Action Adventure movies


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

JACK DAVIES – Esther, Ruth, and Jennifer. Allen, UK, hardcover, 1979. Also published as North Sea Hijack (Star, UK, paperback, 1980). US title: Atlantic Incident (Jove, paperback, 1980).

Film: Universal, 1980, as North Sea Hijack; released in the US as ffolkes; also released as Assault Force. Roger Moore, James Mason, Anthony Perkins, Michael Parks, David Hedison, Lea Brodie, Dana Wynter. Screenplay by Jack Davies based on his novel. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen.

   “In his hand he carried an ancient carpet bag with a printed label which read: Rufus Excalibur ffolkes, Skeely, Scotland. It contained what he thought of as his overnight things: pajamas, dressing gown, two spare shirts, more red socks, his shaving kit and comb, the tapestry he had been working on for the last seventeen years, two loaded revolvers, a bottle of Black Label Scotch Whiskey, and the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary; which was his current reading matter. He had reached page 699 the previous night and been delighted to find a word of which he did not know the meaning — filoplume. Of course, he knew filium was Latin for thread and plume was feather, but he had not known the word was used ornithlogically to describe the nearest approach to a hair a bird can have. Just the sort of thing the TIMES crossword would spring on me, he thought.”
   

   Every collector has those books you look for over a period of years and somehow never come across a copy that is available and you can afford, and then when you do find it, it arrives in the mail, and you complete the anticipatory act of opening your acquisition when the inevitable doubt grips you.

   Is it any good?

   You have spent forty years or more looking for a copy having never read the book, having never read so much as a review of the book, and now it is in your trembling hands, and you face that dilemma; was it worth all this?

   In the case of Jack Davies’ Esther, Ruth, and Jennifer, the answer was a resounding, and relieved, yes.

   Granted in this case there was a very entertaining action film starring Roger Moore taking a break between Bond outings (Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only) and the screenplay for that was by the novelist, and that writer had written numerous great screenplays, and several good novels, but still, that timorous nagging fear lay heavily on my too often disappointed collectors soul.

   Was Esther, Ruth and Jennifer going to be a tremendous let down?

   Book and film have the same simple premise. Jennifer and Ruth, the largest of the North Sea Oil platforms have been mined by terrorists who are demanding £25 million or they will be blown-up, crippling North Sea oil production for decades. The hijackers have taken Esther, the state of the art supply ship commanded by Captain Olaffsen, and is holding his crew hostage.

   Harold Shulman embezzled from his own company and was sent to prison. There he met psychotic Lew Kramer and they decided to team up, ruthlessness and brutality. The only trick then was to find a target worthy of their ambition.

   Anyone who lived through the Seventies probably remembers just how much oil production and prices were on everyone’s mind. Those North Sea Oil Rigs were a lifeline for all of Europe and particularly for the United Kingdom and Norway. I worked on an industrial espionage case involving British Petroleum and the North Sea platforms and the pressure from several governments was intense.

   Enter our hero, Rufus Excalibur ffolkes, ex Royal Navy, and eccentric cat loving, woman hating, whiskey (and in kilt-wearing ffolkes’ case that should be ‘whuskey’) swigging, motorcycle enthusiast, and sewing aficionado who has trained his own team of tough sea going privateers for just this sort of thing. Both the British government and the company approach him despite the fact he is almost impossible to work with.

   After all, he predicted exactly how the rigs might be hijacked so he has the best chance of saving them.

   “We go on as before. We keep practicing assaults on platforms, rigs and ships, unobserved by anyone on them. If any of them is ever successfully hijacked one thing is certain. We will have to deal with the hijackers before they can do any damage.”
   

   ffolkes’ plan involves his going aboard Jennifer with part of the team assigned to negotiate the ransom, Admiral Brinken of the Royal Navy and Mr. King from the oil company, but things go awry. Then too the Navy and the company are wary ffolkes’ plan which begins with convincing the hijackers that they have made a mistake and Ruth, out of their line of sight, has blown up because of them.

   Little can ffolkes expect things will go wrong between rough seas and human error and he will find himself aboard the Esther with one healthy ally he can rely on, Sanna, a female crew member ffolkes mistakenly thinks is a young man at first, as the deadline grows closer.

   In the film released in the UK as North Sea Hijack and here as ffolkes it is all in the acting, Moore having great fun as ffolkes, Anthony Perkins as Shulman, Michael Parks as Kramer, James Mason the Admiral, and David Hedison the company representative. On the printed page it is a cleverly and richly told take that, considering the author’s history in film, is a well crafted and often humorous thriller that at times reads as if P. G. Wodehouse was collaborating with Alistair MacLean. The action may be cinematic, but the book compares well with many of the better adventure thrillers of the era by legends in the genre like Canning, Innes, and Bagley.

   You never feel as if you are reading a scenario for a film though the film follows the book scene by scene.

   If you love British comedy of the late fifties into the sixties Jack Davies name should be familiar to you from the credits. Jack (John Bernard Leslie) Davies was a British screenwriter whose films include Laughter in Paradise, Doctor at Sea, An Alligator Named Daisy, Gambit, It Started in Naples, The Poppy is Also a Flower, Monte Carlo or Bust (aka Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies based on his novel), Paper Tiger (with David Niven and Toshiro Mifune also based on his novel) and the Oscar nominated best original screenplay for Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines. His lines read by a veritable who’s who of Hollywood stars including Clark Gable, Sophia Loren, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLane, Alex Guinness, Tony Curtis, David Niven, Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth, and more.

