Country: United Kingdom Director: Stuart Rosenberg (and allegedly John Huston) Starring: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Rod Steiger, Henry Silva, Michael V. Gazzo, Strother Martin, Bradford Dillman Music: Lalo Schifrin
Love And Bullets is a good detective thriller, made just before Bronson started making all the gratuitously violent crap in the 1980’s. That’s not to say, that Love And Bullets isn’t violent. It contains it’s fair share. But most of the violence follows the story and is not there simply to titillate. This time Bronson plays Charlie Congers (fantastic character name).
Congers is a Phoenix detective. But what separates this film from the usual detective dramas is that Charlie is recruited by the F.B.I. to go to Switzerland and retrieve a witness for the indictment of a mob boss. Why Charlie? Firstly, he is involved in the case after a fellow police officer is blown to smithereens in a car bomb explosion. Secondly, the F.B.I. can’t work legally outside the U.S.A., so they need a ‘volunteer’ who works outside the system to go and do their dirty work. At a casual glance Love And Bullets may seem like a detective movie, but believe me, the style is pure ‘spy’.
Rod Steiger, in one of his most bizarre performances, is Joe Bomposa, the Mob Boss, who Bronson and the F.B.I. are trying to indict. But Bomposa is almost childlike, prone to adolescent temper tantrums and stuttering incontrollably. Although he is undeniably powerful he tends to come across as a buffoon.
Jill Ireland (Bronson’s wife at the time) plays Jackie Pruit, the ex mistress of Bomposa, who is the witness Congers has to bring back. Of course, the mob do not want Pruit to testify, and will do anything to stop the duo. As you’d expect from a husband and wife team, Congers and Pruit fall in love. But it is not the kind of movie where sex is used to manipulate events. It is more of an old fashioned morality, where the relationship between the two protagonists builds as they struggle through each successive attempt on their life.
Bomposa’s henchmen are an interesting bunch. The first, is Lobo (Michael V. Gazzo), who is a young punk that loves killing so much that he spends most of the film laughing. The second, and most menacing character in the movie is Vittorio Farroni (Henry Silva), the hitman hired by Bomposa to kill his ex-mistress. Unfortunately Silva isn’t given enough screen time, but he is at his evil, glowering best.
Visually the movie is played straight, hard and lean. There is little finessing with the camera work. The most surreal moment occurs when Rod Steiger is bathing in a steaming volcanic hot spring, surrounded by red lava rocks. As the camera pans back, it is revealed that this elaborate spa setting is not an amazing natural beauty, but a construction of his balcony.
Musically, Lalo Schifrin doesn’t let us down again. Another quirky and enjoyable score, which combines the contemporary spy music of the time (a lot of piano), with an almost western feel to emphasise the Arizona cowboy aspect of Bronson’s character.
The real star of Love And Bullets are the great Swiss locations. It’s a fantastic backdrop that takes this detective story out of the usual U.S. city environment and plays out the drama on an international stage. And Bronson is still at an age where he is believable as the hero (he was 58 years old when this film was released). If you are a fan of Charles Bronson, this is one of his better efforts. It’s not high art, but it is a pretty good seventies-style cop thriller with a hint of globe trotting espionage.
Country: United States Director: George Pan Cosmatos Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brigette Nielsen, Brian Thompson, Reni Santoni, Andrew Robinson Music: Sylvester Levay
Cobra was made after Rambo II and Rocky IV, and before Rambo III, and directed by George Pan Cosmatos (who directed the aforementioned Rambo II). At the time of its release it was derided primarily for two things. The first, and most obvious, was that it was too violent. The second was, that at only 86 min in length, it was too short and the cinema going public were being ripped off. Funnily enough, looking at the film today, it doesn’t seem that violent at all. Most of the violence is suggestive rather than shown, and when a violent sequence does take place it is rather stylised.
Despite any criticism levelled at at the film at the time, when I saw it at the cinema (and I hate to admit, I saw it two times) I didn’t think the film was too bad at all. In fact, I thought it was a good fast paced thrill ride. And visually, the film was amazing. You’ve got to remember that this was made in the days before CGI and rampant use of green screen backgrounds. Sure some filters were used, but most of what you see on the screen was filmed in front of the camera.
