Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Action/Adventure - George White ""

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - George White

George White runs boldbrat.blogspot.comand can be found on twitter here:


Gangsters (1975)
Technically not a film, though made all on film, this 90 minute television feature for the BBC Play for Today strand, directed by Philip Savile, behind the 1969 David Hemmings-Joanna Pettet-George Sanders sexcom The Best House in London and the 1978 Louis Jourdan-starring Count Dracula, this is a story of interracial crime in Birmingham, the UK's second city. Saeed Jaffrey (The Man Who Would Be King) is marvellously slimy as a Pakistani criminal, the Confederate western-themed bar with strippers in cowgirl outfits dancing to Hugo Montenegro's version of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly and racist Brummie comedians is inventive and it has an effective and striking hero in ex-SAS hard-arse John Kline, played by Maurice Colbourne, (later the star of British soap/Dallas wannabe/Nigel Davenport's career sinker "Howard's Way") who was underused in film, appearing in Ridley Scott's The Duellists (1977), Venom (1982), the international Audrey Hepburn-Sydney Sheldon semi-giallo Bloodline (1979) and Charles Jarrott's Disney-made Burt Kennedy-written Yorkshire horse weepie Escape from the Dark. Features a great car chase through Birmingham's spaghetti junction, which features the firehouse that my uncle (a Birmingham firefighter) worked at, at the time of filming. Spawned a 1976-78 Tv series, one of the most bizarre British dramas ever made, featuring a poor man's Pam Grier-alike CIA agent, Sir Robert Stephens (Billy Wilder's Sherlock Holmes), Roshan Seth and Pat Roach, and Chai Lee, star of Bitto Albertini's Yellow Emanuelle, as a Dragon Lady. Producer Barry Hanson went on to do the similar The Long Good Friday (1980).

The Man from Hong Kong (1975)
Golden Harvest, George Lazenby and Brian Trenchard-Smith's marvellously insane cross-culture action-palooza.

The Wild Geese (1978)
North Sea Hijack (1979)
Escape To Athena (1979)
The Sea Wolves (1980)

This is a Roger Moore quadruple-bill. It could also be seen as a glossary of the 1970s British action movie. Gold (1974) and Shout At The Devil are two other post-Bond non-Bond Moore vehicles, both based on Wilbur Smith adaptations. Oddly, The Wild Geese has a lot in common with Dark of The Sun (1968), a Moore-less Smith adap. It is truly the British Expendables. Directed by John Wayne vet Andrew (son of )Victor McLaglen (also behind all of these films except Escape To Athena), and starring Moore, Richard Burton and Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger as mercenaries sent by Stewart Granger (his first film in years, after oblivion in US TV) to rescue a deposed African president (Winston Ntshona)with the help of a cadre of character actors. Honestly, I think that this film is helped by the amount of good solid character actors in it. Apart from the four leads and Granger, you get Frank Finlay (as an Irish missionary priest and friend of Harris' character), Barry Foster, Percy Herbert, Kenneth Griffith (as the token homosexual mercenary), Jack Watson, Ronald Fraser, Patrick Allen and even Jeff Corey as a Mafioso. There are ill points. Actor Paul Spurrier, a regular child actor in British TV at the time is so wet and effeminate as Harris' son, that you don't really buy it. All he does is plead for his dad to stay, while he builds his Airfix kits. The film drew flak in the UK, for filming in Apartheid-era South Africa, though many films were (including the previously mentioned Moore Wilbur Smith films). Warning - Bechdel lovers, the women here are either decorative (the likes of Ingmar Bergman's sex pot sitcom star daughter Anna Bergman and Hammer and Carry On star Valerie Leon) or as moaning wives keen to stop the action. It is, however, a superb action film. The 1984 sequel which was due to star Burton until he died (though the US VHS cover from MGN/UA still shows his face) is, otherwise unrelated, bar Burton's character's brother appearing played by Edward Fox, drafted in to replace Burton, and with his name barely changed (from Alan Faulkner to Alex Faulkner), with Scott Glenn and Barbara Carrera appearing, with a bizarre guest role (in my favourite exploitation guest billing) from Lord Laurence Olivier as Rudolf Hess, and replaces sunny South Africa with cold Germany, and looks like a TV movie.