   Three of his four novels were made into films unsurprisingly.

   Whether in novel or film form this is simply an entertaining romp, but I have to say with great relief, after years of looking for it, the book is everything I wanted, and packs far more into less that three hundred pages of smallish print than most of today’s bestselling high concept thrillers bloated out to doorstop size.

   Davies knows when to be terse and when to be expansive, when to draw to his heroes eccentricities and when it is too much, which is the key to this kind of character working.

   And, the ending of the book, as the ending of the film did, hits just the right note, a smile and not a laugh relieving considerable tension.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

RED DOT. Sweden, 2021. Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Nanna Blondell, Anastasios Soulis, Kalled Mustonen, Tomas Bergström. Written by Alain Darborg with Per Dickson. Directed by Alain Darborg.

   Ever since John Boorman terrified us with backwoods horror in Deliverance (1972), there has been a template for filmmakers to follow. All you need are city dwellers or suburbanites who venture out of their comfort zones into the rural unknown and encounter a pair of dangerous men (it’s almost always a pair). The city dweller could easily be a female college student, such as in Rust Creek (2018), which I reviewed here. Or it could be a group of students, such in the underappreciated horror gem Wrong Turn (2021), reviewed here, in which the collegians encounter a pack of backwoods cultists.

   In the Swedish thriller Red Dot now streaming on Netflix, it’s an interracial professional couple from Stockholm that gets the hinterland horror treatment. Workaholic engineer David (Anastasios Soulis) and medical student Nadja (Nanna Blondell) are having a rough go at in their relationship. What started off as a promising romance has turned into drudgery; complicating matters is the fact that Nadja is pregnant. A major detail that she has chosen to not yet disclose to her husband. Despite their squabbles, it’s clear that the audience is supposed to identify with these two yuppies. They’re educated, career driven, and are meant to represent a progressive, open Sweden. And they have a cute dog. You get the picture.

   The same can’t be said for the two redneck brothers the couple encounters at a gas station along the way to their Northern Lights camping trip. Unlike David and Nanja, these two men come across as crass, dirty, and reactionary. When David spots a deer’s head in the brothers’ pickup truck, he recoils with disgust. He is so frazzled that he accidentally slams into the pickup on the way out of the petrol station. This sets off what appears to be a chain reaction, a cat-and-mouse game of escalating incidents between the professional couple and the backwoods ruffians.

   Matters finally come to a head one cold, solitary night. In their tent for the evening, the couple notice a red dot – like from a laser pointer – aimed directly at them. What is it? A joke? Kids? Or something far more sinister like from a gun? Have the brothers really taken it to this extreme? What follows is a violent, occasionally off-putting series of events, in which our two nominal heroes find themselves hunted down like prey.

   But there is a major plot twist, one that I think an astute observer will be able to see coming from a mile away. One I am not quite sure that I feel was handled correctly. It’s a daring way of approaching narrative film-making, with the third act occasionally feeling as if it might be from an entirely different movie.

   All told, Red Dot is a periodically compelling, if somewhat incomplete, thriller that upends audience expectations and upends the Deliverance template. Does it work? I’m not entirely sure. But it’s a daring attempt. Mind you: this is a Swedish production, not an American one. So don’t go with the expectation of witnessing a final girl moment, a redemption arc, or a cathartic ending. This graphically violent film is downbeat to its core.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

DUEL ON THE MISSISSIPPI. Columbia Pictures, 1955. Lex Barker, Patricia Medina, Warren Douglas, Craig Stevens, John Dehner, Ian Keith, Celia Lovsky. Screenplay by Gerald Drayson Adams. Directed by William Castle.

   The Western movie dominated Post-War Hollywood into the early 1960’s, and there were several sub=categories of the form. including the Northwestern (usually Mounties and sometimes the Klondike gold strike), the modern Western set in more or less contemporary times, the Frontier, the Trail Drive, the Gunfight, the Cattleman vs Sheepmen, Cavalry vs Indians, the Mountain Man, the Empire Builder, Old California, and the Southern (which sometimes was a pirate movie or historical, but also sometimes a Western as it is here).

   Each had its own tropes, but the Southern was perhaps the only variation on the Western to regularly include sword fights as a staple, outside of the Old California story. You can probably count the number of sword fights in regular Westerns, on the fingers of one hand, though they did show up in some of the old Cisco Kid B films.

   But in the Southern they were commonplace regardless of the historical era in films like Mississippi Gambler, The Iron Mistress, and Gambler from Natchez (the latter a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo).

   Duel on the Mississippi has two of them, one with epee and the other machetes.

   The year is 1820 and the place Louisiana, and save for their presence in the background nary a word is ever mentioned about slavery. It seems to have entirely escaped the notice of the film makers, I think there is only one black actor, an actress, with a spoken word, not even a “Massa” to be cringed at.

   Anyone not knowing history would be at a loss to know all those black actors weren’t playing paid hands.

   I guess one way to avoid the elephant in the room is to completely ignore it is there.

   That out of the way, this is a handsome little Technicolor Southern adventure film in the more or less Frank Yerby tradition of some sex, some arrogance, violence, a bit of class consciousness, and a fiery heroine vs a stalwart hero. He’s a better writer than it suggests but in some ways Yerby was the Mickey Spillane of the historical novel. He brought a new level of sex and violence to the genre in the Post War era just as Spillane did the mystery.

