Fight Card: Felony Fists

Author: Paul Bishop
Published: November 2011

I am too young to remember the halcyon days of pulp fiction, but as a child growing up in the 1970s, there was always a lot of brutal entertainment on television. We would regularly watch ‘TV Ringside’ with Ron Casey, and on Sunday afternoon was ‘World Championship Wrestling’. I must admit, as a kid, it was a lot easier watching the antics of the wrestlers than understanding the science of boxing. I used to marvel at the athleticism of Mario Milano, Killer Karl Kox and (my personal favourite) Bruiser Brody. After each show, my brother and I would go out into the back yard and get on the trampoline and re-enact the moves we had seen. You see, the trampoline was our ring. The trampoline was great for ‘knee-stomps’ because you’d bounce back up again.

I have told this story before, but what the heck, we are friends here right? On occasions the shenanigans on the trampoline could be a little dangerous — this was back in the mid ’70s mind you, and trampolines weren’t what they are now. There was no padding or netting to protect you or stop you from falling off. One afternoon, my brother jumped off the trampoline early and I must have been too close to the edge. Without my brother to counterbalance me, my weight tipped the trampoline and I was sent flying. What I have neglected to tell you is that our trampoline was situated next to a barb-wire fence. So I flew through the air, back first, and landed on this fence where I was hung up. Of course my brother ran off and got our father who lifted me up and off the barbs. No real damage done. Oh, the halcyon days of youth . . . but back on to the topic at hand, which is biffo.

However, by the 1980s Wrestling was all but a forgotten memory on Australian TV, and boxing took over. In Lester Ellis and Jeff Fenech we had two bona-fide boxing champions. Their fights were shown on prime time, practically stopping the nation. Fennech’s “I love youse all” became a national catchphrase.

Below are a few youtube clips from Fenech’s title fight with Samart Payakaroon – who, after a popular comedy record hit the streets, was re-dubbed by Aussie yobs, as ‘Smart Arse Payakaroon’ (myself included, but hey, I was just a kid). These clips were uploaded by noteatpig2getha

But as always, I am talking about myself, rather than the topic of the post. So let’s look at Felony Fists. The story is a bout (see what I did there?) an L.A. cop named Patrick ‘Felony’ Flynn, who also happens to be an amateur boxer. When we meet him, he is fighting Lester ‘Killer’ Carter. Carter happens to be trying to impress big time gangster Mickey Cohen who is watching the fight. If Carter can prove he has got the goods, Cohen will put him on as one of his boys. But of course, Flynn has other ideas.

Also watching the fight with Cohen, is another fighter; a wrecking machine who is moving up through the ranks fast, named Solomon King. King is one of Cohen’s stable, and if King were able to win a Championship belt, it would allow Cohen to further extend his illegal activities into the world of boxing. So, many people don’t want King to get a title shot, including the Chief of Police who is keen on shutting Cohen down.

But as I alluded to earlier, King is a wrecking machine – one hell of a tough fighter. So that begs the question, who can stand against King, and in the process dent Cohen’s plans. Well, I shouldn’t have to ask.

In some ways Felony Fists is predictable – you know exactly where the story is heading – but that is half the fun. It’s not the destination that counts, but the journey, and traveling along with Paul’s characters was an absolute joy. While reading the book, I must have looked like a right proper berk, with a cheesy grin from ear to ear. The tag at the end of Chapter 4, when Police Chief Parker assigns Flynn to his next case had me laughing out loud.

The ongoing Fight Card series is going to feature other popular authors presenting their slant on old time Boxing fiction, and as I alluded to earlier, it is not a form of literature I am well versed in, but if the series maintains the standard set by Felony Fists, then consider me a convert. I will be looking forward to each and every installment.

Now you’re probably thinking that this doesn’t sound too ‘spy’! And you’re absolutely right. It’s a pulp thriller about boxing, but it also happens to be written by fellow C.O.B.R.A.S. (Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies) agent Paul Bishop, and rest assured he is not going to allow the story to pass without at least a nod to one of his favourite Spy TV shows of the ’60s… can you spot it?

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Fight Card: Felony Fists

The Dolly Dolly Spy

Author: Adam Diment
Publisher: Dutton
Published: 1967

Author Adam Diment is somewhat of a mystery and an enigma. And at the bottom of this post, I’ll add links to some great websites, that have attempted to delve into mystery of Adam Diment (there is even some speculation that he was not even a real person, but a house name for several authors). When he(?) burst onto the scene in the mid-to late sixties he was heralded as being the hippest thing since the Beatles. In the end though he only wrote four books all featuring is sandy haired hero Philip McAlpine. The four books are The Dolly Dolly Spy, The Great Spy Race, The Bang Bang Birds, and Think Inc.

