Action Adventure movies


ANGKOR. Mapel Pictures, 1935. Also released as FORRBIDDEN ADVENTURE, FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE IN ANGKOR, THE GORILLA WOMAN and PRIVATE LIFE OF INGAGI (!). With Wilfred Lucas and Fred Humes. Directed, at various times, by L.C. Cook and George Merrick. No writer credited.

   Another oddity, made up of some amazing film shot in 1912, the first motion picture record of the magnificent ruins at Angkor, when it was still a vine-covered ruin, before it became a tourist site — but

   With something added….

   Dwain Esper, the auteur of REEFER MADNESS, somehow got the original footage and hired George Merrick to shoot scenes with actors in false beards to match the original (more or less) and a half-dozen Hollywood hookers to run around topless as “native bearers.” Throw in a guy in a gorilla suit, and you got Cinematic Treasure.

   Like many low-budget cobble-jobs, ANGKOR is held together (sort of) by voice-over narration, here detailing a story about intrepid explorers in search of a cult of ape-worshipers, supposedly for the story behind the fall of the Khmer civilization. Okay.

   So we get the usual jungle-documentary stuff, silent and projected at the wrong speed, while the narrator talks about the harrowing trek, and invites us to watch cute fuzzy animal antics and a few staged scenes of dire peril. My favorite is a guy struggling for his life with a 12’ python (while, presumably, the cameraman looks on with clinical disinterest) until his fellow-bwana shows up, sees his pardner wrapped in the serpent’s coils, and shoots the snake from twenty feet away without injuring the struggling man he’s wrapped around – which if nothing else, shows a confidence in one’s marksmanship amounting to arrogance.

   At various places in the trek we break for scenes of the stand-ins, standing in as is their wont, in front of back-projected footage. Then we get to the native village where the plot thickens a bit. A sinister priest of an ape-worshiping sect (a monkey-monk?) warns the men not to help the white interlopers, and stalks off, leaving our stand-in heroes with the pleasant alternative of hiring the buxom ladies of the tribe as native barers.

   Esper got into trouble with the Breen Office at this point, and hit on the happy (?) solution of superimposing tree branches into the foreground whenever the ladies are on screen. This was passed by the censors, whereupon he showed the original version every chance he got. Stout fellow, that.

   Not content with mere fake-documentary sleaze, Esper then hired a guy in a gorilla suit to strut around trying to pick up jungle babes, who swoon over him – a theme first exploited in the notorious INGAGI (1930) which was still being shown to white-supremacist groups into the 1960s.

   I take a step back here, and muse on the vagaries of cinematic destiny, which transmutes an historic film record into racist titillation. We will remark on the ironies of fate and pass on.

   The result is a unique combination of spectacle and sleaze, a very bad film made remarkable by its own audacity, and while I wouldn’t recommend ANGKOR to anyone of any critical capacity at all, I have to say I enjoyed it more than I should admit.

RICOCHET. HBO/Cinema Plus, 1991. Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Ice T, Kevin Pollak, Lindsay Wagner. Director: Russell Mulcahy.

   This movie was made, I believe, before Denzel Washington became a well-known box office draw, and the movie did not do very well financially. (For what it’s worth, it came out a few months before Cape Fear, which had a very similar story line.)

   Washington plays Nick Styles, who at the beginning of the movie is a night school law student moonlighting as a beat patrolman. He’s propelled to fame overnight when his capture of a sadistic killer named Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow) is caught on video tape by a happenstance onlooker. Seven years later he is happily married, has two children, and careerwise is an Assistant District Attorney. More than that, he is considered by many to be a political star in the making.

   Blake, in the meantime, is seething his life away in prison, plotting his revenge and cracking up visually, minute by minute. Once escaped but assumed to be dead, his goal is not to to kill Styles — too easy! — but to tear his life apart and utterly humiliate him. Using the power of the media, he nearly succeeds, brutally killing Styles’ friends, and in particular using a videotape showing Styles having sex with a prostitute, his mind addled with drugs, and adding faked dialogue.

   When Styles realizes how greatly his family is in danger, enough is enough, the lid really comes off. The final fiery confrontation between the two enemies is shown on live TV, of course, making this film an early example of how the media is increasingly making successes of some people’s lives and breaking others. Or in Styles’ case, first his meteoric rise to fame, then his downfall, before final redemption. Three acts, all caught on tape and live TV as well as newspaper headlines.

