Juggernaut (1974)

Country: United States/United Kingdom
AKA: Terror On The Britannic
Director: Richard Lester
Starring: Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings, Anthony Hopkins, Shirley Knight, Roy Kinnear, Ian Holm, Clifton James, Jack Watson, Sim MacCorkindale
Music: Ken Thorne

Juggernaut is one of those action flicks from the 1970’s, which by today’s standards seems pretty light on for action. But that’s not to say that the film isn’t good – in fact it’s great! But instead of fuel injected muscular action, we get thoughtful plotting, suspense and drama. By drama, as this film stars legendary hellraiser Richard Harris, I mean a scene where he downs a bottle of whiskey (J&B, of course) and then throws the bottle at the wall to express his frustration. Sure it’s not going to win any major thesping awards, but it shows a man being a man, rather than exaggerated slow-mo, almost homo-erotic shots of a guy as he straps on the weapons he needs to complete his mission. In Juggernaut, Harris plays Anthony Fallon, and while not being a spy or a soldier, he too has a mission. He specialises in disarming bombs. In this instance a fruitcake calling himself “Juggernaut” has planted seven bombs on the ocean liner Britannic. These bombs have been welded into 44 gallon drums, and have been fitted with all sorts of booby traps and trembler switches. This is not just a case of “cut the blue wire!”

The film itself is quite simple. As mentioned, a maniac has put seven bombs on board the Britannic and he demands a ransom — five hundred million pounds. To confound things, the Britannic has sailed into a force eight storm. Fallon and a team of six men, including his best friend, Charley Broddock (David Hemmings) are assigned to disarm the bombs. They fly out in a Navy seaplane and parachute into the rough seas beside the ship. The launch sent out to collect them is immediately swamped by the seas and capsizes. Fallon and his men must swim to the ship and then scale the sides on flimsy swaying rope ladders.

Now all that is the easy part because Juggernaut is an insane genius and the bombs he has planted are designed to test the experience and skill of those who attempt to disarm them. This leads to some of the most emotional scenes in the film, where Fallon and Charlie are working on separate bombs, in separate, sealed off, parts of the ship. They communicate by radio, and Charley follows Fallon’s moves step for step. If Fallon should make a mistake — BOOM — then Charley is to continue on as the lead, and a new man would takes his place as his second. Harris and Hemmings seem to have a natural chemistry together. You’ve got to remember that back then Hemmings compared to Harris was still a young pup. Hemmings had success in the sixties with films like Blow-Up and Barbarella (to a lesser extent) but Harris was the superstar. Con-incidentally, Harris and Hemmings both appeared in Camelot, so maybe that’s where they forged a friendship and the results appear on the screen in this film.

Now all of this tense drama is carefully plotted — more than I care to outline here. But all the questions you ask are answered, like “why not get the passengers off in lifeboats?”

The cast for this film is amazing. Harris and Hemmings I have talked about, but in smaller but equally important roles are Omar Sharif as Alex Brunel the Britannic’s captain; Anthony Hopkins as McCleod, the Police officer who has the job of catching Juggernaut; Ian Holm as Porter, the managing director of the shipping line; and Roy Kinnear as Curtain, the ship’s social director who has the unenviable task of keeping the passenger’s morale up.

Essentially, Juggernaut is a disaster movie, but without being as overwrought as The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. But it works in a similar fashion. It features an ensemble cast who have their own story threads, which provides the emotion and suspense as the story goes along. When a character is caught in a compromising or dangerous situation you empathise with the character as the story has built them up. Now having built up this film in this review, because I think it’s great, be reminded, I love these old school action dramas. I like good old fashioned story telling, and that’s what you get from Juggernaut.

Juggernaut (1974)

The Burglars (1971)

Director: Henri Vernuil
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Omar Sharif, Dyan Cannon, Robert Hossein, Renato Salvatori, Nicole Calfan
Music: Ennio Morricone – conducted by Bruno Nicolai
Based on the novel by David Goodis

This Euro-heist caper, set in Greece and directed by Henri Verneuil, is a bit different to most. Rather than building up to the perfect robbery, the film starts with the heist, then spends the rest of it’s running time, seeing if the criminals can get away with the loot.

Three men and a woman; Azad (Belmondo), Ralph (Robert Hossein), Renzi (Renato Salvatori) and Helene (Nicole Calfan), drive up to a stately home in an un-named Greek city. Ralph and Renzi get out of the car and put stockings over their heads. They go to the front door of the caretakers quarters and ring the doorbell. When the caretaker answers, he is knocked to the ground then tied and gagged. They then signal for Azad to go to the main house. He does and makes quick work of the front door. Inside there are priceless works of art adorning the rooms. Azad ignores them and heads straight to the safe. He puts on his gloves and goes to work. Joined by Ralph (Renzi and Helene keep watch out side), a x-ray machine is used to work out the model number on the inside workings of the safe’s door. Azad looks up the details in a safe guide book (must be very handy for all safe crackers). He finds another series of numbers. At this point, Azad, opens a suitcase he has been toting along with him. Inside is like a little computer. He enters these numbers and he is directed to a key shape. He then selects the base key from a series he has pre-prepared. Then this computer, sort of becomes a key-cutting device, and shapes this key into one which will fit this particular make and model of safe. It’s all rather hi-tech and hard to put in words, but it is impressive. So now Azad has a key, but he still doesn’t have the combination to the four tumblers on the door.