The first book in the quartet, The Dolly Dolly Spy, is fast paced, well-written, with tongue firmly in cheek. However it was not written as an out and out comedy. But it can seem that way now, because it uses a lot of sixties jargon – words like luv, lovey, baby etc. Which after the success of Mike Myers Austin Powers films, which poked fun at the eras speech, reading the book today it comes off as slightly comedic.

As I have already mentioned, the book is well written. The story is told in a very relaxed and casual first person style. It is almost as if you had dumped into the character at a bar and he was now telling you is tale, at several points stepping out of the narrative to address the reader directly. And this works. It makes the story is seen real. The author also manages to juggle a multitude of flashbacks as the story progresses. However, at no time does the time or place in the narrative become confusing.

The Dolly Dolly SpyThe story starts with our hero Philip McAlpine trying to land a plane in Rhodesia. You see, McAlpine is a pilot for a shady airline called International Charter. His passenger is some kind of politician or revolutionary who intends to shake things up a bit. Therefore they are not greeted with open arms when they try to land. In fact they are fired upon. McAlpine pulls up and they divert to a secondary airfield. On the return leg of the journey, McAlpine recalls how he got into this caper.

McAlpine used to work as a security officer for the British electrical company. Then one day he is ordered to pay a visit to a man named Rupert Quine. Quine works for an outfit known as 6 (NC/NAC), which is an offshoot of MI6. NC/NAC stands for Neutral Countries and Non-Aligned Countries which means they deal with countries that are not allied with either the United States, the Russians or the Chinese. McAlpine finds himself joining NC/NAC – not because he wants to, but because he has no choice. You see, McAlpine is a hash user, and when he bought his last block, he chiselled off a small portion and sold it to his younger sister. Even though it was just a small quantity, this makes him a drug peddler and as such he could be sent to prison for three years. Quine assures him, that through his contacts, he can arrange for the prison sentence to be extended to five years. So McAlpine is blackmailed into becoming a spy and his mission, as you’ve no doubt already guessed is to join International Charter as a pilot and report back on any strange dealings or operations.

McAlpine’s security background and flying skills make him a perfect candidate for International Charter and after a thorough interview process, he lands a job. At first he has to undergo an intense training regime, and he is shipped off to the United States to learn to fly the International Charter way. As International Charter make flights that are illegal and into hot zones, the pilots have to be trained to deal with more intense situations than the average pilot.

Training complete, McAlpine settles into a regular routine working for International Charter, flying regular flights, as well as one or two illegal operations. On his days off, he stays at a beach front villa on the island of Dathos in the Mediterranean. He even has his girlfriend shipped to the island for companionship. It’s all rather cushy – that is until Quine pops up again. McAlpine’s next scheduled flight is to collect a renegade Nazi named Dettman. Rather than fly him to the pre-arranged destination, Quine wants McAlpine to deliver the Nazi to him. Of course, all sorts of complications ensue.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dolly Dolly Spy. It’s loose, but written well in that style. The story is also fast paced and it has a few neat twists towards the end. The first is rather predictable and is telegraphed from the moment you pick up the book, but the next, was rather unique – I won’t spoil it here. I am looking for to McAlpine’s next adventure in The Great Spy Race.

Eager to learn more about Diment? Check out these links.

• Tom Cain’s review of The Dolly Dolly Spy on The Rap Sheet

The Disappearance of Adam Diment is discussed on Another Nickel in the Machine, with some great photos from a Life Magazine interview with Diment.

• Joe Kenney, at Glorious Trash reviews The Dolly Dolly Spy.

The Dolly Dolly Spy

The Dead Man: Kill Them All

Author: Harry Shannon
Publisher: 47 North
Published: November 2011
Book No: 6

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Dead Man adventure on this site. This is not because I have stopped reading them, but as many of you would be aware the Dead Man series has been picked up by Amazon and is now published under their new 47North sf-horror-fantasy imprint. This caused a slight delay in the publishing schedule.The first five adventures, Face of Evil, Ring of Knives, Hell in Heaven, The Dead Woman and The Blood Mesa have all been republished – and for those who want to catch up in one fell swoop, rather than reading the stories piecemeal, I think they have been collected into an anthology too.