   Outwardly, other than that, what this is is an above average action thriller, made better than it really is by a top notch cast, all of whom know exactly what they’re doing. (It was good to see Lindsay Wagner again as Styles’ boss, and the always recognizable John Amos as his father.)


MERMAIDS OF TIBURON Pacific Productions, 1962. George Robotham, Diane Webber, Gaby Martone, Timothy Carey, Jose Gonzales-Gonzales, and John Mylong. Written, produced & directed by John Lamb.

   A real oddity, released, re-released and re-edited in sundry permutations (including the title The Aqua Sex) over the years by auteur John Lamb, and a big hit on Army Bases.

   Diver and all-around Deep Sea Honcho Dr. James Samuelson (played by stuntman George Robotham, here under the name George Rowe) is contacted by a mysterious scientist-guy (John Mylong, the scientist-guy in Robot Monster) for help exploring the waters off the island of Tiburon, apparently chock-full of pearls and mysterious sea critters. They arrange to meet in Mexico, but when Rowe gets there Mylong is missing, amid signs of violence in his Hotel Room.

   Enter Timothy Carey as a bad guy in possession of Mylong’s maps and a trunk large enough to hold a body. He charters a boat with skipper Jose Gonzales Gonzales and sets off for Tiburon, right behind our hero.

   At which point the action slows a bit—to put it mildly. Rowe (who also narrates, like Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt) gets there first, and after many long, extended, lengthy, leisurely interminable minutes of looking at water, he comes across a race of Mermaids.

   They’re a diverse lot, these Merladies. Some have fish tails, some wear seaweed bikini bottoms, but all are topless and blessed by nature. No wonder this was popular on Army bases.

   What follows is about twenty minutes of unadulterated ogling, dressed up like exploration, as Rowe follows the Merbabes into their briny homeland. I will say right now that the underwater photography is expertly done, with a professionalism you wouldn’t expect in a low-budget picture like this, and the aquatic toplessness is diverting… for a while. But after a near half-hour of nothing but buoyant boobs, I thought I was seeing double.

   Fortunately about this time we get back to the story, and I was never so glad to see Timothy Carey’s ugly mug or hear Jose Gonzales Gonzales sing off-key.

   Carey gets to show off his nasty side here, and he does it quite well, deep-sixing the trunk with Mylong’s body, dynamiting the water with Rose and the Merwomen underneath, and setting off in ruthless search of giant oysters (they look more like bits of décor swiped from a sea food restaurant) and precious pearls.

   So obsessed is he with loot that he spear-guns a Merlady in a fit of pique, leading to an end unique in the annals of movie villainy that I won’t spoil for you. Suffice it to say (as it usually does) that Mermaids of Tiburon may not be much good, but you’re not likely to see anything else like it.

   One additional footnote. Hero George Robotham spent most of his movie career as a stuntman, including stints in the Mole People, Confessions of an Opium Eater and doubling for Kirk Alyn in Atom Man vs Superman. Somehow Mermaids of Tiburon seems to fit right in.


FLIGHT TO FURY. Filipinas Productions / Lippert Pictures, 1964. Dewey Martin, Fay Spain, Jack Nicholson, Joseph Estrada, Vic Diaz, Jacqueline Hellman. Screenwriters: Monte Hellman, Jack Nicholson, Fred Roos. Director: Monte Hellman.

   Filmed in the Philippines back to back with Back Door to Hell (reviewed here ), Flight to Fury is a low budget crime film that, while nothing spectacular, has some interesting sequences and hints of genius to come. Directed by Monte Hellman, and with a screenplay written by Jack Nicholson, the movie has a fatalistic sensibility from start to finish. This is largely due to some terrific hardboiled dialogue and compelling performances by Nicholson as a cynical diamond thief, and Filipino actor Vic Diaz as a sleazy criminal who likewise has illicit gains on his mind.

   Although it takes a while for the movie’s plot to come into sharp focus, Flight to Fury soon reveals itself to be a caper film. A ragtag group of individuals are enclosed together on a small aircraft. Each seems to be hiding a secret. Or secrets. When the plane goes down in a remote jungle, it becomes clear that the pilot was smuggling diamonds. Four of the survivors, all male apart from one woman who is more than willing to employ her seductive charms to get what she wants, are soon struggling for possession of the diamonds that the now deceased pilot had stashed in his luggage.

   And if you think surviving a crash is bad, just wait until some guerrillas stumble upon the group and take them captive. What happens next is both predictable and rather downbeat, with an obligatory firefight between the group and their captors as well as a final Western-style showdown between two men for control of the diamonds.

