Sunday, 19 April 2015

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls is one of the great low-budget horror movies and it’s also a rather unusual movie of its type. Made in 1961 on an absurdly small budget it disappeared almost without trace at the time but since then its reputation as a cult film has grown steadily.

Herk Harvey was a maker of industrial and educational films in Kansas. One day he discovered, quite by accident, a location that seemed absolutely perfect as a setting for a horror film. He asked his friend John Clifford to write a script and then set about raising  finance from local businessmen to make a feature film.

The setting was Saltair, a resort on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The resort included an amusement park and a pavilion and it was the pavilion that would feature so strikingly in the movie. This was actually the second such pavilion, the first having been destroyed by fire in 1925 (unfortunately the second pavilion would also be destroyed in a fire in 1970). The second Saltair pavilion was an enormous dance hall, and it would be the scene for the bizarre dance sequence at the end of the movie.

When he first saw the pavilion Harvey had the idea of the dead emerging from the lake to attend a kind of danse macabre. This idea was to form the central inspiration for the movie’s plot.

The movie opens with three girls in a car being inveigled into a drag race. They lose control on a bridge and their car crashes into a river. Frantic attempts to rescue the girls seem to have been in vain when one of the girls emerges from the river, having miraculously survived the accident.

The girl, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), is a rather quiet girl who is about to take up a position as a church organist in Lawrence, Kansas. She finds a room in a boarding house where she attracts the (somewhat unwelcome) attentions of fellow lodger John Linden (Sidney Berger). 

Mary seems to be becoming more and more disconnected from reality, as if she somehow doesn’t belong. She is also convinced she is being followed by a corpse-like figure. The man doesn’t threaten her but his presence (or possibly imagined presence) certainly disturbs her. Mary’s strangeness causes concern to kindly Dr Samuels (Sam Levitt) who tries to help her. 

Mary is also increasingly drawn to the abandoned Saltair Pavilion which she had passed on her way to Lawrence. As she becomes more disconnected her fascination for this gloomy but oddly beautiful place grows steadily. The pavilion will be the scene for the movie’s climax.

There’s no need to say any more about the plot. This is not really a plot-driven movie in any case - it’s the mood and the strange central character that matter.

John Clifford admits that when he started writing the script he had no clear idea where it was going and that even in the finished script he had no truly coherent idea of what it all meant. This is in fact one of the movie’s greatest strengths. I have always firmly believed that it is not the business of a horror movie to scare the audience, that the aim should be to create an atmosphere of unease and of a vague cosmic wrongness. This aim is often easier to accomplish if the movie avoids the temptation of over-explaining things. Horror that is formless, amorphous and ambiguous is generally more effective than horror that is overt and explicit. Carnival of Souls is a textbook example of how to create the subtle horror of suggestion.

Herk Harvey claimed that his intention was to make a movie with the look of Bergman movie and the feel of Cocteau. He had always had the idea that the movie might be more suited to the art-house than to the drive-in circuit. These were considerable ambitions for a first-time director. The surprising thing is that overall the movie really does achieve what he set out to do.

The movie failed commercially on its initial release, due in large part to nightmarish distribution problems. It finally started to attract attention when it was sold to TV and its cult following built steadily. Herk Harvey was never to make another feature but he did live long enough to have the satisfaction of seeing Carnival of Souls not only achieve his ambition of playing the art-house circuit but also being lauded internationally at film festivals.

Obviously a movie made on a budget of around $30,000 could have been more polished had more time and money been available but overall the minuscule budget was more of an asset than a liability - Harvey and Clifford had very little money to work with but they did have complete freedom. More money always involves more compromises. It also has to be said that Harvey made the small budget go a very long way. This is a visually stunning film. This was partly due to Harvey’s good fortune in finding truly amazing locations - the pavilion, the organ factory, the wooden-slatted bridge. Harvey himself pays tribute, and rightly so, to his cinematographer Maurice Prather. There’s no question however that much of the film’s success is due to the extraordinary vision of director Herk Harvey.