In the film Sylvester Stallone plays a bad ass pop named Marion Cobretti (Marion possibly being a nod to John Wayne whose real name was Marion Morrison). Cobretti is a part of a special police unit called ‘The Zombie Squad’ – no, I am not making that up. And of course, he does not get along with his superiors. It is a time honoured trope in cop films, and can be seen in the Dirty Harry series, Brannigan and McQ and (with John Wayne), Lone Wolf McQuade and Code of Silence (with Chuck Norris) and in the Italian cop films of the 1970s especially those starring Maurizio Merli. Why would we expect Cobretti to be any different?
As the story begins, the city is in turmoil because a serial killer known as the ‘Night Slasher’ is cutting a bloody path through the population. There are no clues in the investigation, nor suspects, as the attacks appear to be random. One evening, Ingrid Knudsen (Brigette Nielsen – Stallone’s wife at the time) witnesses a ‘Night Slasher’ attack and reports it to the police. However the ‘Night Slasher’ is not just one psycho, but a fanatical group of fruitcakes who believe they are establishing a New World Order. That is, a New World Order, where the only prerequisite to join the group is a desire to kill people, and an ability to bang two axes together in time with the other fruitcakes. Later, to silence her, the crazies make an attempt on Ingrid’s life. Then Cobretti and his partner Chico are assigned to protect her.
The villain, the head ‘Night Slasher’ if you will, is played by Brian Thompson, who made a career out of this sort of role. Here, he doesn’t have much to say, but he looks menacing, and when he does finally speak, he spits the words out in a suitably vitriolic (and taunting) fashion.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about the film, were the Dirty Harry in-jokes. Firstly, Andrew Robinson plays Cobra’s boss – you know the one who doesn’t like his detectives methods. Robinson, of course, played the psychotic Scorpio in the original Dirty Harry. Also from Dirty Harry, Reni Santoni plays Cobra’s partner Chico – he was also Harry’s partner Chico. From Sudden Impact, there is a great line at the beginning of the film as a terrorist threatens to blow up a supermarket, Cobra, rather than in-tone “Go ahead, make my day”, he says, “Go ahead, I don’t shop here” – which at the time was rather funny.
Cobra is based on a book called Fair Game by Paula Gosling – although published in Australia as A Running Duck. However the book and film are nothing alike – the only similarity being that they are both stories about a cop who is assigned to protect an innocent woman. After reading the book, it is possible to see why Stallone was drawn to Gosling’s story though – in Fair Game, the hero is an ex-Vietnam sniper, which almost aligns the character with Rambo. It’s almost like ‘what Rambo did after the war’. But none of that made it into the script of Cobra. Even the character names are different. The hero in the book was named Malchek and the girl was named Clare Randell. Although it has been twenty years since I read the book, from memory, it seemed pretty good – which means it is pretty ripe for a remake as none of the story actually made it into the film.
Watching the film today, it seems a very 80s in its style, its look, and its cringe inducing music. And in the action stakes, it has been surpassed by films such as Die Hard which brought something new to the tired cop thriller. And that was the thing, the strength, of Cobra upon its initial release was that it was a shot in the arm to a genre which had been popular in the 1970s but was now running out of legs. But Cobra still had its foot in the old school camp and now that it style has dated its impact is severely diminished.
As I implied at the top, I thought Cobra was a good film – but today, it is almost hard to sit through. I want to say great things about it, but that would be nostalgia talking, and not a true reflection on viewing the film today. Obviously, with the success of The Expendables there is a lot of nostalgia for Stallone’s early work, but I feel some of that is misplaced and looking back with rose coloured glasses – and Cobra may be one such example.
Author: Andy McNab
Publisher: Bantam Press
Remote Control is the first in the series of Andy McNab’s Nick Stone adventures, and I guess the question that was asked back when it was published, was if McNab could cut it as a fiction author. His autobiographical novels, Bravo Two Zero and Immediate Action were massive bestsellers, but retelling events from the field, from his days as an SAS operative was one thing, but fiction is a different kettle of fish altogether. Had McNab run out of stories to tell? The reality was, right from the get go, McNab proved he was more than adept at fiction, and furthermore, his military background and gritty first person narrative style added an element of realism (and vigor) to a genre that was sorely in need of an adrenaline shot to the heart.