   He didn’t write this one, but if you know his work you will understand why I mention him in relation to it.

   The stalwart hero is Andre Tulane (Lex Barker), the handsome and only a bit arrogant son of French sugar cane planter Henri Tulane (John Dehner). It seems the Tulane’s and other planters are under attack from the Delta Men stealing their harvested cane, raiders from the bayous led by Hugo Marat (Warren Douglas) who is partnered with riverboat owner Lili Scarlet (Patricia Medina) and her father old Jacques Scarlet, one of Lafitte’s pirates pardoned after the War of 1812 by James Madison.

   The wealthy landowners won’t allow Jacques to buy land, and Lili hates them for it.

   Woman scorned and all that. French woman scorned at that. Red-haired French woman scorned too. The Tulane’s know how to pick an enemy.

   When Andre captures Lili during a raid she escapes, but then he learns his father’s loan has been sold to Jacques Scarlet’s daughter and she is taking him to court. To save his father from going to jail for failing to pay the $30,000 he owes Andre agrees to become Lili’s bonded slave, but not before challenging murderous duelist Marat to a duel at sunrise.

   The plot is pretty predictable, Andre and Lili loathe each other so they fall deeply in love through all the hate. Marat is jealous and plans to cheat Jacques and have Lili for himself. There is a crooked mill owner who sold Lili the mortgage on the loan in cahoots with Marat who sets Andre up to be killed, and finally there is a big raid on the raiders hideout when Lili proves her worth, and Andre’s Mother (Celia Lovksy) warns that it is time to learn to accept people for what they are and not their birth.

   Craig Stevens does get to sword fight with Barker as he practices for the duel, as does Dehner. Dehner is pretty good, so is Barker, I suspect Stevens is a stunt double. Douglas isn’t bad in his scenes either. Decently choreographed sword and machete fights are bonuses.

   Barker was no great shakes as an actor, but he was tall, handsome, hit his marks, athletic, and had a high IQ plus spoke numerous languages and grew up a rich kid rejecting it to make it on his own as an actor. He was always at least adequate and often more than that and the camera liked him. He might not bring the skill of a John Payne or the charm of a Dale Robertson to this kind of role, but he didn’t embarrass himself or the viewer and he was always believable as a hero.

   Medina is a bit flowsy-looking for this part, or maybe the Technicolor isn’t flattering, but she is very good playing the kind of role she could play in her sleep. She does an acceptable Rhonda Fleming/Virginia Mayo substitute.

   Douglas is always a decent villain. Nothing spectacular, but capable, though it’s a little tough when a man his size has to do a threatening face to face scene with Lex Barker towering over him. To Douglas’s credit he almost pulls it off, thanks to having a gun in one hand, and quite a bit of dialogue building him up as more dangerous than the movie ever shows.

   I don’t generally rate movies, but this one is a B- or C+ in a forgiving mood, which isn’t at all bad for what it is. Adams could do this kind of plot all day and Castle was a competent director, sometimes more, before he started relying on gimmicks.

   In the right mood and to kill a short hour and a half Duel on the Mississippi isn’t bad, and distracting enough that I didn’t once wonder where Cheetah, Winnetou, or Dr. Mabuse was once despite Barker’s presence.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

CONE OF SILENCE. Baring, UK,1960; released in the U.S. as Trouble in the Sky. Michael Craig, Peter Cushing, Bernard Lee, Elizabeth Seal, George Sanders, Andre Morell, Charles Tingwel, Gordon Jackson,Noel Willman, Marne Maitland, Jack Hedley. Screenplay by Robert Westerby and Jeffrey Dell, based on the novel Cone of Silence by David Beaty. Directed by Charles Frend.

    “Why did the Phoenix fail to take off?”

   Civil Aviation drama had been around since the Thirties (Five Came Back isn’t even the first), almost from the birth of civil aviation, both in popular fiction and in films, but after the Second World War what had been a growing genre pioneered by the likes of Nevil Shute took off with writers like  Ernest K. Gann, Arthur Hailey, Hank Searls, Ian Gordon, Hammond Innes, Gavin Lyall and many others discovering the drama and thrills in the sky.

   The books they produced seemed a natural for the screen, and when Gann’s mega selling The High and the Mighty became a block buster movie directed by William Wellman with John Wayne, an all star cast, and a handful of Oscar nods, not the least for the haunting Dimitri Tiomkin score, the gates were down and Hollywood skies were crowded with commercial aircraft flying alongside all those fighter planes and bombers that had been in the glamorous Hollywood skies since Wings.

   Zero Hour, Julie, Storm Over the Atlantic, No Highway in the Sky, Fate is the Hunter, The Crowded Sky and others success at the box-office meant the flaps were up and engines revved. After all there was everything you needed right there, a disparate group of people trapped in a box in the sky their fate dependent on a handful of professionals, dramatic vistas of sky, taut faced men on the ground trying to guide the wandering souls home, sleek modern aircraft half technological marvels and half terrifying innovation that seemed to go against common sense, and better than that you could do this on television with stock footage and cheap sets and still do it pretty well.

   Planes were dropping out of the celluloid sky so fast some of the major airlines worried about their image and wouldn’t cooperate unless the film emphasized how safe flying was. Drama is one thing, but money is money.