   In the end, what makes Flight to Fury worth a look is that it paints a stark picture of a fallen world in which no one wins, everyone loses, and there are no heroes.


OPERATION EICHMANN. Allied Artists, 1961. Werner Klemperer, Ruta Lee, Donald Buka, Barbara Turner, John Banner. Director: R. G. Springsteen

   Arrogance. That was Eichmann’s defining trait. At least that is how it was presented in Operation Eichmann, a 1961 release from Allied Artists. Directed by R. G. Springsteen, best known for his extensive work with B-Westerns, the film is a deeply flawed, but nevertheless historically interesting feature about the rise and fall of SS officer Adolf Eichmann, the man considered instrumental to the logistics of the concentration camp system set up by the Nazis in Poland and Germany.

   German-American actor Werner Klemperer, whose father was Jewish, portrays Eichmann as an arrogant, obsessive, and paranoid man who is absolutely devoted to the Nazi cause. Although Klemperer may be best known to American audiences for his portrayal of Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes, his performance in this downbeat, grim feature demonstrates that he was an immensely talented actor also capable of handling serious dramatic roles.

   The film traces Eichmann from the height of his political power during the Nazi regime to his life on the run in Madrid, Kuwait, and Argentina. All the while, seeing himself as the natural heir to Hitler, Eichmann was also interested in wealth and women. As depicted in the film, it was Eichmann’s haughtiness and paranoia that did him in and allowed for Israeli intelligence agents to eventually capture him in Argentina and bring him back to Jerusalem for trial.

   The main problem with the film, aside from the fact that it looks and feels more like a TV show than a feature film, is that we never really get to know the film’s nominal hero: an Israeli intelligence agent who was a child in Auschwitz and remembers Eichmann’s brutality from his childhood. David (Donald Buka) is a cipher, a character that the audience never gets to really know. This is a real shame, for there could have been a much more gripping film here about a young boy who grows up seeking vengeance on Eichmann.

   Instead, Operation Eichmann presents David as a staunch moralist, more concerned about trying Eichmann than in killing him. Klemperer was also a far more compelling screen presence than Buka, allowing his fictionalized Eichmann to completely overshadow the unfortunately empty character of David. And without a compelling hero to root for, one is left with remembering Klemperer’s Eichmann more than anything else. Which is not necessarily terrible, given Klemperer’s stand out performance. But it didn’t do much to make me believe this movie is worth a second viewing.


WATUSI. MGM, 1959. George Montgomery, Taina Elg, David Farrar, Rex Ingram, Dan Seymour. Screenwriter: James Clavell, based on the novel King Solomon’s Mines, by H. Rider Haggard. Director: Kurt Neumann.

   Twelve year old me would have absolutely loved Watusi, an MGM production with a script by James Clavell. The sense of adventure in an exotic locale, the footage of African wildlife, and the quest for treasure — all would have appealed to my sensibilities and childhood sense of wonder.

   But I’m not twelve years old anymore and I can see just how flawed a movie Watusi really is. In many ways, it’s just talky and boring. And a lot of that great footage that I just alluded to is stock footage, some from MGM’s King Solomon’s Mines (1950). The constant switch back and forth between the film proper and stock footage is distracting and does little to give the viewer confidence that MGM had much faith in the project.

   That said, I do like George Montgomery, although I know him mainly from his presence in Westerns. Here he portrays Harry Quatermain, Allan Quartermain’s son from Canada.

   He’s come to Africa to continue his father’s project to find and to acquire the diamonds ensconced in King Solomon’s Mines. Along the way, he must face down a hostile tribe, fight off wild animals, and overcome malaria.

   Quatermain also must come to terms with his own personal demons, including a deep-seated hatred for Germans, whom he collectively blames for his sister’s death during World War I. As luck – and the script – would have it, he ends up saving the daughter of a German missionary from a violent warlord. She, along with his father’s friend Englishman Rick Cobb (David Farrar) becomes his travel companion on the proverbial road to King Solomon’s Mines.

   But Rick’s got a secret. He was born in Germany and is ethnically German. It’s only at the end of the movie that the “message” of the whole film is delivered: prejudice against any ethnic group is wrong. It’s all very trite and forced.

   Honestly, that’s about it. The plot doesn’t have much in the way of thrills, and the characters don’t have all that much depth. Kurt Neumann, who also collaborated with screenwriter James Clavell on The Fly (1958), provides competent direction. But it’s not enough to make this action-adventure film anything more than a minor curiosity. A great soundtrack would have helped immensely. For an adventure film, Watusi is notably lacking fanfare. Still, I would have loved it when I was twelve.