The opening chapter is a beaut. The story starts in Gibraltar in 1988, and Nick Stone is a part of a team that is watching three IRA terrorists who are planning to explode a car bomb. The tension is palpable as Stone and his team watch the terrorists as they move through the city, not knowing where and when they are going to activate the bomb. Adding to the confusion, there seems to be some debate as to who has operational control of the mission. Through their headsets, Stone and his team can hear the powers that be squabble over, not only what action to take but who should be responsible for it. It is a really effective piece of writing. In it, there is tension, bureaucracy, and ultimately action. This one chapter says more about spying than some novels achieved over their whole length.
The bulk of the story takes place nine years later in 1997. Stone now works for the British intelligence service. After a foul up on his previous mission, as penance, Stone is assigned to tail two PIRA terrorists who are travelling from Dublin to London and then on to Washington. Upon arrival in Washington, Stone’s mission is cancelled he is ordered to return to London.
Before leaving the United States, Stone chooses to pay a visit on an old friend Kevin Brown and his family. When Stone arrives he finds that Kevin and his family have been murdered. Well almost all the family. Kevin’s youngest daughter, Kelly, hid in the garage and avoided the slaughter.
Stone takes her with him and reports the incident to his superiors. He expects that they will sort out the mess and find a home for Kelly. However the intelligence service does not want to know about it. Furthermore, Stone was seen leaving Kevin’s house and now is the prime murder suspect. Now Stone is on the run with a seven-year-old girl, not knowing who to trust or where to turn to.
The great thing about this book is its realism. A mean-spirited person could suggest that there is a lot of repetition in the story, however the repetition primarily concerns safety procedures carried out by Stone. And as such they add to the realism, and they certainly are not boring. While reading, you ride a long with Stone, you trust his judgement and his knowledge. If he repeats an action, it is for his own, as well as Kelly’s safety – and McNab excells at selling the operational procedure aspects of the story.
At the heart of the story is Stone’s relationship with Kelly. Obviously he is not a family man. He is a soldier. So when he is lumped with this kid, he really doesn’t know what to do. On his own, he could get out at the situation easily. But with Kelly slowing him down, he has to find new solutions to the problems he encounters. And naturally, as the story progresses, the two develop a bond, which ensures that the story is not just another ‘shoot ’em up’.
Remote Control is an excellent read, and it’s not so surprising that Andy McNab is one of the world’s best selling authors.
Over the past few months, my friend Bob Griffith has been producing a web series called ‘The Adventures of Super7even’, which is an enthusiastic homage to those masked super hero and spy films of the 1960s, and will bring a smile to the face of those who grew up watching Diabolik, Argoman, The Three Fantastic Supermen and Superargo, as well as small screen shows such as The Man From UNCLE and Get Smart.
Blue Underground has released The 10th Victim on Blu-ray this week featuring images from the collection of fellow COBRAS agent Jason Whiton, author of the sensational spy lifestyle blog SpyVibe.
Jason is running a contest to win a copy of the Blu-ray. He says:
Spy Vibe release party! I was fortunate to contribute to the new Blu-ray edition of one of my all-time fave films, Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim (1965), starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress. The Blu-ray from Blue Underground will be released tomorrow, and I have four copies to give away to Spy Vibe readers! I have to say, this edition looks very cool. After seeing the menu ported over the last couple of DVD editions, it is refreshing to see the film get a whole new package. The new menu is a celebration of the film’s Masoch Club, the famous scene where Andress dispatches her prey with her gun-bra silver bikini. The folks at Blue Underground picked lots of great scenes to run during menu selection. There are many special features, including my collection of stills and posters. The inside of the case sports a French lobby card that really highlights the film’s costume design. I think you all will enjoy it! I’m very happy to see the film preserved with style.
OK, the contest: Send an e-mail to jason[at]spyvibe.com with “10th Victim” in the subject line and include your address. I will pick 4 winners in a random drawing on October 4th.