   It was all there, soap opera, heroics, comedy, primal fears, and the soaring ambition of conquest and pioneering. Add to that that other popular Post War source of drama board room intrigue to spice things up.

   British writer David Beaty was a flyer, as were many of those who wrote about aviation, a man who got both the romance of the great silver birds and the romance of the slide rules that built them and got them in the air. His novels, including this one, Cone of Silence, were international bestsellers that put human beings in the cockpit and on the ground, gave the technicians faces and the corporations names and dared to remind people that despite how it was sold this was still a vast experiment in the sky, an adventure for all the commercial professionalism surrounding it.

   Ernest K. Gann called his most personal book on flying Fate is the Hunter, because like a lot of old pilots who got started before the War he had a near superstitious belief that the more you flew, the longer you dared fate, the more likely you would push your luck too far. That was not a popular idea with the aviation industry trying to sell seats to people used to a nice boring old train.

   That idea that a pilot’s number might be up versus something might be wrong on the ground is the chief cause of tension in Beaty’s book and the film based on it.

   Sometimes both could be true.

   Based on a 1958 incident involving the de Haviland Comet, Beatty spins a cautionary tale about veteran Captain George Gort (Bernard Lee) a good pilot who survives a terrible crash and finds himself grounded because of it after his tough cross examination by Sir Arnold Hobbes (George Sanders). His fate is left in the hands of Captain Hugh Dallas (Michael Craig) who tests veteran pilots on the new Phoenix jet under the direction of Captain Mannheim (Andre Morell), and who tests Gort when he is given a second chance and decides he is fit to fly.

   Gort is a perfect pilot, by the book. Not a seat of the pants type like so many younger pilots.

   Gort is back on the Phoenix and Pickering (Noel Willman) who designed the plane is none to happy, neither is Captain Judd (Peter Cushing) who wants younger men on the plane. Meanwhile Dallas is interested in Gort’s daughter (Elizabeth Sellars) who still resents him.

   After flying with Gort in India Judd wants him suspended when there is an incident of Gort coming in too low in Judd’s opinion. Another pilot proves to Dallas that Gort wasn’t at fault for the things Judd has accused him of, but Judd is going behind Gort’s back to try to get him grounded.

   Even after Gort saves a plane from crashing in a storm when a window on the Phoenix fails Judd and Pickering are still against him as if his very existence threatens them, and in a way it does.

   When Gort crashes again at exactly the same weight of cargo and on the same kind of runway in the same hot humid conditions and this time dies Dallas is certain that Judd and Pickering are hiding something and sets out to find out what, and isn’t going to let Sir Arnold buffalo this verdict into pilot era certainly when he discovers a history of trouble on takeoffs for the Phoenix that pilots, including Judd, haven’t been reporting to avoid getting into trouble and Dallas confronts both Judd and Pickering because sooner or later another pilot will be taking off in exactly the same conditions as Gort did and inevitably crash.

   It’s well done drama with more than enough suspense and an outstanding cast including Noel Willman as Pickering the touchy designer of the plane and Andre Morel the chief pilot who decides to keep Gort on, Peter Cushing suspiciously against Gort, with George Sanders having a nice turn as a snide attorney (what else would George Sanders play, Santa Claus?) whose courtroom dramatics were largely responsible for Gort’s conviction in the first place.

   “I’m sure you’re just as anxious to find out what happened as the manufacturers?” George Sanders as Sir Arnold Hobbes to Bernard Lee’s Captain Gort.

   Was Gort just doing his job, was everyone just doing their job, or is there something wrong, something the manufacturer and the airline don’t want the public to know because they might be libel for the people who died? Business as usual, cover up, or just the curtain that descends when tragedy and money are both in the pot, that is what the hero and the viewer are asked to judge. There is no melodrama here, just professionals trying to balance business, safety, professionalism, and progress with the stakes much higher than than can be measured in an accounting book.

   Granted the ending when it comes moves a bit to fast, a bit too pat, and without some of the books cynicism, but along the way it is well acted and written moves along quickly, and more than the usual mix of soap opera and melodrama in aviation films asks some tough questions about where business, progress, and mere men fit in an inherently dangerous business.

   The ending may be happy and just, but it doesn’t pretend it has really dealt with problems that will always raise their head.

   There are many cones of silence that contribute to the tragedy here Beaty and the film are suggesting. That of tough professional pilots who keep problems to themselves rather than risk their careers, that of scientists more interested in their project and their years of work, the bigger picture, than small vital problems, and that of individual men who put ambition, success, and glory above individual lives in labs, in board rooms, and in courtrooms.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

IN THE LINE OF FIRE. Columbia Pictures, 1993. Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott, Gary Cole, Fred Dalton Thompson, John Mahoney. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu.

   As a thriller starring Clint Eastwood as a grizzled, aging Secret Service Agent obsessed with guarding the President from a dedicated assassin, In the Line of Fire was both a critical and commercial success. It’s not difficult to see why. First, there’s star power in Clint Eastwood, cast as the lead. Bitter, determined, and prone to acerbic quips, Frank Horrigan (Eastwood) is a late fifty-something who has the unfortunate distinction of being the only currently operative agent who was with John F. Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas. Some thirty years later, Horrigan can’t seem to shake the feeling that, had he made different decisions, he might have been able to stop Lee Harvey Oswald.

