Action Adventure movies

ROLE PLAY. Amazon MGM Studios via Prime Video; 12 January 2024. Kaley Cuoco (Emma Brackett), David Oyelowo (Dave Brackett), Bill Nighy, Connie Nielsen. Directed by Thomas Vincent, written by Seth Owen.

   The Bracketts, Emma and David, are an ordinary mixed-race couple, with a couple of kids, but with a difference. He’s an ordinary husband, but she (Kelly Cuoco, previously of The Big Bang Theory) has a secret. She travels a lot, but she is not taking ordinary (boring) business trips, which is what she tells her husband. No, how she adds to the family’s mortgage account is by being a hitwoman. An assassin for hire.

   So she has a lot of things on her mind. Not only her job, but making sure her husband has no clue what her job is. It is no surprise that when she comes home from one of her “business” trips, she has committed the ultimate sin. She has forgotten their anniversary. Dave is forgiving, but they decide as a couple that their marriage needs some spicing up.

   The idea they come up with to accomplish this is the following plan. They will travel to New York, register separately under different names, planning to meet “accidentally” in the hotel bar, and spent an “illicit” night together.

   This is what is called role play.  You may have indulged in it yourself.

   Things go awry quickly. David is late in arriving, and while Emma is waiting for him in a bar, an elderly gentleman (Bill Nighy) starts chatting her up. In an ordinary way, but gradually with more and more of an edge. Menacing, even. Emma senses something is up, and before the night is over, the elderly gentleman is dead.

   This is maybe 20 to 30 minutes into the movie, no more than that, and from that moment on, the movie has nowhere in particular to go. Billed as an action comedy, it is in fact neither. The two leads have no particular chemistry together, and try as hard as I could, I could not convince myself that Kelly Cuoco (of The Big Bang Theory) is at all convincing as a hit woman for hire. The end result is amusing at best, but far from essential, even for fans of either of the two leading players.

   Your opinion, of course, may differ.



SLAVOMIR RAWICZ – The Long Walk. Constable, UK, hardcover, 1956. Lyons Press, hardcover, 1997. Reprinted several times.

THE WAY BACK. Exclusive Films, 2010. Dragos Bucur, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Alexandru Potocean, Saoirse Ronan Saoirse, Gustaf Skarsgård, Mark Strong, Jim Sturgess. Written & directed by Peter Weir, from the book by Slavomir Rawicz.

   I think it was back in 1998 when I first encountered The Long Walk in a new edition of a book well worth keeping in print, a straightforward true adventure of seven men who, if ghostwriter Ronald Downing can be believed, walked from Siberia to India, across the Gobi Desert and over the Himalayas, to escape a Soviet Labor Camp in World War II.

   In 1939, Slavomir Rawicz was a Lieutenant in the Polish Cavalry (Yes, there were still mounted Cavalry charges against Tanks and machine guns then.) Following Poland’s defeat and partition by Russia and Germany, he — along with most other Poles in positions of any authority — was arrested for espionage, tortured and shipped off to Siberia. But Rawicz was a young man with no taste for spending 25 years in a forced labor camp, and he proceeds to tells us how he organized an escape that led to over a year’s walk across some of the most forbidding terrain on earth.

   This is quite simply a tale to be treasured. The author describes fatigue, starvation and thirst so vividly you feel them right along with him. And he fills his tale with enough colorful anecdote and terse characterization that by mid-point I felt I really knew these people. Add all this to a story of Homeric struggle and you get something quite special indeed.

   One caveat: Skip the co-author’s introduction until you’ve finished the book. It reveals a plot twist the reader really should happen across on his or her own. And enjoy.

   One other caveat: The Long Walk may be a work of fiction. There has been considerable doubt raised over the years — some by Rawicz himself — about the veracity of this narrative, including a book-length study, Looking for Mr. Smith. What it comes down to is that there is some evidence that such a trek did take place, but the circumstances of Rawicz’s life seem to preclude his having done it.

   All that aside, this is a superior tale of endurance and high adventure, vivid, compelling, and well worth your time.

   The movie is even moreso. Peter Weir’s fast-paced, fluid direction takes full advantage of a lavish production budget, dazzling locations, and makes excellent use of capable actors like Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, and a dozen others unknown to me. He also provided them with a script filled with memorable lines and dramatic incident. Drop whatever you’re doing, and catch this one!




THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS. NBC, made for TV movie, 22 May 1988. Bill Bixby (David Banner), Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk), Jack Colvin, Lee Purcell, Charles Napier, Tim Thomerson, Eric Kramer (Thor). Written & directed by Nicholas Corea, based on the character created by Stan Lee (for Marvel Comics).