Country: United States Director: Sam Firstenberg Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, John P. Ryan Writer: James Booth Music: George S. Clinton
Every film lover has guilty pleasure films. Mine are a bit more embarrassing than most – and Avenging Force is an embarrassment even for a person who has a selection of regular embarrassing films in their closet. Avenging Force is crap. I know it and I admit it, but strangely this film and I are connected. Not in a physical sense, but in that nebulous sort of way that happens when somebody likes some thing or someone for no apparent reason. I can’t work out what draws me to this film, but I have watched it so many times since its release in 1986 (I won’t tell you how many, or you’ll just throw things at me and call me names) that I consider it cinematic comfort food.
You may be thinking that I like this film because it stars Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, the stars of American Ninja, and while I can relate to what you are saying – I do have a soft spot for American Ninja – I have to say that I think Avenging Force is a superior movie. American Ninja, may have a cool, sort of Rebel Without A Cause vibe to it, but it also has a cold aloofness to it, that Dudikoff’s inexperience as an actor at that time could not rise above. But Avenging Force has a heart, and while the cliches are piled on thick and fast, most of the time they work, almost like visual shorthand. And by this time Dudikoff had learnt to relax in front of the camera too.
The plot concerns Larry Richards (Steve James), a black American who is running for a seat in the Louisiana Senate. Richards also happens to an ex intelligence operative who used to work with a young agent named Matt Hunter (Michael Dudikoff) for a department called G-6. Hunter, too, has retired from the service. He retired after his parents were killed in a car bomb explosion. He now lives on a ranch, bringing up his kid sister, Sarah (Allison Gereighty) – with a little bit of help and guidance from his grandfather (Rick Boyle).
In New Orleans, it’s Mardi Gras time, and Hunter, Sarah and Grandpa head south to help Richards with his election campaign. Upon arrival, Richards explains that he has received some death threats from a right wing organisation called Pentangle. Richards also explains that he has not taken the threats seriously, as crank calls and threats are all par for the course, for a black politician in the deep south.
During the Mardi Gras parade, as Richards and his family travel through the crowds on board a float, a team of assassins make an attempt on his life. They succeed in shooting Richards’ son, but Hunter intervenes and fights the assassins off and saving Richards’ life.
Later, Pentangle regroup and set up another attempt on Richards’ life. This time, teaming up, both Richards and Hunter fight off the Pentangle hoods yet again. However, during the battle, Richards is shot in the arm. It is decided, for Richards, and his family’s safety, that they should leave the city for a while. The location they choose as sanctuary is Hunter’s Texas ranch. But Pentangle aren’t done yet. Not by a long shot, and they perform a large scale assault on Hunter’s farm, killing everybody except for Hunter and his sister, Sarah.
There is a reason that they let them live. Pentangle are not only murderous right wing fanatics, they also have a hunting club – their favourite quarry are human beings (a variant on The Most Dangerous Game). They let their enemies loose in the Louisiana swamps and then hunt them down for fun (and the occasional side bet), killing them in a violent and a merciless manner. Impressed with Hunter’s resilience, Pentangle believe that Hunter would be a worthy target for their ‘hunt club’ and they kidnap his sister as bait to ensure that he participates. Hunter doesn’t have much choice. He must compete in their barbaric game or Sarah willed be killed.
Let me say I have never been to New Orleans, so my impression of that city is based solely on films, books and music, which I’ll freely admit is hardly a substitute for the real thing. However, even if all the films I’ve seen, books I’ve read, and CD’s I have listened to are not a true reflection on New Orleans, they still have created a very flavoursome alternate universe. It’s a city and a flavour that is not like anywhere else – at least in the media. And maybe it’s this flavour that draws me (almost hooks me) to Avenging Force. Maybe it is the sequences with colourful Mardi Gras floats drifting down through the streets, accompanied by swinging brass bands. The buildings in the background, with their overhanging verandas seen to close in on the streetscapes, creating a roof, sealing in the vibe, and as the parade moves through the street, everything pops and sizzles.
Or maybe it was the sequence featuring the swampy backwoods Cajun settlement. In the film, the settlement is supposed to be a unfriendly place, but the food (the cooked crays), the Zydeco music – washboards, accordions and violins – pounded out on real instruments, and dancing create an environment with a definite sense of community. A family in fact. So while Dudikoff’s character Matt Hunter, upon his arrival, is made to feel unwelcome – which make the Cajun’s seem hostile – would he be treated any different in your home if he gatecrashed a party? I think not.