   When Horrigan begins to investigate yet another potential threat to the president, he immediately finds himself embroiled in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with James Carney (John Malkovich). Portrayed with an intensity that matches – and often overwhelms Eastwood’s – Malkovich’s Carney is a skilled, but deeply paranoid antagonist.

   Malkovich, never one too phone in a performance, takes the role and imbues it with pathos. Carney – who likes to be called “Booth” – is a man who passionately believes that the country he once served has abandoned him. And he thinks he has found a kindred spirit in Horrigan. Little does he know that behind the gruff, sullied exterior, Horrigan is a true believer and dedicated patriot who, despite it all, still believes in his career choice.

   Horrigan’s personal life and code of honor is explored not so much by what he says – his rhetoric always seems to more aggressive than his heart – but how he conducts himself with others. That’s why his would-be romance with fellow agent Lilly Raines (Rene Russo) and his friendship with his younger partner Al D’Andrea (Dylan McDermott) are so key to the film. Neither is a distraction.

   Rounding out the cast are a coterie of actors who were quite familiar to contemporaneous audiences. John Mahoney, best known for his portrayal as the father on Frasier, is cast as the head of the Secret Service. Fred Dalton Thompson, politician as well as actor, portrays the president’s Chief of Staff. Look for Steve Hytner (Kenny Bania on Seinfeld) as Secret Service Agent Tony Carducci and a youthful Joshua Malina as Tony Chavez, another agent.

   Speaking of the 1990s, there’s a very early 1990s aesthetic to In the Line of Fire. The cinematography, the action sequences, and the somewhat sanitized interiors squarely places the film into the same time frame as JFK (1991) and The Fugitive (1993). Compared to 1970s cinema, early 1990s films are a bit flatter, less gritty, and more polished – even if the plot involves an unhinged assassin or conspiratorial villain.

   This past week was the second time I’ve watched In the Line of Fire. The first must have been around the time it was released. While it still holds up as a solid work of film making, I can’t say that it was necessarily as enjoyable this time around. A lot of the plot seems to repeat itself, with Horrigan and his colleagues constantly chasing false leads. And the prime piece of evidence that enables Horrigan to discover Carney’s alias – a scrap of paper with something written on it – seems a little too pat.

   Still, it’s an exceedingly watchable film with a strong cast. I just wish the director had leaned a bit more into Carney’s madness. But then again, had he done so, it would have been Malkovich’s film, not Eastwood’s. Maybe that could have worked even better?

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION. The Cannon Group/Golan-Globus Productions, 1984. Shô Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey, Jordan Bennett, David Chung, Dale Ishimoto, James Hong. Screenwriter: James R. Silke. Director: Sam Firstenberg.

   Cinema takes different forms. Some movies are certainly a high art form; others are lowbrow popcorn fare. Then there’s Ninja III: The Domination, which I got to see as part of Cinematic Void’s presentation in conjunction with American Cinematheque. Released by the Cannon Group, this schlock fest blends the 1980s ninja obsession with supernatural elements, creating something entirely new, extremely weird, and very clumsy.

   Directed by Sam Firstenberg (Revenge of the Ninja), the plot follows Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey), a professional telephone lineswoman and part-time aerobics instructor who becomes demonically possessed by a deceased ninja assassin. Yes, you read that right. How’s that for a set-up?

   She’s also romantically involved with a police officer, the caring, but generally clueless Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett). He knows something is very wrong with Christie. But because he doesn’t know exactly what, he takes her to a Japanese alchemist (James Hong) who summons the hidden ninja demon within. It’s a hilariously bad – but also stunningly good – scene that pays, er, homage to William Friedkin’s classic horror film The Exorcist (1973). The audience cheered and lapped up every minute.

   A ninja film, of course, wouldn’t be a ninja film without the singular presence of Japanese martial artist and actor Shô Kosugi. Here he portrays the good ninja, an eye-patched and stoic warrior who flies in from Japan to defeat the supernatural ninja warrior spirit. Kosugi is an exceptional martial artist. His stunt scenes are compelling; he just simply didn’t have the face or persona that made someone like Jackie Chan a household name in the 1990s.

   If anyone tells you that Ninja III: The Domination is a great film, they’re most likely lying to you. But if they tell you that it’s great fun, I think they’re being honest. Who would have thought that dozens of people would have turned out on a Monday night almost forty years after it was released into theaters to laugh and to clap at one of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’s weirdest movies?

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

JACK HIGGINS – The Wrath of God. Originally published as by James Graham (Macmillan, UK, hardcover, 1971; Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1971; Dell, US, paperback, 1974).

THE WRATH OF GOD. (1972) Robert Mitchum, Ke.n Hurchinson, Victor Buono, Frank Langella, Rita Hayworth. Director: Ralph Nelson.

   I may shock some here who know what a fan of the British adventure/thriller genre I am, but I stopped reading Jack Higgins after The Eagle Has Landed, his breakthrough bestseller and never went back. I dipped my toes in once in a while, but honestly I just was not interested. To me he was always the least of the major names in the genre, not in the same class as MacLean, Lyall, or Bagley and certainly not Innes, Household, and Canning.

   Some of those later books I found nearly unreadable. Major bestselling writer, hugely popular, films, mini-series, but I had moved on. He just did not interest me anymore. I don’t even like Eagle, or the movie based on it.

