of Bullitt when you see the vehicles speeding around the undulating San Fran street scape. Needless to say, that none of these chases even comes close to the level of excitement in Bullitt. After each chases, Soboda raises his ransom demands. The final chase starts with a citizen exclaiming, “Hey! What the f*ck are you doin!”, and that perfectly sums up the viewing experience.

Light Blast is trash. The only reason to watch it, is if you are old enough to remember CHiPs fondly, because Erik Estrada is all this film has going for it. The acting is generally atrocious, and the action scenes are repetitive. Each one is a car chase!

Light Blast

Darker Than Amber (1970)

Director: Robert Clouse
Starring: Rod Taylor, Suzy Kendall, Theodre Bikel, William Smith, Ahna Capri, Janet MacLachlan, Jane Russell, Robert Phillips, James Booth
Based on the novel by John D. MacDonald

With the buzz on the blogosphere about a cinematic revival of Travis McGee I thought it was worth revisiting Rod Taylor’s Darker Than Amber. As you all know by now, I am a pretty big fan of James Bond. As a kid reading the Pan paperbacks, I was always interested in the adverts for other similar spy adventures that were at the back of the novels. One of the ads that continually caught my attention were for the Travis McGee books by John D.MacDonald. The blurb ran like this:

The tough, amoral and action crammed stories of the popular Travis McGee as he tangles with passionate women and violent men to uncover blackmail and corruption from California to Mexico.

First of the Travis McGee series now filming starring Rod Taylor.

Call me stupid, but these Travis McGee blurbs imparted two bits of misinformation to me. The first, because these ads ran at the back of spy novels, I thought that Travis McGee was a spy – well I was mistaken there. And secondly, underneath the spiel, there was a list of Travis McGee books available, so I assumed that Rod Taylor was starring in a film called The Quick Brown Fox. Wrong again. Before the days of the internet, all this information was impossible to verify. I used to scour TV guides looking for the ‘lost’ spy film The Quick Brown Fox.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, and the resource of the world wide web, I now know that the film I was looking for was Darker Than Amber. And I also know that Travis McGee did return one more time in a TV movie, Travis McGee: The Empty Copper Sea in 1983, starring Sam Elliot in the role. I’ve never seen it, but most reports are that it is pretty abysmal, but I digress. So after twenty-five years, I have finally I tracked down a copy of the Rod Taylor Travis McGee movie. Was it worth the wait?

The film opens at night with a pretty wild pumping jazz pop tune. No musical credit is listed on the version of the film I have seen, but it is groovy, man! As the tune plays and the credits roll, a convertible speeds along a road and over a bridge. On the river, below the bridge, in an outboard skiff, Travis McGee (Rod Taylor) and Meyer (Thedore Bikel) are doing a spot of fishing.

The racing convertible does a U-turn and returns to the centre of the bridge. The car contains four people, Terry Bartel (Willian Smith), Griff (Robert Phillips), Del Whitney (Ahna Capri), and Vangie (Suzy Kendall). Bartel gets out of the car and lifts Vangie out of the back seat. She seems to be doped up on something. Her eyes are open but she seems incapable of movement. Bartel has tied a 85 pound set of dumbbells to her feet. Not realising that McGee are Meyer are underneath the bridge at this time of night, Bartel throws Vangie over the side and into the river.

As Bartel and friends speed off, McGee dives into the river, swims down and cuts her free from the weights. Despite her being tangled up in their fishing lines, McGee manages to get her to the surface and into the skiff. McGee and Meyer take Vangie back to McGee’s houseboat, ‘The Busted Flush’, where they remove a fishing barb from her leg and patch her up. Despite her ordeal, Vangie doesn’t want any police involvement.

On the next day, McGee takes the skiff back to the bridge and to the spot Vangie was dunked. He dives down with a rope and finds the set of weights she had been tied to. He ties the rope to the dumbbell and swims back to the boat. Then he hauls up the weights. Watching from the bank, pretending to be fishing is a bloke named Farnsworth. Once he sees what is going on, he makes his way to the nearest phone booth and calls Bartel.

Maybe the smart thing for McGee is to be thankful that the girl is alive and leave it at that. But he’s always been a sucker for a damsel in distress, He decides it’s best that he takes Vangie away for a little while. He releases the moorings on his houseboat, and with Meyer along for company, the three of them cruise off.

It isn’t long after that Bartel comes looking for McGee, but the landing master refuses to tell him where he has gone. What hasn’t been apparent, so far, is that not only is Bartel a cruel man, but he is also a violent psychopath. Bartel looses his temper with the landing master and kills him.

Over the cruise, McGee forms and attachment to Vangie, but the good life can’t last for ever, and they dock in Fort Lauderdale. Vangie wants to go to her apartment and retrieve some money she has hidden there. McGee suggests that it isn’t a smart move and that he should go. But she doesn’t listen and sneaks out on her own anyway. It isn’t a wise move, and Bartel is watching her apartment. And as she is walking on the street, Bartel grabs her from behind. Bartel signals to Griff, who is behind the wheel of a car, and who races along the street. At the last second, Bartel uses his brutish strength to throw Vangie out into the middle of the road into the path of Griff’s speeding car. She is killed instantly and thrown back through a glass shop window.

