From the very beginning of this film, it feels of another time. I mean this in a complimentary sense in that the opening sequence is certainly intriguing in that it consists of a long take of two men in a helicopter as they scan the landscape below for something. What they are looking for we don't know, but the frantic and dissonant filmscore leads is to believe there is some kind of urgency. After a few minutes of this helicopter shot, we finally cut to two men (Malcolm McDowell & Robert Shaw) as they dash through the woods with their hands bound behind their backs. This image brings things a bit more into focus. Two men on the run. We don't know why they are running but we can assume they are escaped prisoners of some kind. As we follow them, it is not made clear why they are being chased or what they are running away from. As a lover of an obtuse storyline, I am immediately engaged by stories like this. The dialogue between the characters is quite sparse, so it really makes you lean in and pay attention. Will there be some utterance that will give a clue to the details behind the situation with these two desperate men? I kept watching and waiting. And doing so with two actors I love like this is a pleasure for sure. The movie itself borders on the very edge of Twilight Zone territory, though it seems hesitant to cross over into the fantastic areas that that show inhabited. Even the title of the film conjures thoughts of something like, "Five Characters In Search of An Exit" - the famous TWZ episode. I may have felt a little of THE PRISONER in there too. Regardless, the similar sense of dread as well as the setup and the characters had me waiting for some kind of reveal, but completely transfixed by their journey. It's kind of a "DEFIANT ONES" kinda thing, but I actually prefer it done with 70s icons like these two. "Two Actor" movies like this can be a little bit of a crapshoot sometimes, as they truly live or die by the performances. Shaw and McDowell don't disappoint though and give a small master class in playing off of each other. It's also a nice thing to watch them both with room to move in the 2.35 to 1 frame. Both actors are put through a lot physically - running and jumping and sliding down hillsides. It's acting on another level and both gents are up to the task.
Another indicator that the movie was made today has to do with the actors (both McDowell and Shaw) being filmed in EXTREMELY close proximity to a helicopter. If you've heard and tales of accidents on Hollywood film sets, you've heard how dangerous helicopters can be. This movie features a few scenes of both actors being menaced by a helicopter and you can pretty clearly see that it's the real actors running and dodging as the chopper gets dangerously close to them. I found it so unnerving and alarming to see this, because actors would NEVER be put in that kind of peril today. Granted the scene is supposed to be frightening and Robert Shaw's character even speaks later about how the helicopter could have taken his head off. I find it fascinating to watch this sort of thing as I said, especially in this day and age of actors being put against green screens for any stunt. Save Tom Cruise's work in the latest MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film, I've not seen harrowing stunt work like this committed to film in a long time. That said, there is an immediacy and visceral impact to watching actors truly in peril and it heightens the tension in the tale. As far as I know, this movie hasn't had much in the way of home video releases in any format - so hats off to Kino for rescuing it from obscurity.