   As a writer, Higgins simply was not a good enough to get me to pull for German commandos trying to assassinate Churchill and their traitorous charismatic IRA helper. I’m just not sophisticated enough to enjoy an entertainment when I’m pulling for the main characters to be shot as soon as possible, not unless the writer is a hell of a lot more skilled than Jack Higgins was.

   But noting his recent death I thought I would look at my favorite Higgins novel, because once upon a time I read him faithfully and had high hopes for him.

   Higgins, real name Harry Patterson, was a school teacher who decided writing was more fun and paid better and went about it with a vengeance unseen since the heyday of the pulps. He had to manufacture multiple names to keep up with his output, mostly in around sixty thousand to seventy thousand word novels that moved fast, had attractive narrators, and exotic locations.

   Those are far and away his most entertaining books, Night Judgment on Sinos, Year of the Tiger, A Game of Heroes, East of Desolation (my first), The Run to Morning, and Khufra Run are among the ones I would particularly single out from his his pre-Eagle output. They are not only good books, I’ve reread some of them recently and enjoyed them again.

   Along the way he decided that it was more effort to churn out these fast moving short thrillers than to try for something bigger, and one of the names he experimented with in that endeavor was James Graham under which he wrote the fine flying adventure The Last Place God Made and this book, The Wrath of God.

   Made has echoes of Nevil Shute, God of Graham Greene. The latter only just edges out the former in my estimation only because I like the fairly cheesy film based on it which I won’t really go into other than to say Robert Mitchum has fun as the phony priest who falls for his own con and Victor Buono gets what may be the only semi heroic role of his career.

   I will not kid you it is a good movie, only that it is, for me anyway, a fun one despite the sad figure Rita Hayworth cuts in it as her failing health and mental state were becoming obvious.

   The place is Central America and the time is the 1920’s. The narrator is young ex-IRA gunmen Emmett Keogh for whom the world has become too small and the backwaters of hell seem a good place to lie low. At least they do until he meets Mr. Janos, a fat shady businessman with an ivory headed cane and Father, Oliver Van Horne, a charming American priest. Neither is what they seem. Janos sells illegal arms and Van Horne has a Tommy gun under his cassock and alternates between con artist and bank robber.

   All three have run out of places in the world to be.

   Which is how the three of them end up under arrest and blackmailed by Colonel Bonilla of the Army into helping topple a mad land owner turned warlord in the small village of Mojada and the surrounding region which is held in the grip of terror by Tomas la Plata, revolutionary, outlaw, madman, and would be dictator.

   An army couldn’t pry him out of the region, but maybe a phony priest with a machine gun, an arms dealer, and an IRA gunman/sniper can.

   It’s a fairly simple set up that goes back away, the good bad men vs the worse bad men. Arcs of redemption are put into action, tough seasoned hard cases are softened by decent people, love, and the plight of the innocent, and before it is over bloody hell will break out.

   But it is written with brio and conviction, the narrator, Keogh, convincingly cynical, tough, and caught up in Oliver Van Horne’s greatest con and his own lingering shreds of idealism.

   Writing a book using central casting isn’t always a bad idea.

   You can guess every turn of the plot well before it happens. There are no surprises here. Our “heroes” will consider stealing the silver hidden in Mojada and double crossing Bonilla, and of course end up doing the right thing while cursing themselves for doing it. Keogh, the youngest, will find love with a local girl.

   I’ll go farther and point out that one of the delights of reading Higgins was how much he embraced the more obvious tropes of the genre. He wasn’t one for great invention of plot or character, he instead gave the reader what they wanted in the most straightforward manner possible moving so fast you couldn’t really complain that it was a good sandwich and not a filling meal.

   His downfall came when he tried to convince readers it was a multiple course meal and he just didn’t deliver.

   Frankly, when I stopped reading him was when he tried to do a bit more and I just didn’t think he really had the chops for it. This and The Last Place God Made are as far as he was really able to stretch himself in more serious terms, and truthfully he only just makes it, but credit where deserved in the end he does pull it off.

   Maybe there wasn’t greatness there, but there was something more than the too slick bestselling writer he became. I would highly recommend every book I have mentioned here but The Eagle Has Landed, granting that most of you will probably disagree and may only know Higgins from his later better known works.
   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

THE ROVER. United Artists, 1967. Released first in Italy as L’avventuriero. Anthony Quinn, Rosanna Schiaffino, Rita Hayworth, Richard Johnson, Ivo Garrani, Luciano Rossi, Anthony Dawson. Based on the novel by Joseph Conrad. Director: Terence Young.

   It was with some bemusement I watched The Rover, a film based on Joseph Conrad’s novel, a cheap-jack multinational production/tax write-off which captures nothing at all of Conrad’s ethos and even less of the brooding excitement of his writing at its best.

   What we’re left with is Anthony Quinn — that charismatic actor whose career had more bad steps than a derelict lighthouse — as a Napoleonic-era trench privateer returned to his country with all too little to show his head-hunting bosses. He falls in love with a mysterious young woman, tries to refit a derelict ship and slip past a British blockade, but by that time, everyone’s pretty much lost interest in this shabby show.

   How tacky is it? Well, aside from the perfunctory photography and poor dubbing, it’s set in a rather sparsely-populated France (well, maybe everyone was off fighting the wars) with few buildings, one or two streets, and maybe four horses. And the scene of a British ship chasing the privateer was very obviously filmed with One ship photographed from different angles, edited to try and make it look like Two — which don’t work.