THAT MAN FROM RIO. Les Films Ariane, France, 1964. Lopert Pictures Corporation, US, 1964 (subtitled). Original title: L’homme de Rio. Jean-Paul Belmondo, Francoise Dorleac, Jean Servais and Adolpho Celi. Written by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Ariane Mnouchkine, Daniel Boulanger, and Philippe de Broca. Directed by Philippe de Broca.

   The first thing I noticed was that this movie had four writers, just like the old-time movie serials it resembles. The second thing was that it’s fun, funny and compulsively watchable.

   Steven Spielberg said those old serials were the inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark, but this seems the more likely antecedent, starting with the theft of an ancient relic in Paris, the kidnapping of a scientist’s lovely daughter (Dorleac) and the whole rest of the movie, spent in a cliff-hanging pursuit to a lost temple in the jungle filled with priceless treasure etc. etc …..

   De Broca & Co handle all this with speed and good humor, tossing a few laugh-out-loud moments into a stew of fights, chases and amusing stunt work by Belmondo himself, who insists on keeping his ugly mug to the camera so we can see that it is he who is dangling from skyscrapers, clinging to the wing of an airplane, swinging through jungles and getting knocked about in a spectacular barroom brawl.

   Jean Servais and Adolpho Celi lend some fine villainy to the proceedings, and Ms Dorleac is spirited, lovely, and a far better actress than most serial queens. As for Belmondo, he makes a perfect heroic Everyguy: bemused, bothered, and beleaguered, as he tromps through one peril and the next with a patient shrug and a wry smile, not taking any of this more seriously than we do.

   I should add that towards the end there’s a very thoughtful and sobering split-second. A plot twist I wasn’t expecting that seems like a grim augury of things to come — things we weren’t paying much attention to in 1964 — but it’s soon over, and we’re back to the light-hearted comedy.

   Funny, though: I’ll remember this movie with affection, but I suspect I’ll remember that dark moment a lot longer….


THE DAY OF THE JACKAL. Universal Pictures, 1973. Based on the book by Frederick Forsyth. Edward Fox as the Jackal, Michel Lonsdale as Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel, Adrien Cayla-Legrand as President Charles de Gaulle. Director: Fred Zinnemann.

   For a captivating thriller/police procedural, The Day of the Jackal also manages to keep the viewer at a safe distance. Unlike some movies in that genre that succeed mainly due to propelling the viewer straight into the action, the semi-documentary feel of the film allows for a sense of detachment on the part of the audience. But this does not mean that the film is not compelling and deeply engrossing.

   Directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon), this British-French production is one of the better political thrillers adapted to film from a best selling novel. Indeed, it’s the film’s very mechanical approach, due in large part to brilliant editing by Ralph Kemplen (who won a BAFTA for his work), which makes this cinematic adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s a superb work of 1970s commercial cinema.

   Edward Fox, then a largely unknown British actor, portrays the eponymous Jackal, a high priced assassin-for-hire. He has been hired by renegade members of the OAS, a coterie of right-wing French nationalists who blame President Charles de Gaulle for allowing France to lose possession of Algeria. They have hired the Jackal to assassinate De Gaulle. Much of the film centers upon the Jackal’s movement through various European countries as he plans his act of violence, acquires a specially made rifle for the occasion, and assumes various identities along the way. That is one part of the story and is very much part of the thriller genre.

   The other part, which is a police procedural, follows the French authorities as they attempt to both discern the identity of the Jackal and to stop him from killing the French president. Leading the investigation is the determined, if somewhat emotionally distant Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel (Michel Lonsdale) who is nothing if not methodical. Lonsdale, who many American viewers will remember as Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), is nearly flawless in his portrayal of the unflappable policeman who trusts no one.

   A final word about the movie: the Jackal is a ruthless, heartless, and cold calculating killer who is more than willing to employ violence to stop anyone who gets in his way. Zinnemann chose to film many of the scenes in which the Jackal kills so that the viewer actually doesn’t see the killing, at least not the brutality of it. Instead of shielding the audience from the Jackal’s ruthlessness, however, this aesthetic choice – one that fans of films noir will be quite familiar with – only serves to heighten it.


THE LONE WOLF SPY HUNT. Columbia, 1939. Warren William (Michael Lanyard), Ida Lupino, Rita Hayworth, Virginia Weidler, Ralph Morgan. Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer, based on the novel Red Masquerade (Doubleday, 1921) by Louis Joseph Vance. Director: Peter Godfrey. Shown at Cinevent 26, Columbus OH, May 1994.