Meanwhile, driving by is police detective Abel Zacharia (Omar Sharif). He notices Azad’s car parked out the front, and stops to investigate. As he snoops around, the bound and gagged caretaker tries to make as much noise as possible. Rocking his chair, he crashes into a fish bowl that smashes loudly on the floor. By now Zacharia’s suspicions are heightened. But before he can move in to the house, Azad scoots around the back to his car. Zacharia notices and comes across to question him, forgetting about the noise inside. Azad gives Zacharia a cock ’n’ bull story about his car breaking down. Zacharia trusts him for now, and goes about his business.

Azad returns to the safe, and using a listening device attached to his computer / cutter / suitcase, he cracks the tumblers and the safe. Inside there is a large amount of money and bonds, but Azad only takes one million dollars worth of emeralds. The heist is beautifully staged in its intricacy and precision. Azad and crew have made their score, now they have to get out of town. But this has been pre-arranged. They have made a deal with the captain of the ship, the Arax, to take them (and the emeralds) from the country, no questions asked. Unfortunately the ship has suffered hull damage as it came into port. It will be another five days before it leaves.

Azad and crew decide to wait it out and head their separate ways in the meantime. After Azad has dropped Helene off at the train station he notices he is being followed by somebody in a beaten up, dirty little car. In traffic, Azad tries to lose the unseen, gloved driver, but this driver is well up to the task and doggedly stays on Azad’s tail as the cars race around the streets, down steps, through tunnels, and basically on any surface a car can travel. It’s a great sequence.

As you’ve no doubt guessed, Zacharia isn’t quite as he seems. Actually he is, but he’s a little bit more too. He is a cop, but one who is looking to raise his lifestyle and willing to blackmail a few people on the way. Sharif appears to be having a great time, especially when eating, drinking and shooting.

Dyan Cannon’s role is little more than a cameo. She plays a glamorous photographic model that Azad picks up in a bar. Sure, there’s a twist, but there’s no real attempt by the film-makers to conceal it, so you won’t be guessing long.

This film has a series of amazing scenes that on their own are quite okay, but as a cohesive film they don’t link too well. The heist at the beginning is well staged, and carried out virtually without dialogue, but after Jules Dassin’s Riffifi, I guess all good heists have to be carried out that way. This is followed up by the fantastic car chase that I mentioned earlier in the review. When you review a car chase, it inevitably gets compared to the ones in Bullitt or The French Connection. Unlike many others, this is actually worthy of the comparison. It won’t surprise many people that it was put together by French driving legend, Rémy Julienne. Later in the film, there’s an interesting musical interlude at a strip club; some drunken target practice in a toy factory; and finally Belmondo shows us an interesting new technique for catching buses. All these sequences are good. But the film as a whole just doesn’t add up to quality of its disparate parts.

The Burglars isn’t a bad film, but it has dated. In the early seventies, the story may not have mattered so much. It was about style, and this film has early seventies jet-setting style to burn. But now with the world virtually at out fingertips, style isn’t so important. We want a story and characters that are engaging, and this film just falls short of the mark.

Belmondo catches the bus – from The Burglars – uploaded by sheriff85

The Burglars (1971)

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Director: Blake Edwards
Starring: Peter Sellers, Hebert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Lesley Anne Down, Omar Sharif, Richard Vernon
Music: Henry Mancini

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is the fourth film in the series, which I know, I know, is not a spy film. But it includes so many spy film tropes, and actors who are associated with spy films, I thought it was well worth inclusion here. And is it just my imagination but does Mike Grell’s Bond comic Permission to Die bear are passing resemblance to this film? I know Permission to Die also borrows heavily from The Phantom of the Opera too – and how co-incidental is it, that Herbert Lom should play the Phantom in Hammer’s film version of The Phantom. Of course, Lom plays Chief Inspector Dreyfus in this film (or should I say ex-Chief Inspector).