   Sad to see talents that once showed some promise stuck in this movie-mire: The Rover was directed by Terence Young, who made movie history a few years earlier launching the James Bond series; aside from Quinn, it features Rita Hayworth and Richard Johnson (who at various times embodied Bulldog Drummond and Lord Nelson) and, in a teeny-tiny part, tucked off in a corner somewhere, movie-goers with long memories will spot Anthony Dawson and wonder what became of the promising actor so memorable as the unlucky Cpt. Lesgate in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #7, May 2000.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE BLACK WATCH.  Fox Films, 1929. Victor McLaglen, Myrna Loy, Lumsden Hare, David Torrance, David Rollins, Roy D’Arcy, Mitchell Lewis, Walter Long, Francis Ford. Screenplay by James Kevin MacGuinnis & John Stone, based on the novel King of the Khyber Rifles by Talbot Mundy. Directed by John Ford.

   Whether you enjoy this early talkie or not may depend on your tolerance for Fordian sentimentality and the primitive technology of early sound. Stiff dialogue delivered stiffly doesn’t help a great deal either. Compare this to the superior Bulldog Drummond also from 1929 to see just how stiff it is.

   What does help is the stunning visuals true to Ford at his best ably abetted by Cinematographer Joseph H. August and some exciting moments thanks to the few times the film actually strays toward Talbot Mundy’s classic pulp novel.

   That said, the first twenty minutes of the film are a write off of Fordian sentimentality and unnecessary back story.

   Captain Donald (*) King (Victor McLaglen) of the famed Black Watch Highland Regiment is summoned to headquarters from the Regimental dinner on the eve of sailing for Europe and the early days of WW I.

   At headquarters Captain King is told he is needed in the Khyber Pass in India where he previously served in the Khyber Rifles. It seems the hillmen are rallying behind a mysterious woman known as Yasmani who they believe is a goddess. King is to find Yasmani and prevent the hillmen from falling on vulnerable India and sweeping the weakened British off the sub-continent.

   As part of his secret service work King cannot let his fellow officers know that he is being sent to India. They have to believe he is deserting the regiment as they march to war for safety in India. He can’t even tell his younger brother Malcolm (David Rollins) who worships him.

   That would be bad enough without a drawn-out scene of the regiment boarding the train for the ship to France and goodbyes to their family along with some much unneeded comedy relief.

   It’s twenty wasted minutes. Thankfully Ford will learn to better balance this sort of thing in later films and make a virtue of it (usually). He doesn’t here though there are more than enough Fordian touches.

   Things pick up a little in India where the Mundy novel begins in the first place. There King ties up with his old ally Major Mohammed Khan (Mitchell Lewis) who will help him in his mission which begins by attracting the attention of Yasmani (Myrna Loy) and her allies the ambitious Rewa Gunga (Roy D’Arcy) and the savage hillman Harim Bey (Walter Long) both with her longing glances at his manly presence and his heavy drinking and bad behavior leading Gunga to think King will be a good deserter.

   Staging the accidental killing of a fellow officer King “escapes” and is taken in by Yasmani who offers to take him into the Khyber Pass and the infamous Cave of Terror where the hillmen are meeting before sweeping into India. Unlike the character in the book, no one tries to pass Victor McLaglen off as a native in disguise (thankfully) though he does get to don a turban and robes.

   The sets and staging for the Cave of Terror scenes are worth the whole film. Though the restraints of budget show Ford and August use imagination, shadow, and smoke to create a genuinely entertaining vision replete with McLaglen battling a native bare chested to prove his worth.

   Despite the stiff delivery of dialogue that would read better on a silent title card they actually keep some of the more fantastic elements of Mundy’s novel including Yasmani’s claim to be a descendant of Alexander the Great and suggestions of past lives between she and King.

   And she almost wins him over to her vision of paradise in her arms as the king of India until she shows him his regiment in France in a crystal ball and he sees his brother Malcolm wounded in battle. Considering how Loy looks in those gauzy outfits, he proves a better man than me. This was from the era when she played exotic roles like the daughter of Fu Manchu and the murderous and vengeful Eurasian in Thirteen Women, gauzy suits her.

   A fairly exciting battle between the hillmen and King and Khan’s men armed with machine guns follows shot beautifully in smoke and shadows with captured and blinded Major MacGregor (Francis Ford) who King has freed from slavery leading the troops with King’s sword thrust into his hand.

   King doesn’t get the girl, but he does get his Regiment, a happy ending for any Ford film.

   Henry King ignored Mundy entirely for his version of King of the Khyber Rifles with Tyrone Power as a half Indian King. Despite having no relation to the book it was much more exciting even without Yasmani with a splendid set piece for the ending ironically mindful of a similar scene in John Ford’s The Searchers.

   McLaglen’s stiff delivery of his lines (Loy is no better) doesn’t help, but he looks great when he isn’t speaking and it is the visuals for this, often mindful of Joseph Clement Coll’s famous illustrations for the book, that make it worthwhile, and Loy is believably ethereal as Yasmani (though there is little ethereal about the vibrant wild child of Mundy’s novels).

   Mitchell Lewis and Walter Long fare best in the acting department, playing vibrant over the top characters with an energy you only wish McLaglen and Loy brought to their roles.

   This is an early example of the popular British Raj genre that reached its peak with films like Gunga Din, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, The Four Feathers, and Charge of the Light Brigade. The elements aren’t quite there, but even at this stage Ford hits most of the right notes.