   A 1988 made-for-television movie that originally aired on NBC, The Incredible Hulk Returns also found a home on VHS. Released two years later by R&G Video and distributed by Starmaker, the final entry into the “Hulk” TV series found a more permanent home on video store shelves. The cover art work suggests perhaps a more dramatic Hulk story than what the feature actually is; namely, an ultimately non-successful backdoor pilot for a “Thor” spinoff.

   Before we get to that, however, here’s the basic plot. It’s been a few years since scientist Bruce Banner (Bill Bixby) was visited by his Hyde-like friend, the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). He’s now working as a scientist again under an assumed name and has a lady friend in fellow scientist Dr. Margaret Shaw (Lee Purcell). His main project is a transponder that he hopes can reverse his “curse.” But all doesn’t go according to plan. First, Banner finds an uninvited guest in a former student of his who just happens to be supernaturally connected with Thor (Eric Kramer).

   Then there are the Cajun heavies, Jack LeBeau (Tim Thomerson) and Mike Fouche (Charles Napier) who want the transponder for their own purposes. Finally, there’s intrepid reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) who is determined to out Banner as the Hulk.

   In a way, it’s all fun and nostalgic. Apparently it was a success for NBC. And it’s hard not to see why. Fans got a chance to reunite with their favorite characters and you can tell there’s some real love and dedication in the film. Bixby could have phoned it in, but he obviously did not. Thomerson — who I loved in Trancers (1984) – and Napier make great villains.

   What makes The Incredible Hulk Returns ultimately a lesser superhero television production was the writers and producers’ decision to use this reunion as a way of introducing Thor to viewers. Kramer is surely a physical presence to behold, but his Thor was way too – how should I put this? – goofy for anything sustainable. Not only does he talk like a simpleton; he also has a craving for beer that is funny one time, but grating the next. And the scenes with him dancing with girls at a motorcycle bar were amusing, but they don’t do much to establish a character that viewers will want to return to week after week. Simply put, Thor is no Hulk.

PS. Of course, when The Hulk and Thor first meet, they misunderstand each others’ intentions and fight. See it here!



   This is a Vinegar Syndrome trailer for the Mexican Eurospy movie, Santo vs. Doctor Death (1973). Directed and partially written by Rafael Romero Marchent, this entry into the long-running Santo series has high production values and, as you will see, lots of stunts and fun action sequences.



DANGEROUS TO KNOW.  Paramount Pictures, 1938. Akim Tamiroff, Anna May Wong, Gail Patrick, Lloyd Nolan, Anthony Quinn, Roscoe Karns, Harvey Stephens, Hedda Hopper, Porter Hall. Screenplay: Harold Lipman & Horace McCoy, based on the novel and play On the Spot by Edgar Wallace. Song “Thanks for the Memory.” Directed by Robert Florey.

KING OF CHINATOWN.  Paramount Pictures, 1939. Akim Tamiroff, Anna May Wong, J. Carroll Naish, Philip Ahn, Anthony Quinn, Sydney Toler, Roscoe Karns. Screenplay: Irving Reis & Leland Hayward. Directed by Nick Grinde.

   Two films teaming Akim Tamiroff as a gangster with Anna Mae Wong, both giving strong performances in above average B-films, both co-starring a young Anthony Quinn. Of the two Dangerous to Know is the better film, though Wong has a bigger role, though not as showy, in King of Chinatown.

   In the former,Tamiroff is Stephen Recka, who runs the town, but would rather be accepted by society and appreciate his music with his “hostess” Lan Ling (Wong) who loves him despite his neglect. As the film opens, Recka has been double-crossed by an associate and arranges with his right handed man (Quinn) to cause an “accident.”

   But Recka has met beautiful society woman Margaret Van Case (Gail Patrick) and decides he wants her. She’s in love with young Philip Easton (Harvey Stephens) though, and Recka has to get rid of him first, which he does by getting Easton a job with a bank and then setting him up for the theft of bonds and kidnapping him.

   Meanwhile things quickly complicate when Tamiroff discovers the two thugs he hired to set Easton up have taken off with the bonds and been picked up by the police putting his old rival Inspector Brandon (Lloyd Nolan, making the most of a fairly small role in one of several films he did with Tamiroff) on his trail.

   Margaret comes to Recka to get help for Easton who has been arrested on a tip from Recka who left him drunk in a hotel room. Brandon further messes up Recka’s plans by not charging Easton, but Margaret agrees to marry Recka if he saves Easton.

   Coincidence runs rampant toward the end, but Wong gets to shine in a scene when she says her goodbye to Recka, which, while high melodrama is effective, and the thing gets wrapped up neatly in just under an hour, replete with the debut of Bob Hope’s theme song “Thanks for the Memory.”