Candace Hilligoss’s performance is crucial, and impressive. Harvey and writer John Clifford wanted the protagonist to be a person with no real emotional connection whatsoever with other people. That’s a challenge to an actress but Hilligoss is equal to it, capturing the aloof emotionally empty quality of the character extremely effectively. 

While Harvey admits that his inexperience in feature films coupled with the lack of time and money does make the movie rather less polished than it might otherwise have been he believes that this actually enhances the movie’s disturbing weirdness, and he’s undoubtedly correct. Despite these minor rough edges what is truly impressive about Carnival of Souls is just how visually striking it is. There are some extraordinarily inspired touches of subtle spookiness. The scenes in Saltair are as effective and as well-crafted as anything you’re likely to find in a big-budget major studio production. Being entirely new to the world of feature films gave Harvey and Clifford the advantage of being able to approach the project without any preconceptions and with refreshing originality.

The major revelation of the story is unlikely to come as a surprise but it’s the atmosphere that is created that matters and that atmosphere is achieved superbly.

Criterion really went to town with their DVD release which includes (on two discs) both the original theatrical print and a slightly longer director’s cut as well as a host of extras, most notably an abbreviated but highly informative audio commentary from the writer and director and print interviews with them as well as star Candace Hilligoss. Image quality is superb.

Carnival of Souls is a genuine masterpiece of low-key horror. Very highly recommended.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Juggernaut (1974)

Juggernaut is a 1970s disaster movie set on an ocean liner. That might lead you to avoid this film on the assumption that it’s going to be a rehash of The Poseidon Adventure. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Juggernaut is not really a disaster movie - it’s an old-fashioned suspense thriller. And a very good one.

It’s not quite what you might expect from director Richard Lester either. Lester made his name with quirky, stylish (possibly over-stylish) 1960s movies such as A Hard Day’s Night. In the 70s he made a series of big-budget adventure movies that were also exceptionally quirky, managing to be determinedly anti-heroic and yet enormous fun - movies like The Three Musketeers (and Lester’s was the best-ever adaptation of Dumas’ adventure classic), Robin and Marian and the criminally underrated Royal Flash. Juggernaut is not at all typical of Lester’s output although it does have some distinctive Lester touches.

The plot is straightforward suspense thriller stuff. A madman calling himself Juggernaut has planted seven bombs on the ocean liner Britannic, bombs loaded with enough explosive to send the ship to the bottom of the sea. To make things worse the ship is caught in a Force 8 gale so there is no chance of launching the lifeboats.

A Navy bomb disposal team is despatched to try to defuse the bombs. They are dropped by parachute from a Hercules transport aircraft. The seas are so rough that it is by no means certain that any of the team will actually be able to get aboard the ship safely before being dashed to pieces by the sea. This scene, exceptionally well mounted, is a major highlight of the film.

The team is led by Lieutenant-Commander Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris). Defusing the bombs is no easy matter - whoever designed these bombs was a skilled and very devious artist in the art of bomb-making.

While Fallon and his team work to defuse the bombs Detective Superintendent John McLeod (Anthony Hopkins) of Scotland Yard is working equally feverishly to track down Juggernaut. It’s a race against time with the bombs set to explode in 22 hours. Of course the steamship line could pay the half million pound ransom but the British government has put pressure on the line not to do so on the (perfectly correct) grounds that caving in to terrorists simply encourages further terrorism.

What distinguishes this movie from a typical disaster movie is the rather subtle characterisation. All the characters are believable. Even the ship’s social director (played by Lester regular Roy Kinnear) is believable even though he’s there to provide comic relief.  He’s trying to do his job, to keep the passengers’ minds off impending disaster. He’s terrified himself but he still has a job to do. The ship’s captain, played by Omar Sharif, is obviously a man whose life is much less in control than it should be. This is all conveyed by subtle suggestion, a far cry from the cardboard cutouts you usually find in a disaster movie.

Richard Harris gets the sort of role that he always played to perfection. Fallon is a cynical, hard-drinking outrageously larger-than-life personality but he’s exactly the sort of man you’d expect to find defusing bombs for a living. He has spent his career thumbing his nose at death but he knows that death has a way of making a man pay for that sort of bravado. 