(*) Just why King is named Donald in this is a mystery in itself. In the book his name is Athleston and in the Power version Alan. Donald seems a bit arbitrary.

   I’ve yet to spot them but supposedly John Wayne and Randolph Scott appear in this as Highlanders. Considering they are in uniform and shadow much of the film it may take some luck to find them, but the print on YouTube is pretty crisp.

   In addition you get a chance to see what McLaglen must have looked like a few years earlier when he was Governor General of Damascus after T. E. Lawrence captured the city.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

  THEY WERE SO YOUNG. First released in Germany as Mannequins fur Rio (Corona Filmproduktion, 1954). Lippert Pictures, US, 1955. Scott Brady, Raymond Burr, Johanna Matz, Ingrid Stenn, Gisela Fackedely, Eduard Linkers, Gert Frobe. Screenplay by Felix Lutzkendort and Kurt Neumann. Suggested by Interpol files compiled by Jacques Compandez. Additional screenplay uncredited by Dalton Trumbo, Michael Wilson, and Ernest Blass. Directed by Kurt Neumann.

   Their hearts were high in the sky … They never knew their feet were in the dirt.

   Sometimes mistakenly identified as film noir, this West German and American co -production is pure exploitation with only the presence of American stars Scott Brady and Raymond Burr anywhere near actual noir.

   It opens with the discovery of a dead half-nude young woman on the beach in Rio de Janeiro, with a quick stop at the Brazilian police who announce this is a case for Bureau 19 of Interpol.

   That noted, and despite the film allegedly being based on Interpol files and one later mention of the International Police (there is not and never was such a thing and Interpol has no enforcement abilities much less having any agents in 1954 television and movies to the contrary — I’ll save my rant about the infamous and phony Interpol for the comments section if anyone doesn’t know their troubled history) that aspect of the film ends with this single reference.

   Very quickly this switches from an investigation by Interpol to a straight up story of innocent girls caught up in a white slavery ring.

   “The Desperate Drama of Lost Women,” as the trailer claims.

   Eve (Johanna Matz) and Connie (Ingrid Stenn) arrive in Rio in the company of M. Albert (Eduard Linkers) who has brought them to Rio to work as fashion models living and working at the Villa Berganza under the direction of Mdme. Lansowa (Gisele Fackedely), “You’ll meet a good many rich and cultured people… I suggest you let me choose your friends at first.”

   Among the rich and cultured people they meet is Jaime Coltos (Raymond Burr) a local tycoon and his American engineer Richard Lanning (Scott Brady) just back from six months in the jungle. Burr is attracted to Connie, and Brady, a little worse for drink, gets a water bottle broken over his head by Eve.

   Eve has caught on what Villa Bergandza is a front for and she and Connie leave the next day seeking help, but they have no papers and the police show little sympathy. Gaslighted by Albert and Mdme. Lansowa they find themselves back at the Villa Bergandza with no authorities they can turn to, not even their own Consulates.

   But Eve, out on an arranged date, remembers Lanning is at the hotel where she is taken and goes to him for help. He agrees after spying the men who followed Eve and plans to let her stay in his room while he seeks help, but an emergency phone call from Coltos forces him to return to the jungle and Coltos’s villa there.

   Rather than leave Eve he decides to take her with him and perhaps persuade Coltos, an influential man, to help her. I won’t offer any Spoilers here, but it you haven’t figured out the twist coming you haven’t paid attention to any movie of this type you have ever seen, much less ever seen a movie from this period with Raymond Burr in it.

   Brady plays the usual somewhat lunk-headed gauche American abroad common to this era. At least here his blundering is blundering, not portrayed as somehow an advantage. At best you can say his character is determined to help the girl however ineptly.

   Eve ends up prostituted on a riverboat where Connie has been sent run by the murderous Captain Lobos (Gert Frobe) used as a pleasure boat for the local workers and Lanning, by now falling for her, slips on board with a party of workers with an ally hoping to help Eve escape.

   Another twist more or less out of left field awaits them, but Interpol still has nothing to do with it.

   Running a short hour and twenty minutes this is a fairly tight, well done little melodrama that skirts film noir and exploitation without ever being exactly one or the other. However exploitative the trailer and campaign for the film, it never comes anywhere near living up to that promise. Despite a few scenes this was mostly shot in Hamburg.

   Some film enthusiasts may get all excited by the uncredited appearance of Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson’s names related to this, and there are a few decent bits of dialogue here and there that they might have contributed, but honestly you could never tell watching this such distinguished company worked on it. Neither the story nor the dialogue suggests anything special here. At most they might have punched up the script for the American dubbing.

   Brady is fairly charming here as a mostly one-note hero, exactly what is called for, but nothing more. Matz is attractive and innocent enough if a little hard to believe as quite this naive despite a back story out of Dickens and Little Nell. The villainy is acceptably smarmy and Ingrid Stenn actually halfway good as the doomed Connie.

   I do question if Connie is really a common name for Belgian girls, but then I lived in France not Belgium.

   The exploitative American title sounds like some sort of teen drama or soap opera which probably kept this from getting to any audience it might have had on initial release.

   It’s currently available on YouTube. Nothing special here, but better done than you might expect with the American stars lending a bit of weight to it. It’s worth killing an hour or so if you have nothing better to do which is actually fairly high praise for this kind of film.

   

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