Matt Cahill goes west. After the delay, it’s great to have The Dead Man series rolling again, and I welcomed back Matthew Cahill eagerly. But, the thing is Kill Them All is not one of the strongest books in The Dead Man series so far. Now let me explain this – or at least how I see it. Firstly, I’ll state that I enjoyed the book, but I think the plot was not really suitable for Dead Man length novel. So far, The Dead Man stories have been around 25,000 words (or about 80 pages), and stating the obvious, in a story that short, you have to keep the pace moving. And Harry Shannon does this, especially in the last half, where the story rockets along. But his plot, and pardon the lazy comparison, is a cross between High Noon, and an old fashioned western where the good guys are trapped in a fort, surrounded by marauding Indians. What we have is our hero, Matt Cahill is trapped in a small town, where a team of mercenaries are coming to get him. Now for that to work, you have to develop the characters in the township, and build up the suspense – both of these things take time.

And that is the high-wire act, author Harry Shannon sets for himself. Character and suspense against fast and furious thrills. And to be fair, I think Shannon proves he can manage both. He starts by weaving some interesting characters and relationships and building a story. But then it stops suddenly, and for the climax, the story has to present the type of bat-shit insane, axe-wielding thrills and chills that The Dead Man stories have built a reputation on (hey, I am not complaining!). And that is where this story falls down. It seems like a big chunk of the middle is missing, and the individual characters of the townsfolk have not been developed enough. There’s a passage (and a minor spoiler ahead) where one of the townsfolk is shot and killed. It should be a defining moment in the story, suggesting that the townsfolk are in for a real battle, and this time Matt Cahill is in deep, deep trouble. But because the character hasn’t been defined, his death is meaningless, and therefore the flow on to Cahill’s character doesn’t have the impact it should.

Now it is easy to be an armchair critic and say negative things. But I like to balance things out. I think the plot for this Dead Man story was a good idea, but one that deserved a longer treatment. And as The Dead Man series is clearly inspired by the men of action stories of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I think juxtaposing the series against The Executioner at this stage may be appropriate. As The Executioner fans know, there are two Mac Bolan series running concurrently. Firstly, your regular series, with tight fast paced books that come in at around 150 pages. But then there’s the Super Bolans which are longer (and better). The authors get a chance to put some flesh on the bones of their characters. And here too, I think we should have got a ‘Super Dead Man’ (or would it be a ‘Super Cahill’?). This would have given Shannon the opportunity to deliver the story that he promises at the beginning of Kill Them All.

But please, just because, in this review, I have concentrated on what is essentially a minor niggle, don’t assume that you will not enjoy Kill Them All. It serves up all the goodies you have come to expect from this series – head lopping, weird medical procedures, gunfights, rotting bodies and the never-ending quest to hunt down the elusive Mr. Dark. In summary, a good time had by all and sundry – and at the time of writing it is only 99c on Kindle. Welcome back Matt Cahill.

Kill Them All is available, naturally enough, from Amazon.

As well as being an author, Harry Shannon has had an extensive career in the music industry, contributing a song ‘Love Letters’ to the Aces: Iron Eagle 3 soundtrack, and lyrics to ‘Some Day Soon’ from the conspiracy thriller, The Domino Principal, starring Gene Hackman.

The Dead Man: Kill Them All

The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

Country: United States
Director: Frank Tashlin
Starring: Doris Day, Rod Taylor, Arthur Godfrey, Dom DeLuise, Dick Martin, Eric Fleming, Theo Macuse
Music: DeVol
Songs: ‘The Glass Bottom Boat’ by Joe Lubin, ‘Soft As The Starlight’ by Joe Lubin and Jerome Howard

Has the world changed so much in forty years? The Glass Bottom Boat is a lightweight romantic comedy that has dated badly. The fact that it has dated, is probably a sad reflection on the state of the world. We should be still able to laugh at Doris Day’s silly pratfalls, but today’s audience has seen all this before. This sort of shenanigans can be viewed on any night by watching re-runs of Bewitched or I Dream Of Jeannie – not that there’s any hocus-pocus in The Glass Bottom Boat – I am referring to the style of comedy. In fact there are a few very subtle similarities between The Glass Bottom Boat and I Dream Of Jeannie. First both of them are centred around NASA and the space program, and in Jeannie Larry Hagman’s character was Tony Nelson and in The Glass Bottom Boat Doris’ character is Jenny Nelson. Purely co-incidental, I am sure.

The film opens at sea, off Catalina Island. A Glass Bottom Boat carrying a group of tourists is sailing over the undersea gardens of coral and kelp. The tour guide, Axel Nordstrom (Arthur Godfrey) cheesily suggests that the tourists keep an eye out for mermaids. That’s the cue for Jenny Nelson (Doris Day) to dive into the water dressed in a mermaids costume, much to the delight of the passengers. But on this day, Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor) is doing a spot of fishing in the area. His hook snares the tail end of Jenny’s costume and he reels it in. Rather unhappily, Jenny surfaces and gives Templeton a verbal spray. He is in a ‘no fishing’ area.