David Hemming is Fallon’s second-in-command, Chief Petty Officer Charlie Braddock (David Hemmings). Fallon and Braddock are poles apart in personality in temperament but they’re very close friends, Fallon’s over-the-top machismo complementing Braddock’s quiet rather self-effacing likeability. Harris and Hemmings have equally divergent acting styles but they work together superbly. These were the days when Anthony Hopkins had not yet discovered his inner ham and his performance as the flustered but determined detective is nicely judged. Ian Holm’s role as the director of the shipping line is one of the movie’s few weaknesses, being overly predictable and obvious. Freddie Jones is at his creepy best as Sidney Buckland, one of the many suspects interviewed by the police in their search for the bomber.

You expect cynicism in a 1970s movie, especially so with this sort of subject matter, but this movie resists the temptation to indulge in anything quite so obvious. There’s only one overtly cynical line of dialogue (delivered by Ian Holm on the subject of terrorism) and it’s the one moment in the film that falls completely flat. While Fallon might seem cynical he isn’t really - his cynicism is more a kind of bravado, his way of dealing with a life spent facing imminent death and also a useful way of diverting attention from the fact that he’s actually a brave man who is a thorough professional.

Maybe we’re supposed to see the British government’s attitude as cynical but the way the story develops tends to undercut that interpretation and to suggest that their tough approach was actually the correct one.

Richard Lester’s direction is crisp and efficient, without too many overt stylistic flourishes. The emphasis is on suspense rather than action and Lester proves himself to be equal to the challenge. Given the storyline you expect constant cutting back and forth between the events on the liner and the police investigation in London but it’s done in an unusual way. Instead of the rapid cutting that you’d see in a movie today this one cuts back and forth in large and rather leisurely chunks. Oddly enough this serves to heighten the suspense much more effectively.

Lester was brought on board quite late in the day after two other directors had departed. The fact that he didn’t originate the project and was essentially working simply as a director for hire is possibly one of the reasons the movie works so well. He had few opportunities for self-indulgence and stylistic excess.

The Kino Lorber Blu-Ray offers an adequate if less than stellar transfer without any extras apart from a trailer.

For some bizarre reason this movie was originally released on DVD under the atrocious title Terror on the Britannic.

Juggernaut is a taut tense and very superior thriller with enough distinctiveness of style to make it interesting without distracting from the essential suspense. Very highly recommended.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

Despite having directed one of the most commercially successful of the Universal horror movies of the 30s, The Black Cat, Edgar G. Ulmer was destined to spend most of his career making ultra low budget movies. Towards the end of his career these included quite a few science fiction movies that are often far more interesting than their minuscule budgets might suggest.

The Amazing Transparent Man was released in 1960. Invisible man movies were nothing new but this one does add a few new twists.

Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) is a bank robber whose escape from prison has been engineered by Major Krenner (James Griffith). Krenner is a man of indeterminate nationality who has served in the military forces of a number of countries. Joey Faust has no idea why Krenner would have wanted to spring him from prison. The explanation is something he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams.

Major Krenner has Faust brought to his secret laboratory where his reluctant collaborator Dr Peter Ulof is working on bizarre scientific experiments on invisibility. This interests Faust insofar as he can se the potential that invisibility could have for someone in his own line of work. An invisible bank robber should have a lucrative career.

Major Krenner has other ideas in mind. His plans are far more ambitious, and far more sinister. For Krenner invisibility is the key to power.

Krenner and Faust are both equally treacherous and they spend most of the movie trying to double-cross one another. Krenner’s girlfriend Laura (Marguerite Chapman) is trying to double-cross both of them. Poor Dr Ulof just wants to save his daughter, held hostage by Krenner.

The plot is far-fetched but Jack Lewis’s screenplay is reasonably interesting and as the story digresses it becomes a lot darker and a lot more morally complex than you generally expect in low-budget potboilers of this type.