   Warren William is, as I have pointed out before, one of the great favorites of film convention audiences (both Cinevent and Cinefest), so his stint in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt was eagerly awaited by the conventioneers. Well, everybody has an off day, and it appeared to me that Williams’ dapper suavity was showing its age and formulaic quality here.

   He was not helped by co-star Ida Lupino, an intelligent actress requited to throw ignored girl friend fits that were noisy but sour rather than funny or wry. Lupino was uneven as an actress, sometimes betrayed by her natural ability to command attention whatever she did, even when it seemed out of key with the movie.

   Virginia Weidler was arch as Williams’s precocious daughter (a role she patented in The Philadelphia Story), although the writer of the program notes thought her “delightful.” A reminder that not all “B” movies were little gems.


SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE. RKO, 1932. Gwili Andre, Gregory Ratoff, Frank Morgan and John Warburton. Written by Samuel Ornitz and Robert Tasker from magazine stories by Ashton Wolfe. Director: A. Edward Sutherland

SECRETS OF SCOTLAND YARD. Republic, 1944. Edgar Barrier, Stephanie Bachelor, C. Aubrey Smith, Lionel Atwill, Martin Kosleck, John Abbott and Mary Gordon. Written by Denison Clift. Directed by George Blair.

   Two very different films, each lots of fun in its own way.

    French Police is a lavish Selznick production, with splendid sets, moody photography and lots of lurid pre-Code mischief as it weaves the tale of General Moloff (Gregory Ratoff) a Russo-Chinese criminal mastermind (you know the type) who schemes to abduct an innocent young flower girl (the lovely Gwili Andre) and pass her off as Princess Anastasia, using hypnosis and drugs.

   That would be plenty for any self-respecting super-villain, but Moloff goes the extra mile, murdering inconvenient witnesses and leaving notes written in the victim’s blood incriminating other inconvenient witnesses — and that’s just when he’s in a hurry; given time and leisure, he drains his victims’ blood, covers them with plaster, and displays them as statues in his sinister palace, guarded by malevolent Orientals and surrounded with death traps.

   In short, a villain who takes his arch-fiendishness seriously, with the sort of old world polish one just doesn’t find in scoundrels these days.

   All of this is off-set knowingly by Frank Morgan as a sharp police inspector who recruits the flower girl’s burglar-boyfriend (John Warburton) to penetrate Moloff’s fiendish lair and unhatch his diabolical plots. And though I’m not sure “unhatch” is actually a word, Morgan and Warburton underplay their parts beautifully (I particularly enjoyed the scene where Warburton explains to Morgan why he thinks the World owes him a living), adding a touch of cynicism to the theatrical goings-on that keeps it slightly — very slightly—grounded in reality amid the cliffhangers and killings.

   The result is a film that seems part pulp-magazine and part send-up of pulp magazines, and an immensely satisfying blend of both.

   Scotland Yard, on the other hand, is a cheap little thing from Republic, a studio that knew how to do cheap movies just right, with a better than usual cast for them.

   We start with the defeat of Germany in World War I, with the German High Command already plotting their next strike by planning to get a mole into the decoding unit of the British War Department. Fast-forward to 1939, and the decoding unit run by C. Aubrey Smith (he of the lantern jaw and eyebrows like blunt instruments) and staffed with familiar character actors. Edgar Barrier plays the star decoder, but they no sooner break the code than he’s found dead on the floor, with his work erased.

   So it seems that the Germans got their mole in place, and the question is, which one is it? And how to find out? Fortunately for the allied cause and the film’s title, Barrier has a twin brother who works for Scotland Yard, and he steps into the dead man’s shoes to find out.

   What follows is fifty agreeable minutes of cat-and-mouse, helped along considerably by a cast of suspects that includes Lionel Atwill, John Abbott and Martin Kosleck at his sinister best, the whole thing — punctuated by vigorous fist-fights in the Republic manner.

   But there are also some telling bits of atmosphere rare for Republic: fog-shrouded streets, country cottages, and even Mary Gordon on leave from Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series as a cheerful housekeeper. And perhaps best of all, a quiet moment in the decoding office as the staff solemnly listens to King George VI’s halting radio speech declaring war, and everyone stands at attention when the radio plays “God Save the King.”

   It’s one of those little touches that lifts Secrets of Scotland Yard out of the B-Movie rut, and, together with that quintessential movie cast, help to make it memorable.

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