After a poppy animated title sequence, with Doris singing the theme song, we head to NASA headquarters and a press conference. It seems that Templeton is a big shot scientist and he has just invented a gravity device which will help astronauts in space. Also working at NASA as a girl Friday is Jenny. As she leads a gaggle of reporters through the facility, she gets her high heeled shoe caught in a grate. Who should happen along to help her? Templeton tries to assist, but she refuses to have anything to do with him after the mermaid incident. Strangely, Templeton becomes infatuated with this clumsy, hot tempered girl.

Jenny is in fact a widow and her only companion is a dog named Vladimir which stays locked in the house all day. Vladimir goes berserk when the phone rings in the house, so to give the pooch some exercise, Jenny calls the house about three times a day. When the phone rings, the dog starts to run around excitedly jumping over all the furniture. One of the security guards happens to witness Jenny’s calls and finds it all rather suspicious. She counts to ten and then says ‘that’s all for now Vladimir’. The guard thinks it is a code.

Outside of work hours, Jenny fills in her time with night courses at the local college. She studies everything from ceramics to map making. She is also studying creative writing. Templeton sees Jenny’s writing abilities as an opportunity to drag her into his life. As his new gravity device (Codenamed G.I.Z.M.O.) is about to launch him into the ‘big time’, he wants Jenny to act as his biographer. This entails following him around all day.

At this point, you’re probably thinking this doesn’t sound very ‘spy’ – it sounds like ‘schmaltzy’ romantic comedy – and you’d be right. But now the spy stuff starts. Templeton’s intends to hold a party at his swinging, hi-tech bachelor pad. After a security check by the CIA, Templeton’s plans go into action. Hired to install a P.A. system to pipe music throughout the house is Julius Pritter (Dom DeLuise). As Pritter connects the wiring, he has a little accident with a banana cream cake which Jenny has brought to the house.

Pritter is in fact a dirty spy, and as he recovers from the banana cream cake incident, he ransacks the house searching for Templeton’s top secret equation. Inside Templeton’s jacket pocket, he finds a mathematical equation scribbled on a piece of paper. Pritter produces a miniature camera and takes photographs of the information. Next link in the spy chain is Theo Macuse. Pritter hands over the microfilm at a carnival shooting gallery. As each of the spy sequences takes place, the music changes to big ‘bombastic’ Bond style music.

The villains of the piece, transmit the equation to their superiors, but the signal is intercepted by the C.I.A. The blame, naturally enough as you would have guessed, falls on Jenny. After all, as Templeton’s biographer, she has access to the latest advances and secrets that NASA has developed, and she has been making coded telephone calls to a man named Vladimir.

At the end of the day, the The Glass Bottom Boat is a lightweight affair. But it does go to show how pervasive the James Bond influence was. Even America’s favourite light comedienne, who at the time of this film’s release was entering her eighth consecutive year as a top 10 box office draw, felt the need to make a spy film. Okay, it isn’t a hard core spy film, but none-the-less it features spies, more gadgets than you could poke a stick at, and a glamorous leading man and lady. Now if you’re a fan of Doris, and to a lesser extent, Rugged Rod Taylor, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in The Glass Bottom Boat. Although the film isn’t a musical, Doris sings a couple of numbers, including a brief comical snatch of Que Sera. However, those seeking sixties Bondian style thrills will be sadly disappointed.

The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

Kiss the Boys & Make them Die

Author: James Yardley
Publisher: Michael Joseph Ltd.
Published: 1970

Kiss the Boys & Make them Die is the first book in James Yardley’s two book Kiss Darling series. Kiss is not a spy but a super-sexy insurance investigator, but nonetheless she traipses around the world investigating criminal enterprises – so she is worthy of being a spy. And her brain has been highly trained to remember a staggering amount of information – and is offered referred to as being a ‘computer’. So, not only is she sexy, but she is smart too. But, and this is presented as being her weakness, she is a virgin. And of course, as the novel progresses, she finds herself in situations where she has to defend her maidenhood.

Her boss, Angus Fane, is a randy cad who spends most of his time either seducing women or drinking booze (actually, on some occasions he does both at the same time). At the beginning of the novel, Fane fires his seductive assistant, Kiss Darling, but that is simply a scheme to further an ongoing investigation. It appears that some rare Egyptian necklaces have appeared on the market. Are they real or fakes? With Kiss sacked, she can take up a position at the Cairo Museum and hopefully track down the source of these new artifacts – and find out what the money obtained from the sale is being used for.