Or maybe it is the swamp locations. To me it looks like it was filmed on location in the swamps. The trees are all gnarled and twisted, and the water looks green. And you can almost feel the heat, even though in many of the scenes it is teeming with rain. In a world where everything is becoming more artificial and homogenized, seeing something earthy and real is appealing. The fights look dangerous, not necessarily because of the combat, but because of the terrain. One false step, could have you sprawled on your belly in mud and at the mercy of the enemy.
As you can see, there is nothing definite about why I like Avenging Force, and I could spend equal time pointing out its flaws, such as poorly choreographed fight scenes and gaping plot holes, but that would be nit-picking. Plenty of films have bad fight scenes and plot holes, but most of those films don’t create a mood and an atmosphere. Avenging Force does. Is it an existential action film? Maybe that’s pushing the envelope a little too far, but it certainly creates its own world above and beyond the the film’s limited framework and the established tropes of the genre. And if you’re wondering just what genre this film is, at it’s heart it is a simple revenge flick. But it is more than a revenge flick. It’s about right and wrong, the past and the future, and it’s an endurance test. And if you need more, you could say it is a martial arts movie – but I would also suggest that as far as martial arts movies go, Avenging Force is not a great one.
In Avenging Force, some viewers may find the violence and some of the villains repugnant. And I can understand that. The reality is that the film is just another exploitation flick from Cannon pictures. So yeah, violence sells, so there is a healthy serve of violence in the flick. But it is not that much different to the other mid ’80s action dross that was being pumped out at the time, starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger or even Chuck Norris. The violence here is all rather cartoonish, with the villains wearing silly masks in the swamps – and amplified by the acting, which is over the top, especially by John P. Ryan as the chief villain, Glastenbury, who appears to have a high old time, ranting and raving like a megalomaniac should.
Avenging Force, despite the fondness I have for the film, is no masterpiece, and as a spy film it is pretty weak. During the course of events, ex-spy Hunter is called back to his old group G-6 and is asked to rejoin and assist them. At that time he refuses, saying he’ll do things his way, which he does. However, by the end of the film (and the ending is a little bit open – but I won’t spoil it here) Hunter appears to rejoin his old team so he can shut down Pentangle for once and for all. By the end of the film, he is a spy again – albeit one with a very personal agenda, and one who is not going to play by the rules. So even as a spy film, it is very much a revenge flick.
As a bit of trivia, for those who like such things, Hunter’s old boss, Admiral Brown, is played by James Booth (Hooky, I’ll make a soldier out of you yet!) Booth also wrote the screenplay, having previously worked on the screenplay of American Ninja 2: The Confrontation. He would also appear with Dudikoff in American Ninja 4: The Annihilation. Ninja 4 appears to have been written by a gentleman named David Geeves, and as James Booth’s birth name is David Geeves-Booth, it is fair to assume he also wrote it as well. Should we blame Hooky for Dudikoff’s ascension as a B-grade movie star in the mid 1980s? Or should that honour go to director Sam Firstenberg?
As I said at the top, Avenging Force is one of my guilty, very guilty pleasures. I don’t expect you to share my enthusiasm for it – and nor should you, but as a cheap exploitation flick, I think it punches well above its weight.
Author: Paul Glen Neuman Publisher: Gold Eagle Published: 1986 Book No: 25
Sorry folks, once again I am going to be a boorish parochial Australian. And with good reason, as this particular Phoenix Force adventure takes place on the fair shores of the great southern land. You’ve got to remember, when this book was written in 1986, Australia was the global flavour of the month (or year), Crocodile Dundee had been a major hit on the cinema screens around the world, Olivia Newton John had opened her Koala Blue boutique in L.A. – offering a taste of Australia, and INXS were on the cusp of becoming one of the world’s biggest pop bands.
Also at the other end of the spectrum, in 1985, Australia rock band Midnight Oil released the four track EP, Species Deceases. The record was an enormous success, and was the first sign that Midnight Oil were kicking off the shackles of being just another loud Oz-Pub-Rock band (albeit with a message), and on the verge of international success.