   No one can say you didn’t get your quarter’s worth with a B and a feature plus newsreels, shorts, and cartoons.

   With an Edgar Wallace novel and play (Wong played the lead on Broadway with Glenda Farrell), a screenplay by Lipman and McCoy and always interesting direction by Florey, it is all much more than you have the right to expect from a B-movie.

   Wong has a much bigger role in King of Chinatown, where she is a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Ling, whose father, also Dr. Ling (Sydney Toler, in a debut of his Charlie Chan persona after he was cast, but before his first film was released) is resisting efforts of nightclub owner and self styled king of Chinatown, Baturin (Tamiroff).

   Ling and her boyfriend reporter Bob Lee (Philip Ahn in a rare leading man role) are witnesses when Baturin is wounded in a plot by his ex-murderer business manager the Professor (J. Carroll Naish) and an ambitious hood (Anthony Quinn) and thinking her father shot him try to keep him from talking.

   Ling operates on Baturin and keeps him isolated. and later takes a job caring for him in his home, where Baturin starts to fall for her. In the meantime, the police are starting to move in on the Professor and Quinn as the Professor decides to silence Baturin before he can come back and see what they have done in Chinatown.

   In the end with the money from Baturin, Wong and Ahn fly off to China with money to help with medical aid for the on going war with Japan.

   There is no big scene for Wong in this, though she is on screen much more of the time, and despite her strong presence, both films are much more showcases for Tamiroff, who starred in a number of strong B films in the period. The notable thing about both films is they are far better and more ambitious than they had to be and have fairly notable screen credits (Lipman, McCoy, Hayward, Reis).

   It’s also notable how many familiar faces wander in and out of these, with actors like Porter Hall and Roscoe Karns on hand for little more than walk-ons.




THE PINK JUNGLE. Universal, 1968. James Garner, Eva Renzi, George Kennedy, and Nigel Greene. Screenplay by Charles Williams, based on the novel Snake Water by Alan Williams. Directed by Delbert Mann.

   James Garner plays a two-fisted fashion photographer who can flatten a man with one punch and hit two tossed cans in mid-air, shooting from the hip.

   Let me repeat that: James Garner plays a two-fisted fashion photographer who can flatten a man with one punch and hit two tossed cans in mid-air, shooting from the hip.

   I really should end the review right there, but since this was Charles Williams’ only filmed screenplay, and they do explain (sort of) our hero’s prowess at the end, it really deserves a bit more attention. So here it is.

   For purposes of plot, Garner starts out the movie stuck in a backward South-or-Central American nation doing a photoshoot with super-model Eva Renzi. A convenient helicopter is just as conveniently stolen by lovable bad-guy George Kennedy (fresh from his Supporting Actor Oscar in Cool Hand Luke) who soon gets the couple involved in a search for a lost diamond mine.

   En route to the treasure, the actors and camera crew leave the Universal backlot jungle for the arid vistas of Nevada, but they can’t shake off the hackneyed plot. They encounter another colorful rogue (Nigel Greene) and end up in a rather tame gun battle with a mousey little guy from earlier in the movie who wants all the diamonds for himself. (SPOILER ALERT!) He doesn’t get them. (END OF SPOILER ALERT!) A couple double-crosses later, it all comes to a merciful end.

   Universal ground out a number of B-movies like this in the late 1960s, all seemingly put together with the same formula: A leading man past his prime, a dependable character actor, and an eye-catching actress to play carnal cat-and-mouse with the fading male lead. Stir in a modicum of action, a dollop of whatever passes for romance, and a hint of humor, let it stew among the familiar Universal studio sets and “exteriors” and….

   And it worked quite well in PJ and Coogan’s Bluff. Less so — much less so — in things like The Hell with Heroes, A Lovely Way to Die, Jigsaw, and others too lame to name, by which standard, Pink Jungle is a Wheelchair Case.

   To his credit, Charles Williams does what he can with it, throwing a knowing wink into the dialogue when the clichés pile up, but even he can’t get this one up on its feet. Hell, it’d take divine intervention to pull this cinematic Lazarus from its celluloid tomb, and while I can’t say for sure that angels feared to tread the Universal backlot, they never seemed to show up there in significant numbers.

   I shall add that James Garner manages to grin and look light-hearted through all this, Nigel Greene projects his accustomed authority in too little screen time, and Eva Renzi, memorable in The Quiller Memorandum (or was it Funeral in Berlin? I forget which.) fills her forgettable part more than adequately.

   But it’s all for naught under Daniel Mann’s leaden direction. How they kept his obvious disinterest from spreading to the rest of the cast I can’t figure — perhaps they quarantined him — but The Pink Jungle just isn’t worth that much deep thought.




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.

   â€œWe 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.



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.




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.




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.

   â€œI’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.


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