Even on a budget of almost nothing Ulmer could make his films look fairly stylish. The laboratory set is obviously cheap but Ulmer uses it skillfully and creates the right sort of atmosphere. The scenes in which Dr Ulof and Krenner watch the results of their experiments through tiny windows in a lead-lined cubbyhole are quite creepy.

Ulmer’s big problem was always that he was rarely able to work with decent actors but in this film the principals give quite effective performances. James Griffith as Major Krenner is clearly both cynical and slightly deranged. Douglas Kennedy as Joey Faust is  just as cynical but he has some decency in his character even if he himself is not aware of it.

The special effects are what you expect in an ultra low budget sci-fi movie but they get the job done. The very short running time (just 58 minutes) is a definite asset. If you don’t have the money for fancy special effects or action sequences then you’re always well advised to keep your movie short and snappy.

The ending manages to be both very 1950s and unexpectedly drastic.

The movie dispenses with the technobabble so beloved of 1950s science fiction movie-makers. There is no attempt at offering any kind of explanation of Dr Ulof’s invisibility machine. In some ways that’s a pity - I personally love technobabble and silly pseudoscience. Perhaps Ulmer felt that such things would distract the viewer from the interpersonal dynamics between the characters. Which is fine, but if you want human drama you probably need actors of slightly higher calibre than this. 

Ulmer made two other science fiction movies at the beginning of the 1960s that are well worth checking out, Beyond the Time Barrier and Journey Beneath the Desert.

Shout! Factory and Timeless Media have included this film in their Movies 4 You - More Sci-Fi Classics release. The transfer for The Amazing Transparent Man is very good. 

The invisibility angle is used cleverly, the movie is fast-paced and the end result is very entertaining in a low-budget B-movie kind of way. By no stretch of the imagination can The Amazing Transparent Man be described as a classic but it is fun. Recommended.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

I Bury the Living (1958)

I Bury the Living is an odd moody little horror movie that manages to deliver a few genuine surprises.

Robert Kraft (Richard Boone) is a man who, rather reluctantly, finds himself in charge of a cemetery. The Kraft family is old money and they have varied business interests. Robert has been managing their department store but if you’re a member of the Kraft family part of the deal is that you have to take your turn as chairman of the trust that runs the cemetery.

The cemetery’s caretaker is a Scotsman of advanced years, Andy McKee (Theodore Bikel). Robert Kraft figures he’ll do the old boy a favour by pensioning him off on very generous terms. McKee seems less than enthusiastic, having served as caretaker for forty years.

Managing the cemetery is made easier by a large map in the office. All the plots are laid out on the map. The plots that have been bought and paid for but are not yet occupied are marked by white pins while those in which the deceased have already been interred are indicated by black pins. Things first start getting strange when Robert accidentally marks the plots bought by his friend Stu Drexel and his wife with black rather than white pins. The next day the young couple are dead, killed in an auto accident. This is slightly creepy but of course it can only be a macabre coincidence. Nothing to worry about. Then it happens again - a living person’s plot is marked on the map by a black pin and that person dies within 24 hours, apparently of natural causes.

Robert is now quite freaked out. He even contacts the police. Detective Lieutenant Clayborne (Robert Osterloh), a thoroughly professional and fairly sympathetic cop, assures Kraft that this really is just another coincidence. Clayborne is too experienced a cop merely to dismiss the story out of hand. He conducts a thorough investigation but there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there has been foul play.

Robert Kraft’s nightmare is not over yet. He is persuaded to mark some other plots with black pins, on the assumption that when nothing happens he will realise that he’s been letting his imagination run away with him. But of course something does happen. Now Robert Kraft is genuinely frightened and he feels that his grip on sanity is starting to loosen. His sanity will have to endure even more shocks.

The premise of the film is original and clever. It relies very much on atmosphere and on keeping things as mysterious as possible for as long as possible. Right up to the end the audience has no way of knowing what is really going on. It could be something supernatural but then it could also be a very clever conspiracy. Or it could be the work of a madman. Keeping the explanation in doubt enhances the film’s creepiness considerably. This movie also uses the very effective technique of avoiding any overt horror until the end - the suggestion of horror is always more terrifying than what we actually see.