Vangie’s death makes Travis McGee pretty mad, and from then on this film moves into pretty familiar territory – it becomes a pretty slick revenge flick. The film climaxes with a vicious, kick-ass ship board fight between McGee and Bartel. For those of you who have seen the television print of this, the fight has had approximately two minutes cut out because of the violence (but quite a few grey marketeers have uncut copies).

I enjoyed most of Darker Than Amber. It does get a little slow in the middle, and there is something not quite right with this movie. At times it seems like a lot of middle aged men, pretending that they are youthful and still ‘with it’. Rod Taylor is lumbered with some terrible fashion, like a white cotton mesh top, sleeveless denim shirts that are way too long, and a whole collection of dandy neck kerchief’s. I think some of it is designed to show off Rod Taylor’s physique, and the guy is in shape. I guess if you’re gonna go up against William Smith, who is built like a brick shit-house, you’ve got to be in shape, right? But on Rugged Rod, it almost comes off as camp. Rod Taylor is not beef cake – in some ways he is a throw back to the old school actors like Bogart and Gable. They were tough but never had to parade around without a shirt.

After all these years, I am glad I tracked down Darker Than Amber but it isn’t anything special. I think the thrill of the chase was more exciting than the bulk of the film. But it isn’t a turkey either. I am surprised that it hasn’t received a proper DVD release.

Incidentally, director Robert Clouse’s next film would be Enter The Dragon, which also starred Ahna Capri.

Darker Than Amber (1970)

Dead Men's Dust

Author: Matt Hilton
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Year: 2009

The running man conspiracy continues! No, not really. I am not going to discuss the cover artwork for Matt Hilton’s Dead Men’s Dust. The running man has already had a good run (sorry about that) in the blogosphere. I thought it was time to actually delve inside, and I am pleased to report that Dead Men’s Dust is a cracking good thriller.

The opening is a ball-tearer, with the character Joe Hunter, from the outset proving that he has the skill set to help the small people of the world. Because that is what Joe Hunter does – he helps people. To put an espionage twist to it, Hunter is a bit like Robert McCall in the Equalizer, or even Michael Westen in Burn Notice. He’s a man who has been around the block – so to speak – and learnt a trick or two along the way. Now he has left that world behind and helps out people who aren’t able to protect themselves from the bullies of the world. But Hunter’s past is a bit vague. As he explains on page 59:

‘I hadn’t been a secret agent; it wasn’t for me to use guile and trickery to root out the bad guys. I was the weapon sent in when all the planning was done with and all that was left was the arse-kicking. Arse-kicking I was good at. It got results.’

Joe Hunter’s mission on this occasion, is a personal one. His estranged half-brother, John Tefler has gone missing in the U.S. of A. John has always been a bit of a try-hard schemer – only his schemes and his luck never seem to work out. Joe has to track down his brother, who has not only managed to attract the unwanted attention of the Syndicate, after he disappears with some counterfeit money printing plates, but also the attention of one of America’s most brutal serial killers, Tubal Cain.

Dead Men’s Dust is written in two styles, alternating chapter by chapter. The first style is first person and the story is viewed from Joe Hunter’s point of view. This is effective to a point, but towards the middle of the book it is a bit frustrating because of the other events happening in the book – but let me explain. The other style, every second chapter is written in third person and recounts the gruesome exploits of Tubal Cain. As we move through the story, Tubal Cain moves ahead of Joe Hunter in the story arc, and as such in the middle there is a small portion where Hunter is really playing catch up and planning his next move – while we readers are far ahead of him. Thankfully Hilton keeps these chapters relatively brief. The frustrating thing here is that Hunter is such an enjoyable character, especially when he is ‘let loose’ that we are left wanting and waiting. But we don’t have to wait for too long and the tense, atmospheric ending is well worth it.

Overall, I’d say that Dead Men’s Dust is a bloody good read. It does what it aims to do – and that is provide a rollercoaster ride riddled with bullets and broken bones, and it is packaged with a slick sense of style and pace. The publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, certainly did the right thing by Hilton down in Australia. Especially on a ‘street level’ where bright yellow and magenta Joe Hunter posters covered every wall and building site hording. In store it was backed up with a ‘publishers promise’ – enjoy the book or your money back. Well, they’re are pretty safe. I enjoyed Dead Men’s Dust from the knee splintering opening to the gruesome knife wielding last pages, and I am eagerly looking forward to the follow up Judgment and Wrath which is due out later this year.

Just a brief warning – this story does feature a serial killer – a serial killer whose prefered weapon is a scaling knife – so if you’re a little bit queasy then this may not be the book for you.

From the back:

‘Some may call me a vigilante. I think I’ve just got problems to fix.’

Right now, Joe Hunter’s big problem is a missing little brother, last seen fleeing the site of a gruesome killing. Hunter needs the help of an old army buddy, a whole lot of hardware and a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, to fix this particular problem.

A brutal encounter with some very nasty criminals leaves Hunter fighting for his life. And that’s before he comes up against America’s most feared serial killer, ‘The Harvestman’, and his grisly souvenirs of death.

But blood is thicker than water. And a lot of blood will be spilt . . .

DEAD MEN’S DUST introduces Joe Hunter, an all action hero with a strong moral code. Like the gunslingers of the Wild West, Hunter is not afraid to use his weapons and his fists – but only to save the victims from the bad guys.

To visit Matt Hilton’s website, click here.
Or to visit his blog, click here.

Dead Men's Dust