North Sea Hijack aka Ffolkes is also by McLaglen, which is a failed franchise for Moore as an anti-Bond, Rufus Excalibur Ffolkes, a cat-loving, asexual, bearded, woolly-hat wearing needlepointist and marine investigator who hates all women, even the Thatcher-esque Prime Minister (Faith Brook, daughter of early Sherlock Holmes, Clive Brook). He is sent by James Mason to stop a terrorist attack by Anthony Perkins on an oil rig. With appearances by David Hedison and Michael Parks among a cast of more British character actors, (Jack Watson again, George Baker, Jeremy Clyde of 60s pop duo Chad and Jeremy, Angela Lansbury's son Anthony Pullen Shaw), and Irish filming locations, tense plot, a great Michael J Lewis and genuine touches of eccentricity.
Almost as strange is Escape to Athena, directed by Greek director George Pan Cosmatos, behind The Cassandra Crossing, Tombstone, Rambo - First Blood Part II, Leviathan and the Macaroni Combat Massacre in Rome.
Hitler's plan to loot a treasure-laden Greek island is under way. A prison camp is built where the inmates dig up priceless art under the eyes of the Austrian commandant Major Otto Hecht (Roger Moore.) Zeno (Telly Savalas), the island's resistance leader and Eleana (Claudia Cardinale) scheme to defeat the occupiers. Leading a group of freedom fighters including a stripper (Powers), a slightly camp Jewish comedian (Gould), a British scientist (Niven), and some POWS (Bono, Roundtree), they clash with the Nazis as they try to save the lives of the condemned prisoners and the treasure hidden in the mountaintop monastery, which hides a deadly surprise guarded by some decidedly anachronistic silver-masked post-Star Wars stormtroopers.
This film is from the time when after the success of Alistair MacLean adaptations such as Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone, producers big and small decided to bankroll substandard war movies/thrillers either banking on the MacLean name (Puppet On A Chain, Caravan to Vaccares, Golden Rendezvous, Bear Island, When Eight Bells Toll, etc) or finding other similar writers such as Jack Higgins (The Eagle Has Landed) and Frederick Forsyth (The Day Of The Jackal, the Odessa File) or just finding other material and trying to conjure up a similar case of men on a mission and derring-do (The Passage, The Wild Geese, Italian films such as the 1978 Inglorious Bastards which like Athena, has a Blaxploitation star, in that case, Fred Williamson). This film has the star of Guns of Navarone, Niven (perhaps to cash in on the Niven-less 1978 sequel, Force 10 from Navarone), and a star of the similar caper film Kelly’s Heroes, Savalas, who is charismatic as a thief who dances at the end with Cardinale, as his madam lover who commands a hooker army. It is littered with other names, including Moore as a good-hearted Nazi with a meandering accent and William Holden (Powers’ soon-to-be-doomed lover) in a Stalag17-referencing cameo. The film is a lot of fun, a typical production of ITC, i.e. a bizarrely mixed cast, some laboured if mildly amusing comedy, surprising twists and thrills, a foreign location, and it is directed by Cosmatos, after his completion of the similarly varied ITC production The Cassandra Crossing in 1976. Like Athena , Cassandra has some Blaxploitation boogie with OJ Simpson’s CIA priest. In Athena, Roundtree plays the anachronistic token black member of a racially-integrated US Army platoon, common in war movies, but non-existent in WW2, chewing both the scenery and a cigar).
There is a cheerful Lalo Schiffrin score, complete with disco theme by Heatwave, playing over the 1970s-set epilogue. Its mix of cheese, ribaldry and thrills is something that more war films should have. Why didn’t Pearl Harbour have a scene involving a stripper engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Nazis? Because frankly it would have ruined the mood, but still it would have improved it...

The Sea Wolves has Moore, Gregory Peck and David Niven, working in India in World War Two for Trevor Howard, based on a true story. It was originally intemded to be a reunion for the Wild Geese, with Burton, Harris and Kruger, and it shares director McLaglen and producer Euan Lloyd, but instead if The Wild Geese was "The Dads of War", this is "The Deadly Grandads go to India". It's also rollicking fun, with Patrick Macnee, Jack Watson, Patrick Allen and Kenneth Griffith again, Eurocult regulars Robert Hoffman and Dan VanHusen as Nazis, and in the Bond girl role, part-time Sainsbury's supermarket checkout girl/late period British horror regular Barbara Kellerman. Oddly, Moore does a more accurate Bond performance here than any of his proper Bond films.

The Dogs of War (1980)
Another take on Dark of the Sun (with that film's director Jack Cardiff working here as cinematographer), based on a Frederick Forsyth novel, even with Winston Ntshona from the Wild Geese in a role that (SPOILERS) is almost the same, and has a mad cast. Christopher Walken is the lead, as burnt-out merc Jamie Shannon who is met by the mysterious Englishman Endean (Altman regular Hugh Millais), a representative for a British multinational who want to remove despot leader Colonel Kimba with former aide Colonel Bobi (George Harris, recently wizard Kingsley Shacklesbolt in the Harry Potter films, and in Raiders of the Lost Ark). While recceing Africa, disguised as a nature photographer, Shannon meets grizzled BBC news producer Alan North (the great Northern Irish actor Colin Blakely, Watson to Robert Stephens' Holmes in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) with his two cameramen (future UK sitcom star Kenny Ireland and a young Jim Broadbent), who proceeds to follow Shannon. Shannon and his merc pals (an astonishingly young Ed O'Neill, Tom Berenger, Paul "Belloq" Freeman). I won't spoil any more, for there are twists a-plenty JoBeth Williams appears as the former Mrs. Shannon, there's a great gritty feel of New York in it, similar to The Exterminator (whose director James Glickenhaus made McBain with Walken, which could almost be a sequel), there's a great downbeat feel. None of the jokiness of the other films in this list. John Irvin, fresh from the BBC Tinker, Talor, Soldier, Spy proves capable, instilling human depth within the action, and there's a great score by the underused Geoffrey Burgon, behind various Dr. Who episode incidental soundtracks, the aforementioned Tinker, Tailor and many other BBC shows.

Executive Decision (1995)
Can Steven Seagal and Kurt Russell save Halle Berry and hundreds of passengers from David Suchet and his Jihadists' nerve-toxin bombs from destroying London and the Eastern Seaboard? Well, watch out, it's a treat.

Fear is the Key (1973)
I had to throw in an Alistair MacLean adap. Barry Newman's family's plane is shot down. He looks around Louisiana, Ray McAnally, the great Irish actor plays a US millionaire who pays Newman to instil revenge on John Vernon and wonky-accented Ben Kingsley with hair! A UK film made by Michael Tuchner, trying to be American, with swamp chases, wonky-accented Suzy Kendell, but it is a lot of fun. Great underwater scenes and fantastic Roy Budd Score.

The Deep (1977)
Peter Benchley's next adaptation. Just great fun, with Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bissett in the wet t-shirt, Robert Shaw, Eli Wallach with a strange British Isles-traversing accent fighting gold off Louis Gossett Jr. as a mysterious Haitian. Dig the Donna Summer theme.

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