Whether the payoff at the end will satisfy all viewers is a moot point. I think it works pretty well.

Frederick Gately’s black-and-white cinematography creates the right atmosphere and does it subtly. Director Albert Band maintains the suspense. There are a few cheap but very effective special effects. The map itself is central to the movie and starts to look more and more surreal as the movie progresses.

The acting, considering that this is very much a B-movie, is rather good. Richard Boone does particularly well, resisting the temptation to give a typical horror movie performance. as a result the movie becomes a fascinating psychological study as Kraft’s mind slowly but surely looses its grip. Even more surprising is that the supporting players are very good as well - Theodore Bikel as the caretaker is nicely low-key with just a touch of creepiness.

This is one of four very entertaining low-budget horror flicks included in Shout! Factory’s Timeless Horror - Movies 4 You boxed set. The transfer is exceptionally good.

I Bury the Living is a really rather nifty little horror gem, and by B-movie standards a very well-crafted one. Highly recommended.

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Terrornauts (1967)

Amicus Productions was one of a number of companies that jumped on board the gothic horror bandwagon that Hammer Films had set rolling in the late 50s. During the 1960s Amicus made some pretty reasonable movies within that genre. Like Hammer they also tried their hands at other genres such as science fiction. Their 1967 release The Terrornauts was one of their science fiction efforts. It’s rather more interesting than its reputation might suggest.

The Terrornauts was scripted by noted science fiction author John Brunner, based on a 1960 novel by Murray Leinster.

Dr Joe Burke (Simon Oates) is an astrophysicist heading up Project Star Talk. The idea is to scan the heavens for messages from alien civilisations, using a radio telescope. As a boy Burke had had an odd experience while on a field trip with his archaeologist father. His father had found a very strange object and the object triggered a vivid dream. Burke has never been able to forget this dream, or his conviction that it was some kind of message from the stars. This dream led him to pursue a scientific career and eventually led him to establish Project Star Talk.

Just as his funding is about to be cut off Burke and his colleague, Ben Keller (Stanley Meadows), finally pick up something that seems promising. It might be a message. They do the obvious thing - they reply to the message. They get a much more spectacular result that they had expected - a spaceship arrives and carries them off to an asteroid!

In fact it carries off the whole building in which the project is housed, along with the two scientists, their assistant Sandy Lund (Zena Marshall), the project’s accountant Joshua Yellowlees (Charles Hawtrey) and the tea lady. 

Dr Burke had hoped to make contact with an extra-terrestrial civilisation. And he does, after a fashion. In fact it could be said that he makes contact of a sort with more than one alien civilisation. He also discovers that aliens can be hostile and deadly but that this is not always the case.

The special effects are very cheesy, but cheesy special effects do not necessarily equate with cheesy ideas.

And while the special effects are undeniably crude it has to be said that within the constraints of what was clearly an ultra low budget they do show some imagination. They’re cheap but they’re fun. The space battle (yes there’s a space battle) is very cheesy indeed. There is also however the obligatory friendly robot.

You might be wandering about the virgin sacrifices to the gods of a ghastly galaxy promised by the tagline. Does it deliver on this count? The answer is a qualified yes although I wouldn’t get too excited by this aspect.

Simon Oates, Stanley Meadows and Zena Marshall are all quite competent in roles that are not, to be honest, overly demanding. Max Adrian enjoys himself as the director of the radio telescope establishment who regards Project Star Talk as a ridiculous waste of money.

The presence of Charles Hawtrey in the cast is a clear indication that this movie was not intended to be taken all that seriously. Don’t be put off by this. Hawtrey does provide the expected comic relief (and being Charles Hawtrey does it fairly well) but then does not mean the movie is a spoof or an out-and-out comedy. It has some whimsical touches certainly but it also has some reasonably decent science fictional ideas.

Network DVD’s ridiculously cheap Region 2 DVD release offers two different cuts of the film. There’s the shortened re-release version which looks extremely good and there’s also the slightly longer original theatrical release with slightly lesser (although still quite acceptable) image quality.

