Tuesday 29 June 2021

Matt Helm in The Silencers (1966)

The Silencers, released in 1966, was the first of the Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin. While Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels were serious spy thrillers and were quite dark and very cynical the movies were essentially spy spoofs.

The Silencers starts with a pretty good opening credits strip-tease sequence which establishes the decadent mood rather nicely.

Matt Helm had been a top agent for an American counter-intelligence outfit called ICE. Now he’s a photographer. What he photographs are girls, sometimes with their clothes on. Considering the palatial gadget-filled house in which he lives we assume he’s doing very well. He has no wish to go back to being a secret agent. In fact he’ll do anything to avoid doing that. Then a bodacious blonde tries to kill him and glamorous fellow ICE agent Tina (Dalia Lavi) turns up to save him, then a whole bunch of guy tries to kill him so he figures he’s back to working for ICE whether he likes it or not.

Tina and Matt head for Phoenix where a stripper is killed but before she dies she passes something (a cylinder containing a computer tape) on to the beautiful but accident-prone Gail Hendricks (Stella Stevens). Is Gail an innocent bystander or an enemy agent? Matt and his boss MacDonald (James Gregory) don’t know but they do know they can use Gail. Maybe she’ll lead them to Sam Gunther, a suspected top operative for the nefarious international criminal organisation the Big O. Gail has no desire to help but she isn’t given a choice.

It’s all connected with an underground nuclear test and some missile tests. The Big O and its leader, the sinister Tung-Tze (played by Victor Buono as a kind of chubby Dr Fu Manchu), have some very nasty plans cooked up which you won’t be surprised to hear involve world domination. Gail being so clumsy you don’t expect her to be much use to Matt but she does manage to kill a surprising number of bad guys.

Apart from saving the world Matt has to do a balancing act between Gail and Tina, which is much more difficult.

The climactic action scenes are on a much smaller scale than you’d see in a Bond movie but there’s some fairly satisfying mayhem. The producers were confident enough they were on a winner to include a post-closing credits promo for the next film in the series.

The Matt Helm of the novels might be one of the Good Guys but he’s a cold-blooded assassin entirely without scruples. The Matt Helm of the movies is of course a cheerful irresponsible playboy. Surprisingly some of the personality of the book version is still there in the film. The film Matt Helm can at times be ruthless and manipulative. The movie is basically a spoof but there’s still a vaguely serviceable spy thriller plot and while Dean Martin mostly plays the part for laughs he does have his action hero moments and there are even brief moments when he becomes a no-nonsense secret agent. While he built his successful movie career mainly on comedy as anyone who has seen Rio Bravo can attest Dean Martin could be a very fine dramatic actor when he wanted to be so he handles the action scenes and the very rare serious moments without any difficulty. He has outrageous amounts of breezy charm and charisma and carries off the rôle with a great deal of panache.

Stella Stevens provides plenty of glamour and proves herself to be quite an adept comic actress as well. Gail is hopelessly clumsy. Being clumsy and glamorous at the same time isn’t easy but Stevens manages it with ease. Daliah Lavi adds extra glamour. Roger C. Carmel and Victor Buono ham it up outrageously but delightfully.

The movie keeps some plot elements from the novel but obviously they’re treated in a tongue-in-cheek manner. We are not expected to take this movie the slightest bit seriously. You just have to lie back and enjoy its sense of good-natured fun. The Matt Helm movies were clearly an attempt to cash in on the enormous success of the Bond movies but with the tongue-in-cheek approach much more heavily emphasised.

There was a reasonable amount of money spent on the film (although it’s obviously much much cheaper than a Bond movie), the sets are reasonably sumptuous, the gadgets are amusing and there’s plenty of action. And there are plenty of beautiful women. While Bond got to drive cars like the Aston Martin DB5 Matt Helm has to make do with a station wagon. And if your cover story is that you’re a photographer you’re not going to be able to carry much camera gear around with you in an Aston Martin. Matt doesn’t just drink and drive, he drinks while driving (the station wagon has a bar and a bedroom). Still, the station wagon was a mistake.

I saw this movie on television a decade ago and wasn’t all that impressed but the lousy pan-and-scan print didn’t help. Watching them on DVD (from the Matt Helm Lounge boxed set which includes all four movies) makes a big difference although the transfers aren’t spectacular. And having since seen the other three movies I’ve grown to really appreciate the cinematic version of Matt Helm.