The book has a great opening and a thrilling climax, but the middle of the story does lack a certain sense of excitement. The plot moves along okay, but there are not too many passages of out and out action. This may not seem a hindrance to those who like character development and a plot that makes sense, which Yardley presents, however his breathtaking finale to the story was so good, that it was a shame that the story was not peppered with more action packed incidents. A bit more grunt, could have served the story well.

Now, before I go any further, I will state that I enjoyed this book, but it has some glaring problems. The biggest of these, and possibly a by-product of the times it was written in, is that out heroine doesn’t really do anything. She falls into almost every trap, and although she is front and centre as the main character in the book, it is Angus Fane, who also goes to Cairo, who saves the day repeatedly. When Kiss are Fane are trapped in an airlock with water flooding in, it is the explosives that Fane has hidden that save the day. When an army of angry Arab minions swarm the dessert searching for Kiss and Fane, it is a cache of weapons that Fane has hidden that allow them to fight off the aggressors. And there are other examples. The point being, that Fane does all the ‘heavy lifting’. Kiss’ contribution to escaping from nasty predicaments is to disrobe (or to be disrobed). On numerous occasions her naked body is used to distract the various characters throughout the story.

US Paperback edition
Another weakness, is the way Kiss goes about her mission. Until the end, Yardley never really puts her in harms way, and in fact almost has her fall in love with the villain of the piece – an Egyptian megalomaniac with plans to take over the country. Therefore there is no tension between the two main antagonists. Kiss does express a few niggling seeds of doubt, but this is no substitute for open confrontation, on which much drama is built (especially in the espionage genre).

There is one great opportunity that goes begging in the middle of the story, where Kiss is abducted from the Cairo Museum, drugged and hidden in a sarcophagus for transportation. However the resolution – and I’m trying not to present too many spoilers – is pretty weak, and amounts to little more than a practical joke, rather than an exciting, pulp fiction style, incident, which could have upped the ante a little.

So what he have have in Kiss Darling, on one hand, is a strong, attractive and intelligent woman, who is also morally upright (as highlighted by her virginity). Surely a role model for women everywhere. But on the other hand, despite these qualities, allows emotion to control her decisions – like falling for the bad guy – and her physical contribution to the story is to serve as ‘naked eye candy’. it just doesn’t add up, does it?

UK Paperback edition
However, on the plus side, the strength of the story, is that it is played straight. The story has many over the top incidents (some of them humorous), but thankfully, Yardley doesn’t stoop to turning his story into a parody. For all its outrageous excesses, he refrains from those self-conscious ‘hey, see what I did there’ passages that ruin the flow of so many similar stories.

Despite some of the paperback cover art, the story isn’t particularly smutty – well, I mean that it isn’t porn. There are a few smutty asides from Angus Fane, but that is in keeping with his character – if this had been made into a film, I see Leslie Philips playing Fane – and that should suggest the level of smut and sexuality in the story.

Kiss the Boys & Make them Die is very much of its time, and therefore if you are after high octane thrills, such as you would find in a modern novel, then you will be sadly disappointed. But if you like retro spy thrills, then this story serves up the goods, just as you would expect- no more or less – with the requisite sexual and moral ambiguity of the time.

Kiss the Boys & Make them Die

Hard Times (1975)

Hard TimesCountry: United States
Director: Walter Hill
Starring: Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Jill Ireland, Strother Martin, Robert Tessier
Music: Barry DeVorzon
AKA: The Street Fighter

I consider myself a pretty big Charles Bronson fan. I even don’t mind some of the violent dross he made in the 1980s as his career was petering out. I think it takes a dedicated fan to appreciate The Evil That Men Do, Murphy’s Law, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, and The Messenger of Death. Or the, however many, unnecessary sequels to Death Wish. I think my tolerance of this garbage comes from the fact that I just like watching him act. Some people may say that Bronson wasn’t much of an actor. I disagree. He simply belongs to, or portrayed, a different era. A time when men didn’t say much. They just did what they had to do. Okay, most men don’t have to hunt down psychopaths and then blow them away, but the attitude of going to work and doing your job, despite the odds stacked against you, is an old fashioned work ethic. And I think that can be seen in Bronson’s performances, and that’s why he was best playing strong silent types. Notice how his character, Danny, in The Great Escape was ‘The Tunnel King’. He was a worker, not one of the organisers or planners. He just got on with it, and did his job.