Perhaps The Terrornauts would have benefited from a bit less in the way of comic relief. It would certainly have benefited from having a lot more money spent on it. But then again part of its charm is its cheerful cheapness and the plot might not have been quite sufficient to justify a huge budget anyway. As it stands it’s amusing and fairy entertaining and in general it’s good slightly silly fun with one or two decent ideas thrown in.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Giant Claw (1957)

The Giant Claw is a 1957 Sam Katzman-produced low-budget sci-fi horror monster movie so you know it’s going to be fun. And it is.

Civilian engineer Mitch MacAfee is flying a US fighter jet on a routine radar-calibration mission for the US Air Force when he spots what he take to be a UFO. Nothing shows up on radar but Mitch is adamant that he saw something - something big. Of course nobody believes him, until aircraft start getting mysteriously knocked out of the sky.

Beautiful female mathematician and radar systems analyst Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) believes him although that might be because she thinks he’s kind of hunky and cute.

After half a dozen aircraft have been lost the Air Force goes into full-blown panic mode and Mitch and Sally are called in by the Pentagon to try to find some answers. It’s now known that the UFO is not a UFO at all but a gigantic bird, as big as a battleship. But why does it not show up on radar? The Pentagon’s scientists think they have the answer. It’s not just a gigantic prehistoric battleship-sized killer bird, it’s an anti-matter gigantic prehistoric battleship-sized killer bird! It’s not just a monster bird, it’s a stealth monster bird!

The fact that this is an anti-matter monster might explain why cannon and machine-gun fire from Air Force fighter jets have no effect on it. While it seems that nothing can hurt the giant anti-matter bird it can certainly hurt things made from ordinary matter. It can not only knock jets from the sky - it eats the pilots when they eject from their aircraft!

If cannon and machine-gun fire can’t do any good the Air Force has a better idea - they intend to use nukes! But will even nukes achieve anything against the bird’s anti-matter shielding? It’s going to take something much cleverer to bring down this bird.

Jeff Morrow turns up in quite a few movies of this type from the 50s. He makes a good solid B-movie hero and at least he’s never earnest and dull. Mara Corday was another B-movie regular and she’s perfectly adequate. In fact Morrow and Corday make a fairly engaging hero and heroine team.

There’s some gloriously silly technobabble of the kind guaranteed to please fans of this genre. In fact this movie’s technobabble is definitely superior-grade technobabble, and there’s lots of it and it just keeps getting better and better.

The special effects are of their time but given the very low budget they’re by no means as bad as you might expect. They are bad, but they’re also insanely ambitious which makes them admirable in their combination of boldness and incompetence. Sam Katzman’s movies were cheap but were approached with a certain amount of imagination and flair. The giant bird looks quite delightfully outrageous but in its own goofy way it does look rather scary. Well, sort of scary. The miniatures work is very obvious but seeing the bird picking up toy trains and hurling them through the sky is  great fun.

There’s copious use of stock footage so don’t be surprised when a fighter jet suddenly turns into an entirely different model of fighter jet halfway through a sequence. It doesn’t really matter since all 1950s jet fighters look pretty cool.

The career of director Fred F. Sears wasn’t overly distinguished but he knew how to make entertaining B-movies and he knew enough to keep the pacing tight.

This movie is one of four included in Sony’s excellent Icons of Horror Sam Katzman Collection. The 16x9 enhanced transfer looks absolutely splendid. There are even a few extras. This DVD boxed set is superb value and an absolute must-buy for all fans of 1950s science fiction or horror movies. Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) is another terrific movie from this set.