But why do I mention Midnight Oil, and how does it pertain to this novel? Well that has to do with the lead singer of the Oils, Peter Garrett. Garrett ran as a Nuclear Disarmament Party (NDP) candidate for a NSW seat in the Australian Senate during the December 1984 federal election. Garrett did not garner enough votes to win the seat, but he certainly put the NDP on the radar. And it just so happens that the NDP are the villains in this book – or are they? But I’ll talk more about the plot later. To set the mood, here’s a bit of Garrett and the Oils in action (Montreal, Canada 1985) – Hercules, from the Species Deceases E.P. Uploaded to Youtube by Sprint74
Now this is the first Phoenix Force novel that I have read, although I am familiar with some of the characters as they crossed over into some of the Mack Bolan stories. This particular entry, was written by Paul Glen Neuman. Neuman wrote seven entries in the Phoenix Force series (being: Sea of Savages (19), The Twisted Cross (21), Chip of the Old Bloc (23), Down Under Thunder (25), Slow Death (28), The Bonn Blitz (30), and Fair Game (32). On Neuman’s website he describes his contribution to the series us such:
PHOENIX FORCE was a team of international mercenaries who saved the world six times a year during the series’ run. I enjoyed all of the characters but one. Thanks to me, he was wounded and out of commission for several books while a much more writer-friendly replacement filled in. I wrote seven titles in the series.
The character he is referring to is Rafael Encizo, who sits this adventure out, recuperating is a US Army hospital in Nuremburg. His replacement is Karl Hahn, an (ex) agent of the West German BND.
Time to examine the plot. Of course, the NDP (and Peter Garrett) are not the real villains of this story. It’s another mob called Nuclear Free Australia (or the NFA, for short) who are bankrolled by a mountainous glutton named Sebastian Hardy. Hardy’s motivation in this story is a tad clumsy. It appears that he has control over large parcels of uranium rich land which has made him very wealthy. He mines the ore and sells it for profit. But it seems, he only wants his uranium to be used for energy, and not nuclear weapons. His plan to achieve this is to explode a nuclear device in Sydney, with the belief that this will enrage the population, who will then demand a stop to the production of nuclear weapons. But somehow these same people, who will demand nuclear disarmament, will also believe that nuclear power is still a viable and safe source of energy. It doesn’t quite add up, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that Hardy is a rich megalomaniac with a plan to explode a nuclear device on Australian soil.
The Phoenix Force team are called into the action when two CIA operatives, who are investigating the NDP go missing – in fact, one of them is attacked by a dingo. This is serious enough for the US President to start an investigation and as such, has Hal Brognola send the the boys Down Under. The Phoenix Force team consists of Colonel Yakov Katzenelenbogen (Katz), Gary Manning, Calvin James, Karl Hahn and David McCarter, who fly out and land at Kingsford Smith airport in Sydney, where they are met by an ASIO agent named Lila Blake. Blake has been assigned to assist Phoenix Force any way that she can, and much of the red tape in shelved when it is revealed that she once had a relationship with Gary Manning many years ago. Despite the fact that she is a woman (pardon my sexism – but we are talking about a very ‘male’ form of literature in the Phoenix Force novels), due to her previous relationship with Manning, she is immediately accepted as a defacto member of the team. And it is not long before she has to prove herself – and the boys too for that matter. Hardy’s NFA operatives are already onto Phoenix Force and have sent an extremely hostile reception committee to greet them. This, as you can imagine, turns into a firefight on a suburban street.
This is one of those stories that if the bad guys had just left the good guys alone, they may have succeeded in their objective. But instead, they continually go after Phoenix Force, and set silly little traps for them, and of course as each ruse backfires, it gives our heroes another lead in their investigation. If the NFA had left Phoenix Force alone, then going through regular channels of enquiry, the team would have taken weeks, possibly even months to get anywhere. By that time, Hardy would have succeeded in his goal. The bad guys would have won. Ka-Boom ! But, no they have to strike first and cause trouble. But does that matter? Down Under Thunder is first and foremost, a no-holds-barred adventure thriller, and logic is not as important to the story as a good old fashioned gun battle, and that is what is served up instead. Not that I am complaining. I like gun battles.