Over Bronson’s long career of playing strong silent types, I think one of his best turns was in Walter Hill’s Hard Times. In it, Bronson plays a drifter in the great depression, named Chaney. At the beginning of the film, he blows into New Orleans on a freight train, and stumbles upon a bare knuckle fistfight. A crowd has gathered round and are gambling on the outcome. Chaney watches with interest.

Small time hustler, Spencer “Speed” Weed (James Coburn) has a fighter in the scrap, but his man goes down and Speed loses his money. This appears to be a regular occurrence, but unflappable and unperturbed, Speed adjourns to a diner for a meal.

Later, Chaney approaches Speed and asks for a shot as a fighter. Speed is sceptical, but still arranges a fight. Everybody jeers and taunts Chaney because he is so old – Bronson was 48 years old when he made the film. However, Chaney quickly silences his critics when he knocks out the opposition fighter with just one punch. The thing here, is that Bronson is completely believable – I mean, never for instant do you doubt that he could take a man out with just one punch.

Speed sees a meal ticket with Chaney, and the two men enter into and an uneasy alliance. Speed is to put up the cash and arrange the fights, and Chaney is to take on all comers and knock them down. And although this film is about bare knuckle fights, it doesn’t play out like a two-dimensional video game. There’s a story with flesh and blood characters. Flawed human beings, yes, but none-the-less still a pleasure to watch.

This film was a video classic when I was a kid. My friends and I would hire it out repeatedly. In Australia it was known as The Street Fighter, which was allegedly the film’s original title. However, it was changed in the United States to avoid confusion with Sonny Chiba’s The Street Fighter which had just been released. The fight scene that we loved as kids was not climatic fight scene with Nick Dimitri – although that was pretty good – but the cage fight against Jim Henry, played by Robert Tessier. You’d recognise Tessier if you saw him. He was in a lot of 1970s action films (especially with Burt Reynolds) – usually as a big bad bald man. And guess what he plays here? Yep, a big bad bald man. In the fight scenes, he lowers his head so his opponent, when he punches, would hit the top of his bald skull, and the blow would be deflected. He also grins like a Chesire cat. This is one guy, who really enjoys hurting people, and he is the perfect opponent for Chaney.

I don’t know if Bronson and Coburn were friends – it is alleged that Bronson was a hard man to get to know and didn’t have too many close friends. However they appeared in several films together. Most notably The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape.

As the film was a period piece, and did not have an overtly 1970’s style, it has not really dated too much, and if you’ll pardon the cliche, it still packs a powerful punch, and is one of Bronson’s more watchable films – but hey, as I said the top, I’ll watch anything with Bronson in it. Anyone in the mood for Mr. Majestyk?

Hard Times (1975)

Assassination (1987)

AssassinationCountry: United States
Director: Peter Hunt
Starring: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Jan Gan Boyd, Stephen Elliot, Randy Brooks, Michael Ansara, William Prince
Music: Robert D. Ragland

In the late 1980’s, into the early 1990’s, two of the biggest film producers and distributors were Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, and their company was Cannon Films. Cannon were routinely low budget exploitation affairs, generally with actors past their prime but still with an audience. Most films featured these actors doing particularly nasty and violent things. Amongst their output were several Chuck Norris films Delta Force 1 & 2, Missing In Action 1, 2 & 3, Invasion U.S.A.; and the Charles Bronson vehicles Death Wish 4 & 5, The Evil That Men Do, Murphy’s Law and The Messenger Of Death. Those familiar with any of those titles will know what I mean.

Assassination is one of Cannon’s better productions. This is probably due to the assured direction of Peter Hunt, who had directed On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and had previously worked with Bronson on the klondike manhunt thriller Death Hunt. Having said that it is one of the better Cannon productions doesn’t mean it is a great film though. At best, (and rather forgivingly) it can be described as half decent entertainment.

The film opens on inauguration day. A new U.S. President is about to be sworn in. Secret Service Agent Jay Killian (Charles Bronson) returns to duty after six weeks off on sick leave. He wants to be assigned to protect the President, but luck isn’t on his side. He is assigned to protect The First Lady, Lara Royce Craig (Jill Ireland – Bronson’s wife at the time). The Secret Service have an irritating habit of referring to her as ‘One Mama’. Doesn’t it make you cringe, just reading it?

As Mrs. Craig prepares for the motorcade to the inauguration, Killian outlines the protection mechanism’s the Secret Service have in place for her. “I won’t be coerced by your chauvinistic rules,” she says. And then she gets into an open top car, which she chose for the journey. Killian warns against it. He says they haven’t used open top vehicles since the Kennedy assassination in 1963. In a hostile fashion she rebukes his advice.