The Giant Claw provides plenty of action and plenty of entertainment. It’s very very silly but it’s silly in an inspired way. The giant bird is just so ludicrously over-the-top, like an enraged battleship-sized turkey. There’s just so much fun in this movie. Highly recommended.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Crossplot (1969)

I’m always on the lookout for movies that have been overlooked, and few movies have been as comprehensively overlooked as Crossplot. Made in 1969, it’s a Swinging 60s spy thriller starring Roger Moore. Moore was already a big star on television but it would be a few years before he found even greater fame in the Bond movies (starting with Live and Let Die in 1973). If you’re expecting Crossplot to be a kind of dress rehearsal for the Bond movies you’re going to be disappointed. Crossplot is, or at least it attempts to be, more in the style of Hitchcock’s thrillers in which some poor schmuck somehow gets mixed up in an espionage plot (North by Northwest being the most famous example. Unfortunately the director of Crosssplot, Alvin Rakoff, is no Hitchcock and Crossplot is no North by Northwest.

Gary Fenn (Roger Moore) is an irresponsible womanising advertising executive. He’s just sold a campaign to a major client. The product is cosmetics so the centrepiece of the campaign is to be a very special model. She has to be very special, and also new and exciting. Gary has found just the right girl and the client is delighted. The only problem is, as he discovers afterwards, someone has switched the photo of the model he’d picked for a photo of another model. And this other model is someone he has never set eyes on and never heard of, and he has no idea ho to find her. But somehow he has to find her, since the client has seen her photo and wants her for the campaign.

It doesn’t take Gary too long to track her down. She is a Hungarian, Marla Kugash (Claudie Lange). So everything is sweet, except that somebody is now trying to kill her, and to kill Gary as well.

Marla knows something about an espionage plot of some kind, but she doesn’t know that she knows. She overheard a conversation, and what she overheard is the key, if only she knew what it was or what it meant.

Pretty soon Gary and Marla are being chased about all over the countryside, with the bad guys making some remarkably ineffectual attempts to kill them. 

The movie’s rather incoherent plot eventually leads them to the stately home of Tarquin (Alexis Kanner). Tarquin is a lord but he’s also an irritating hippie peacenik and the nefarious plot has something to do with his band of unwashed flower childen.

The basic idea has some potential but the execution is rather horrid. What could have been a very entertaining chase sequence involving a vintage car and a helicopter is marred by some very poor rear projection shots. In fact there are lots of very poor rear projection shots in this movie. The chase just doesn’t generate the excitement it should, and unfortunately the same can be said for all the action set-pieces. You don’t need a dazzlingly brilliant script for a movie like this but you do need a director with a flair for action scenes and that’s where this movie falls down badly.

The budget was clearly rather limited and that doesn’t help. The 60s was a decade that saw some great action adventure laced with humour and romance movies, movies like Charade and Arabesque, but those movies had lavish budgets that permitted clever and genuinely exciting action sequences. It’s entirely possible to do this sort of thing without big money, but in that case you do need an inspired director. Crossplot has neither the money nor the inspiration. 

On the plus side it has Roger Moore. He’s certainly the right actor for this sort of thing and he throws himself into it with commendable enthusiasm. He’s charming, as always, and he does his best. Claudie Lange was a European starlet who did quite a lot of work in the 60s and 70s without ever breaking through as a star. She’s adequate at best although she looks glamorous enough. Bernard Lee is given too little to do and the supporting players are generally unexciting.

The really big problem is the lack of a memorable villain for Roger Moore to cross swords with, and to trade one-liners with. This means that Moore has to carry the movie entirely on his own.

The details of the conspiracy really needed to be revealed earlier in order to set up the race-against-time angle which might have added a bit more tension. As it is the screenplay is too muddled and too confusing to engage the viewer’s attention.

MGM’s DVD is letterboxed and the transfer is adequate. There are no extras.

Crossplot might have worked well as an episode of The Saint. In fact producer Robert S. Baker and writers Leigh Vance and John Kruse had all worked on that series and that might be why the movie comes across as an unsuccessful attempt to transfer the magic of that series to the big screen. The excruciatingly cheap special effects might have looked quite OK in a television production.

Roger Moore went on to make some of the best and most original thrillers of the 1970s, including classics of the genre like Shout at the Devil, The Wild Geese, The Sea Wolves and ffolkes. Crossplot was his first attempt to translate his TV stardom into big screen stardom. It’s a misfire. Worth a rental if you’re a Roger Moore completist.