This movie was based (very loosely) on the first and fourth of Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels, Death of a Citizen and The Silencers (although mostly on the latter).

While it’s obviously a Bond rip-off it’s closer in tone to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series. The Silencers is silly at times but it’s meant to be. On the whole it’s light-hearted fun. Recommended.

Thursday 24 June 2021

Pick-up (1975)

Pick-up is a 1975 Crown International release so you should adjust your expectations accordingly.

Chuck is driving along in his bus when he picks up two hippie chicks. The bus is actually a bus converted into a mobile home and Chuck’s job is to deliver it to Tallahassee. Carol is anxious to go along with Chuck because she digs him. Maureen has a really bad feeling about the whole thing because for starters Chuck is an Aries. Once she does a tarot card reading she knows it’s going to be a bad scene but Carol is determined that they’re going to go with Chuck.

They run into a bad storm, there are road closures and they have to take a detour. They end up in a swamp. Chuck and Carol are pretty zonked out on drugs by this time.

Now at this point you’re probably expecting the film to veer into sex and violence and territory but it doesn’t. This movie is much much stranger than that.

You’d think that this trio would be kind of worried about being lost in the middle of the Everglades but they really don’t mind. They think it’s kind of groovy. There are trees and birds and things. It’s nature, man and nature is really cool.

Chuck and Carol decide that the best response to the situation is to have sex. A lot. Maureen starts having visions and stuff. She meets a priestess of Apollo who seems to have a mission for her.

They all start having flashbacks. Carol flashes back to losing her virginity. Chuck has a flashback to being hassled by his over-protective Mom who was stifling him so he left home. Maureen has a flashback to being seduced by a priest. Maureen has an encounter with a US Senator who is wandering the Everglades handing out campaign literature. And she meets a sinister clown.

We’re heading into surrealist territory now and we keep going deeper into that territory.

Maureen tries to give herself home-made stigmata by burning her hand. Chuck and Carol have more sex and frolic hand-in-hand through the swamp. Chuck hunts boar for food.

And things keep getting stranger, especially when Chuck and Maureen decide to have sex and they find a convenient temple in the swamp.

There are various ways you could interpret this movie. It could all be Maureen’s crazy visions. Or when they took that last detour, the one that led them into the swamp, maybe they left the real world. Or maybe there are occult influences at work that cause all three to imagine stuff. Or maybe Maureen is some kind of witch. Or maybe Chuck is the devil. Or maybe all three have just done too many drugs.

The movie doesn’t answer any of these questions, which is on balance a good thing. It just keeps ramping up the weirdness while the audience is left to try to figure out what the hell is going on.

Bernard Hirschenson directed and this seems to be his only directing credit. He also co-produced and edited the film and did the cinematography. Jack Winter co-produced and wrote the script and this also seems to be his one and only writing credit. It’s actually a pity that their careers began and ended with this movie. It’s particularly sad that Hirschenson didn’t go to make more movies. He has no idea how to pace a movie and no idea how to construct a coherent narrative but he does know how to provide interesting imagery that is subtly disturbing without ever becoming too obvious or blatant.

This is clearly a very low budget production but that’s not a problem. Hirschenson manages the surreal stuff effectively without having to resort to special effects or fancy sets. This is surrealism on a zero budget but it’s more effective than many much more expensive efforts.

There’s lots of nudity to keep drive-in audiences happy but anyone seeing this movie and expecting a standard hippie skinflick would have been in for a surprise. This is more an art film than a skinflick.

This movie is included in Mill Creek's Drive-In Cult Classics 32 Movie Collection. The transfer is (surprisingly) 16:9 enhanced. Image quality is OK but not great. The colours are a little bit muted but it’s perfectly watchable.

Pick-up is not a good movie judged by conventional standards but it is different and it is weirdly fascinating. If you’re looking for a trippy surrealist movie that will play with your head then it’s worth a look.

Saturday 19 June 2021

Fantomas (1964)

Fantomas, released in 1964, was the first of the three very popular French adventure/crime films about master-criminal Fantomas which were directed by André Hunebelle. Superficially they have a lot in common with the eurospy movies of the 60s and they were certainly influenced by the success of the Bond movies.

