THE MANCHU EAGLE MURDER CAPER MYSTERY. United Artists, 1975. Gabriel Dell, Jackie Coogan, Huntz Hall, Joyce Van Patten, Dick Gautier, Vincent Gardenia, Anjanette Comer, Barbara Harris and Will Geer. Also with Old Tom and Winston as themselves. Written by Dean Hargrove and Gabriel Dell. Directed by Dean Hargrove.


   Surprisingly off-beat and witty (considering that it comes from an ex-Dead End Kid and the creator of Matlock) this is also a film of engaging pointlessness and the sort of absurd humor that later characterized Airplane and The Naked Gun.

   Gabriel Dell, that perennial hanger-on from the Bowery Boys, stars as Malcolm, a bio-engineer (he’s trying to develop a chicken that will lay Easter eggs) in a speck-sized community (the richest man in town lives in a double-wide trailer) who decides to try his luck as a Private Detective and gets involved in a case of murder, adultery, incest and bestiality, all handled very tastefully and with considerable style.

   For a film where Jackie Coogan and Huntz Hall play cops, this is also rather well-acted. Dell, a veteran of more bad movies than I can remember or he could forget, injects a Bogart-like weariness into his role, supported by Nicholas Colasanto as a bartender who speaks in clichés, Anjanette Comer as a flower child who spouts wisdom from fortune cookies, and Nita Talbot as a concerned wife looking for her missing husband (he’s been gone all day) who enters Dell’s office already wearing widow’s weeds.


   Gardenia and Geer do their usual best, un-flapped by the silliness around them, and Old Tom and Winston put in cameo appearances neat enough to merit special mention.

   Eagle proceeds merrily on its way to no place special, speeded along by zany characters, neck-snapping non sequiturs, and a shoot-out like something out of Monty Python. And it caps off with a surprisingly thoughtful (and quite funny) discourse on the folly of pursuing dreams and why we do it anyway. In all, a rough little gem but one worth seeing.