Many novels featuring Australia as a backdrop just don’t get it right. However, I am pleased (and somewhat surprised) to say, that Down Under Thunder gets its facts right. Author, Paul Glen Neuman has done his homework well. Naturally some of the settings are predictable – and almost have the feel that they were written with the co-operation of the Australian tourist commission – such as Phoenix Force staying at the Regent Hotel looking out over Sydney Harbour, with the bridge and the Opera House in the background. It is almost like a picture postcard. But then again, I read for escapism, and don’t really want the Force holed up in a dusty room upstairs in the Narwhee Hotel. That’s just too close to reality.
Down Under Thunder delivers all the thrills and mayhem that I’d expect from a Gold Eagle Men’s Action Adventure novel from the mid 1980s. As with many of the Mack Bolan novels, it isn’t great literature. But it was never intended to be. (Last week’s review, Killpoint is somewhat of an enigma on that score – being both fast and furious, and well written). Down Under Thunder‘s cover art promises fast paced thrills in Australia, with lots of gunplay and a high body count, and on that level the book delivers. I can’t complain about that!
Author: Mel Odom Publisher: Gold Eagle Published: 1995
Based on characters created by Don Pendleton
In the real world, eleven years had passed since the events told about in Stephen Mertz’s A Day of Mourning and Dead Man Running occurred – they were first published in 1984. And although I still haven’t read A Day of Mourning (which I’ll rectify soon – as I write I have a copy winging its way to me from Western Australia), I know that Mack Bolan’s Soviet protagonist in that story was Greb Strakhov. Strakhov was killed by Bolan, but all those eleven years later, in post-Soviet Russia, Strakhov’s influence can still be felt, when one of his underlings, Kharald Shevchenko re-activates a network of sleeper agents around the world.
But as you’d expect, many of these agents who have been in place for over a decade, and after the fall of Communism, have set up new lives with families. They have no desire to sacrifice themselves for a cause that no longer exists. However, this failure to comply is met with swift retribution.
One sleeper agent, Petyr Voroshilov, fearing for his life, and the life of his son, contacts Stony Man HQ, and asks to be brought in – offering a wealth of information in the bargain. A pick up is arranged, and Mack Bolan – the Executioner – is the man assigned to bring him in. And as Shevchenko’s men attempt to stop Voroshilov’s defection, Bolan and fellow Stony Man operative Leo Turrin are engaged in an action-packed running battle. The first one-hundred pages of this book are a breathless thrill ride that doesn’t let up. It is so good in fact, it almost over shadows the other action set-pieces in the book. Don’t get me wrong, the other passages are very good too, particularly a helicopter raid on a freighter carrying nuclear material, and the climactic battle above and below the East China Sea, but they aren’t given the full reign that the opening has.
The villain of the piece, Kharald Shevchenko, after four years of capitalism, wishes for Russia to return to the old days of communism, and to that end he teams up with renegade Red Chinese General Hua to achieve his goal. From the get-go, Bolan and Stony Man (characters from Able Team and Phoenix Force make cameo appearances in this story) are on the back foot, trying to work out what the hell is going on around the globe. Only as tiny scraps of intel come in, do the pieces slowly begin to fit together.
On of the great things about this book is its high-tech approach to intelligence gathering, and its application throughout the mission. I have talked about this before, in relation to films, how spy stories used to be structured with a mission briefing at the beginning, and then the agent is sent off to save the world in an autonomous fashion. But the world has changed. Communication has changed. As a clumsy example, throw one mobile phone into the beginning of Dr. No and you have a whole new story! Routine radio transmissions at a set time? What nonsense is that? Killpoint embraces modern technology and author Mel Odom beautifully balances the operations out in the field and the back at Stony Man base, with wheelchair bound, Aaron Kurtzman (the tech wizard), actively involved in the field operations, almost as if he was standing right beside Bolan.