As the motorcade winds it’s way through the streets, Mrs. Craig chooses to sit up high on the back seat, rather down in the car. Killian warns her that it is a security risk. Again she ignores him. A policeman on a motorcycle weaves through the security cordon and approaches the car. An explosive charge emanates from his foot peddle and he looses control. The bike crashes and then goes up in a ball of flames. The officer, rather suspiciously disappears into the crowd. In the First Lady’s car, Killian has pulled Mrs. Craig down and into the car, just in the nick of time. Unfortunately her eye has connected with his knee. She doesn’t realise the gravity of the situation and believes Killian is simply being over zealous. She kicks him out of the car. He now has to run along side, which for a man of Bronson’s age seems quite a chore (at the time of this film Bronson was in his mid sixties). The Presidential swearing in ceremony takes place without further incident.

In the aftermath of the motorcade, Killian is given a stripping down. But he believes the motorcycle incident was not just an accident, but a premeditated attack on the First Lady. And from the quick glimpse he got of the suspect, he thinks that American terrorist, Reno Bracken (Erik Stern) was posing as the police officer.

Next it is off to a press conference for the First Lady. She acquits her self well in her first official duty, but a subversive reporter Derek Finny (Robert Axelrod) asks a few too many personal questions about the President and First Ladies sex life (apparently it is non-existent). Killian and another Secret Service Agent, Tyler Loudermilk (Randy Brooks), who is younger and more physical than Killian, scare off the nosey reporter.

Causing more trouble, Mrs. Craig leaves the Whitehouse without permission and a security escort. The Secret Service are in a flap. Luckily she is stopped at the airport and Killian and agent Charlotte (Charlie) Chong (played by Jan Gan Boyd) are sent to accompany her on the journey. They take a private plane to California.

In California, Mrs. Craig wants to go sailing on Daddy’s yacht, but it is currently in dry dock. She doesn’t care. She bullies the captain into getting it ready. Working on the boat are some shady characters, including Pritchard Young, the number two man for Reno Bracken. He attaches some plastic explosive to the hull.

The yacht is almost ready to go. Mrs. Craig, Killian and Chong wait in the boathouse as the yacht sails past to be refuelled. Naturally it explodes and all the windows in the boathouse shatter. But the First Lady is safe. Killian orders her back to Washington. She is reluctant. She believes it is another accident.

Back in Washington, Killian and Chong are off duty. Chong convinces Killian to come back home with her. The age difference here is staggering – I would guess forty years. Anyway, Killian agrees. But folks, this is a Charles Bronson movie. We all know what happens to minor characters he gets attached to. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

While Killian and Chong are enjoying their evening, Agent Loudermilk is working. Analysis on the exploded yacht reveals that C4 explosive was used in the assault. It appears that Killian isn’t paranoid after all. And it seems the conspiracy goes even deeper than expected. Loudermilk has found a listening device in his telephone.

Despite the danger she is in, Mrs. Craig refuses to allow Killian to protect her. The man sent to do her dirty work is Presidential Advisor and Chief of Staff, Senator Bunsen (Michael Ansara). Killian tells Bunsen that he thinks someone is trying to assassinate Mrs. Craig. Bunsen believes him and agrees to talk to the President about her security. But Bunsen still has to suspend Killian from duty.

Killian’s suspension doesn’t last long. He is called into work the next day. There has been an incident overnight. To protect the Whitehouse, on top of the old Executive Building is an installation with rockets designed to intercept (shoot down) intruders into the airspace. It seems that two sentries at the installation, were disabled with tazers and the rockets stolen. Reno Bracken is the chief suspect. To make matters worse the First Lady intends to give a speech to an assembly of university students. Her journey to Lexington, Virginia includes a section of 200 miles across open country. At any point she could be targeted. Killian contrives a scheme where Mrs. Craig makes the start of the journey by chopper. Then it discreetly sets down in a paddock, where she is transferred into a car. She is not happy about the interruption to her schedule. And even less amused to see Killian when she alights from the chopper.

The chopper continues it’s journey. As it passes over a barn, Reno Bracken armed with a rocket launcher takes aim and fires. The rocket misses. Killian is ready for the attack and his team storm the barnyard on dirt bikes. More rockets are fired and the barn is blown to smithereens, but Bracken still gets away.

Back in Washington, Killian approaches Bunsen once more. But this time Bunsen is not so receptive. He insists that Killian is actually the target of the terrorists and not Mrs. Craig. Bunsen is either stupid or corrupt – as he is played by Michael Ansara, an actor who has made a career out of playing villains, it is not hard to work out which.

