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THE BURGLARS (1971): Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a safecracker who uses a very primitive form of computer to decode combination locks. When he and his team make a big score in Greece they are home free except for that one crooked cop who just has a feeling about him. Omar Sharif plays the cop and he’s fantastic. The Belmondo/Sharif duel extends between the roadway (a couple of extraordinary chases) to the dinner table (Sharif orders a big Greek meal for Belmondo and the whole meal plays as one big power play - great scene!). Later Sharif shows off his drunk interrogation technique, which you’ll just have to see to believe. Also, Belmondo gets dumped out of a garbage truck and rolls down a 100 foot slope as rocks fall all around him and then stands up and walks past the camera, all in one continuous shot. It’s wild. Music by Morricone, shot by Claude Renoir. Directed by Henri Verneuil, whose name you should really get to know.
BREAKDOWN (1997): I had never seen this until Zack Carlson showed it as part of his (Kurt) Russellmania show at the Alamo last year. Even though it was made in the worst decade yet for movies, it stands with the best. When Kurt Russell’s wife disappears, he goes berserk and takes off looking for her. But the catch is: he’s not a particularly tough or savvy guy. He’s an everyman who has to try to find a way to break through the cover-up and then deal with some pretty bad characters, including J.T. Walsh (very good in this). Most contemporary action movies don’t really end on a high note, they just peter out. The noise level on the soundtrack increases, but the final reel is generally pretty predictable. But here, director Jonathan Mostow saves his best stuff for the end, and the big payback scene is innovative, suspenseful and deeply satisfying.
HELL'S ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967): This one always gets lumped in with all the other motorcycle movies but it is so much different than most. Jack Nicholson is really, really good as the disaffected young man, working a dead end job, who decides to ride with the Hell’s Angels. Adam Roarke is equally good as the gang leader. And Sabrina Scharf plays a real female character, which is pretty unusual for biker movies. The film even gets into the reasons why any woman would hang out with a gang of supercharged sexists. This is a much smarter film than you’re probably expecting. There are the commercially required scenes of “wild parties” and a pretty great law man confrontation, featuring the great Jack Starrett as the sheriff. Plenty of good bike action too, mostly from the real bikers brought in to give the piece some authenticity. Shot by Laszlo Kovacs in his brilliant, roaming, hand-held style.
MARCH OR DIE (1977): Gene Hackman is very good as an American in the French Foreign Legion posted in North Africa. The unit he commands is assigned to protect a group of archaeologists from marauding bedouin tribesmen. Believing the archaeologists are defiling a sacred grave, one of the bedouin chiefs (Ian Holm) excites all the surrounding tribes to attack the expedition and the tough, haunted WWI veteran Hackman and his hard-to-corral group of men must resist the attack and protect their charges. There’s a lot of desert stillness and day-to-day ennui, and even a romance between Terence Hill and Catherine Deneuve. But the intensity is always there, thanks to Hackman. The final battle is big and very well staged but the bottom line is Hackman Hackman Hackman.
SISTER STREET FIGHTER (1974): I can’t be objective about Etsuko Shihomi (aka Sue Shiomi). I just love every second she’s on screen and that’s that. However, even if you don’t feel the same way about her, there’s still a lot to love in this really well-shot, fast-moving, and very ‘70s action burner. Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi knew he had a good thing when he cast Sue Shiomi and the films over-the-top action style establishes her as a martial arts superwoman, out for revenge. This is one of those movies that features a bunch of colorful, picturesque villains. My favorites are the “Amazon 7” a group of female Thai kickboxers in animal skin costumes. Sue Shiomi looks amazing and fights like a demon. I could watch this every day.