On numerous occasions, when I have looked at Mack Bolan or Nick Carter books, I have said ‘they are what they are’, which is simple, fast-paced, formulaic and with a body count. And they generally deliver on that level, but not much else. In fact, if you took one of the stories, and used the ‘find/change’ function to change Mack Bolan’s named to Bill Smith; even with the new name, the stories would still read pretty much as Mack Bolan adventures. I hope that makes sense. What I am trying to imply is that the template used for these stories is very identifiable and doesn’t vary too much. However, with Killpoint, the ‘find/change’ test would produce something different. With different character names, Killpoint would be a damn fine stand-alone spy story. However, the fact that Odom has managed to keep the story well grounded in Bolan/The Executioner lore means he has achieved an incredible balancing act. The story works in both worlds, as spy fiction and as a Mack Bolan novel.
I think I have expressed how much I enjoyed this novel, and a part of that pleasure comes from the fact that I didn’t expect a lot. Obviously I enjoy the Bolan adventures, but I am well aware of their limitations. But on this occasion, my pre-conceived expectations were knocked out of the ball park. Killpoint is a fine story.
As I am sure many others have, I have been enjoying the Super7even web series on Youtube, created by Scott Rhodes, and starring Jerry Kokich and Olivia Dunkley. To get the last five episodes made, the Super7even team are hosting an online fundraiser on Indie GoGo – but first here’s the pitch from series producer and director Scott Rhodes:
My name is Scott Rhodes (aka: Bob Griffith). For over 20 years I worked in the business as a stuntman, stunt coordinator, actor, writer and filmmaker. 3 years ago, at the age of 46, I suffered an injury related stroke and lost most of the sensation and use of my left arm and leg. Through time and therapy, I have regained about 75 percent of the sensation and 50 percent of the use. I currently use a wheelchair, electric scooter and walker to get around and do everyday things.
My career as a stuntman is over, but I have always maintained the film making bug and have made a bunch of short films, which have gotten numerous views on the internet and received very good reviews and comments. It is difficult to o direct, stunt coordinate and operate a camera from a wheelchair and scooter, but it has been fun, rewarding and great therapy! I hope to someday move into writing and directing features and show that even though I had a stroke and am battling a disability, I can still go after my dreams.
In April of 2011, I began shooting a web series, “The Adventures Of Superseven”…
Super7even is an international man of mystery and the top agent for T.H.E.M! (A secret organization, sworn to battle the world wide forces of evil!). Superseven’s code name is DANGER! His passport…to HELL!
Follow the masked, crimson avenger and his lethal, beautiful and reluctant partner, “Sandra West” (A former agent of T.H.E.M), as they battle villains, femme fatales, monsters, robots, invading aliens, henchmen, assassins and criminal masterminds bent on world domination…And destruction!
“The Adventures Of Superseven”, is a fond, action packed, tongue in cheek homage to the spy films, TV shows and masked hero adventures of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Reminiscent of James Bond, “The Avengers”, Matt Helm, “Our Man Flint”, “Get Smart”, “The Man From UNCLE”, “Mission: Impossible”, Mexican wrestling movies and many more!
“The Adventures Of Superseven” will feature a blend of sex-citement, dark humor, over the top villains, a bevy of beautiful women and top notch stunts & fights (With a twist of spy-fi cheesiness!). An action-comedy with a body count!
So far we have completed and posted 6 episodes on YouTube and our official site http://www.super7evenspy.com We would like to complete 5 more episodes for Season 1. Then we can compile it to a DVD and pitch “Superseven” as a possible cable tv series (We also have a feature length screenplay).
“The Adventures Of Superseven” has been and continues to be a great opportunity for our professional cast and crew to pursue their dreams and sharpen their skills and crafts. For me, it is an opportunity to show the industry that I can function and perform in the industry, despite my disability.
What We Need
What we need is simple…At least $2500 to help us get the remaining 5 episodes of season one in the can. Of course we can use more and anything above and beyond our goal, will go into salaries and production in order to make “Superseven” bigger and more exciting! More props, more stunts, more gizmos, more actors and more craft service!!!
If you would like to help see the Super7even series continue, head across to the Fundraiser site and make a small donation. It’s not all take – look at the side-bar on the right and check out the benefits of being a contributor to the series (which include DVD’s, autographed photos, or if you live in the Los Angeles area – and have money to burn – you can be killed on screen by Sandra West!)