Remember Finney, the nosey reporter that asked the personal question about the Presidential sex life? Well he turns up dead, with his body rigged to a large amount of explosive. It appears that someone didn’t like what he had to say.
Killian and Chong are now assigned to watch the First Lady’s sister, Polly. They follow her to the National Museum of Natural History, where her sister is donating her inaugural ball gown. Agent Chong goes inside and Killian stays in the car. Polly leaves early and gets into a car, but there is something different about her hair. Killian follows. She is also followed in a police van by the terrorist Pritchard Young.

Obviously the difference in hair is because Polly is now the First Lady in disguise. She is scared and on the run. And furthering the contrivance, she deliberately had Killian assigned to protect her sister, because she knew he’d be following and that’s what she wanted. In a dramatic turn around, it seems that she now trusts Killian and wants him to protect her.

The two of them continue their journey together. Their first stop at night is a hotel where they pose as man and wife (not very seemly for the First Lady?) It is not long before Young turns up at the hotel, and in his guise as a police officer he finds their room. Young enters the room with a blazing machine gun. Killian is ready and waiting and kills Young.

The following day they ditch the car, and travel on a bus to Kokomo, Indiana. Next they buy dirt bikes and keep travelling. Killian’s reasoning is that the terrorists wouldn’t be looking for them on motorbikes. At the next hotel, Mrs. Craig explains that her marriage to the President is a marriage of convenience. It was simply to get him into power. It was agreed that once he was in the Whitehouse, she could either go along for the ride or get a discreet divorce. Killian reasons that is why they are trying to kill her. If she gets a divorce the President would not get re-elected. But as a widower, he would get a sympathy vote and be a shoe-in at the next election.

Next day, they are out of town, back on the motorcycles, when a utility vehicle starts chasing them. The driver is brandishing a machine gun. Killian and Mrs. Craig take the bikes off road and follow a railroad track. The utility follows behind, along the railroad tracks. No prizes for guessing that a train is coming in the opposite direction. The utility is forced off the tracks and into a riverbed, where it explodes in a colourful ball of flame (which we see repeated from multiple angles).

At this point, Killian asks the question that all viewers have ticking in their heads, “How could they have possibly found us?” No answer. The story moves on. They ditch the bikes and board a train. Later the train is stopped. Bracken and another minion land in a helicopter and search the train. Killian hides himself and Mrs, Craig outside, between carriages, up on the couplings. This is successful and Bracken moves on.

Again Killian asks, “How did they know you were on the train?” The First Lady says she has been phoning her husband because she trusts him.

Next they hitch-hike. They are picked up by Indian Joe, a used car salesman. Back at his lot he sells them a dune buggy. The couple make their way to Mrs. Craig’s father’s home on Lake Tahoe. Mr H.H. Royce (William Prince) is happy to greet them. Meanwhile, Killian has arranged for agents Chong and Loudermilk to join them there.

On the lake, behind the cover of an old stern wheeler, Bracken approaches on jet-ski, with one hand steering an unmanned boat laden with plastic explosive. Once he is close enough, he releases the boat and it powers towards the Royce lakehouse. Killian’s team scramble and start firing. A shot takes out the outboard motor on the speedboat and the explosive is dead on the water. Killian leaps into another speedboat and takes off after Bracken. Bracken slides his jetski ashore, and Killian follows, riding his boat up onto the bank. Amongst the trees a gun battle is played out, until Killian runs out of bullets and appears to be shot. He is lying on the ground, when Bracken approaches with gun poised ready to fire.

And in the tradition of all good cliff hangers I will leave the synopsis there. All the threads come together satisfactorily at the end, but if you care how, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Bronson is often accused of being lazy in this film, but I think he is rather relaxed. He even breaks into a smile a few times and is probably very comfortable working with his wife. (She had co-starred in quite a few of Bronson’s films in the seventies, but it had been quite a while since the two of them had appeared together). So of the other performances aren’t quite as good, in particular Jan Gan Boyd, whose performance is sub par.

As I mentioned at the start, that Cannon films tend to be violent affairs and often they leave a bad taste after viewing, but Assassination isn’t as gruesome as many of their productions. And here is a spoiler, but without giving the ending away, I am going back to what I said about Charlotte Chong earlier. Remember I mentioned that she was going to ‘buy it’ because she fell in love with Bronson’s character. I am pleased to say, I am wrong. She lives. This is the strongest example I can give that this isn’t like many other of Bronson’s late cycle films. It doesn’t leer at violence and death – and thankfully the film-makers seem to know the difference between action and violence.

By no means is this a classic – but I somehow feel that it is better than it should be.

Assassination (1987)