As the film starts, ex-Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is in an asylum for the clinically insane. But the good news is, he is almost ready to be released back into polite society. But first, unbeknownst to him, he has to pass one last test. That test arrives in the form of newly appointed Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) of the Sureté. For the one or two people in the world that are not familiar with Clouseau, let me explain that he is a walking disaster just waiting to happen. He’s the type of guy who, when entrusted with a simple task of vacuuming a room, ends up naked in another country, covered in raspberry jam with a poodle gaffer taped to his chest – or something like that (maybe that’s a past-life regression thing I shouldn’t be talking about). Needless to say, when Clouseau is around, the simple becomes complicated, and things are never quite the same again. However, most of the world seems obvious to the disaster that Clouseau seems to conjure up. Only Dreyfus appears to be able to see the disorder and destruction of Clouseau’s actions. And therein lies the rub, and how Dreyfus ended up in an asylum. Actually Dreyfus ended up in an asylum because he went mad and tried to kill Clouseau, but his heart was in the right place. He believed that if Clouseau was dead, a great many of the world’s ills would be alleviated. Anyway, that’s enough backstory – if you want to know more, track down a copy of A Shot in the Dark (in my opinion the best of the Pink Panther movies…although Pink Panther doesn’t appear in the title – nor the Pink Panther diamond in the story).

But back to Dreyfus’ test. Clouseau turns up at the asylum and joins Dreyfus in the idyllic grounds beside the lake. Dreyfus is distressed to see Clouseau but refuses to allow his arrival to interfere with his imminent release. But Dreyfus’s stoicism can only go so far, and after Clouseau has inadvertently dumped him in the lake three times and had him raked in the face (hey, it happens to all of us…ask Sideshow Bob), Dreyfus reverts back to an insane maniac and tries to kill Clouseau.

After a nifty animated title sequence Clouseau returns home, but little does he know that Dreyfus has now in fact, escaped from the insane asylum and has broken into the apartment below Clouseau’s. Plotting revenge, Dreyfus drills through the roof of the apartment he is in (or through the floor of the apartment Clouseau is in) and with a miniature periscope spies on Clouseau as he searches his house. What is he searching for? He is searching for Cato (Burt Kwouk), his manservant. Cato has been given instructions to attack his master when he least expects it – this is supposed to keep Clouseaus skills honed and his wits sharp. Well, that’s the theory – it usually ends in chaos.

After their usual fight routine, Clouseau receives a phone call from the Commissioner explaining that Dreyfus has escape and may try to kill him. Clouseau decides that positive action is required and chooses to adopt a cunning disguise…as a hunchback, with an inflatable hump! A diversionary phone call from Dreyfus (with disguised voice – peg over nose) distracts Clouseau as he is inflating his hump. As he talks, the hump continues to inflate, and then, like a balloon, lifts Clouseau off the floor and out the window. As he is so caught up in himself he doesn’t notice that he has drifted outside, but in a way it is a godsend. Dreyfus wanted Clouseau near the phone as he has a bomb prepared to kill Clouseau once and for all. But as Clouseau is actually outside, floating away, he isn’t at home when the bomb blows. Dreyfus is foiled once again. Out of frustration Dreyfus chooses to adopt a rather elaborate and grand scale approach to his Clouseau problem.

Now an evil mastermind, Dreyfus starts organising a series of audacious schemes. First Dreyfus arranges the escape by one of France’s leading criminals, Jean Sauniere. Dreyfus needs Sauniere for his next plan, which is to rob twenty-million France from the Paris Credit bank. Why does he need the money? To finance his biggest and boldest scheme which is to kidnap brilliant scientist Professor Fassbender (Richard Vernon). Now why does Dreyfus want Fassbender? Fassbender is required to invent a ‘Doomsday Weapon’ so Dreyfus can control the world. The weapon being a giant laser. But deep down, Dreyfuss doesn’t want to rule the world, he simply wants to kill Clouseau. So after the ‘Doomsday Weapon’ has been created, Dreyfus interrupts the television broadcasts around the globe and delivers his ultimatum. It’s simple – he wants Clouseau or he will destroy the world. To prove he is serious, he aims the weapon at the UN Building in New York and vaporises it. Once again, Dreyfus delivers his terms – the world has seven days to deliver Clouseau dead or alive or next time he will destroy an entire city.

Dreyfus’ ultimatum sends teams of assassins from every organization and corner of the globe to Munich (which is where Clouseau’s investigation has lead him) to ‘Kill Clouseau’. But of course, Clouseau is not an easy man to kill. Not because he is clever and resourceful, but because he is inept and unpredictable. In the end, many assassins die in grotesque and mildly amusing fashion.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is one of the better entries in the series. It’s not right up there with the best, but those who have seen the dregs that Blake Edwards served up towards the end of this series (I don’t count the recent Steve Martin films), will know that this provides some classic Sellers madness and comedy routines. Which film was it that featured Roger Moore and for Sellers scenes simply used out-takes from this film – was it Trail of the Pink Panther? Man, that was one abhorrent piece of entertainment (the word being used very loosely, of course). I haven’t seen it in about twenty-five years, and I rightly don’t think I want to.

But this film has its moments (does your dog bite), and some classic scenes where Clouseau attempts to storm Dreyfus’ castle in Bavaria – the first hurdle being the drawbridge. What can I say – comic genius!

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)