The movie begins with a daring jewel robbery in Paris, in broad daylight. The arch-fiend Fantomas has struck again. There is public outrage. What are the police doing to protect decent citizens from this brilliant but ruthless master-criminal? What is Commissioner Juve (Louis de Funès) doing to bring Fantomas to justice? The press is having a field day, particularly popular muck-raking journalist Fandor (Jean Marais). Fantomas may be a menace to law and order but he certainly helps to sell newspapers.

Fandor has come up with an ingenious theory. Fantomas does not exist. He was invented by Commissioner Juve as a means of diverting public attention away from the incompetence of the police. But Fandor will soon discover that Fantomas is very real indeed.

For Fantomas it is not enough just to commit very profitable crimes. He derives even more enjoyment from humiliating the forces of law and order and toying with his enemies. Making a fool of Commissioner Juve is almost too easy but Fandor at least presents him with a bit of a challenge.

Fantomas intends to set up both Juve and Fandor, using his abilities as a master of disguise (an aspect of his genius that is lifted directly from the original novels). There’s no great advantage to Fantomas in this - it’s motivated by pure malevolence. Fantomas also has plans for Fandor’s girlfriend Hélène (Mylène Demongeot). And again his motive is pure spitefulness.

Meanwhile Juve has come up with that he thinks is a brilliant idea. He will lay a trap for Fantomas, with a vast fortune in jewels as the bait. But trapping Fantomas is no easy matter. It would be no easy matters for a great detective, and Juve is most definitely not a great detective. He’s a bumbling ass. Perhaps Fandor will have a better chance of foiling Fantomas’s schemes.

Fantomas is the villain, and he’s a villain with no redeeming features whatsoever, but he is very much the focus of the movie. No matter how diabolical he might be we can’t help feeling that he deserves to get away with his crimes because he is clearly so much cleverer than either Fandor or Juve. Fantomas is the character we’re really interested in.

The tone of this movie is always tongue-in-cheek and often straight-out comic. Juve is a character played entirely for comedy. And it has to be said that he is genuinely very amusing.

There are some very impressive stunts and towards the end we get a terrific extended chase sequence - a chase by car, motor-cycle, train, helicopter, boat and submarine. It’s executed in a witty and very clever manner. While this movie was influenced by the first two Bond movies in some ways it anticipates the style of the 1970s Roger Moore Bond films.

The arch-criminal Fantômas, created by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, made his first appearance in print in 1911 in the novel Fantômas and featured in another 42 novels (the last of which was published in 1963). Fantômas made the transition to film as early as 1913. Fantômas subsequently featured in several other films such as Juve contre Fantômas (1913) and later in comics right up until the 1990s. There was a 1980 French Fantômas TV series. Fantômas occupied a place in French pop culture somewhat analogous to that of Dr Mabuse in German pop culture.

This 1964 Fantomas movie retains much of the spirit of the original Fantômas but inevitably such a movie made in 1964 was going to be heavily influence by the massive pop culture phenomenon that was the Bond movies. As a result it has a much more tongue-in-cheek flavour and it has a lot of Bond-style visual elements.

This movie also has something in common with the 1960s German Dr Mabuse movies which began with Fritz Lang’s The 1,000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960) and continued with The Return of Dr Mabuse (1961), The Invisible Dr Mabuse (1962), Dr Mabuse vs Scotland Yard (1963) and Death Ray Mirror of Dr Mabuse (1964). There’s also a slight resemblance, especially in tone, between Fantomas and the wonderful Lemmy Caution movies such as Poison Ivy (1953) and Dames Don't Care (1954). And a slight affinity also to movies such as Danger: Diabolik! and Satanik.

André Hunebelle also directed quite a few of the OSS117 eurospy movies including OSS 117 Is Unleashed (1963). He certainly had an affinity for adventure movies. He does an excellent job here, pulling off some remarkably cool action sequences.

Fantomas is a total romp, much more light-hearted and whimsical in tone than the source novels. Those source novels could have been the basis for an interesting much darker film but in 1964 Hunebelle’s approach was probably, in commercial terms, the wisest one to take. And as it stands Fantomas is a movie that is, to an extraordinary degree, in tune with the 60s zeitgeist. It’s a great deal of stylish fun as well. Highly recommended.

Kino Lorber have released all three 1960s Fantomas movies is an excellent boxed set (available on both DVD and Blu-Ray editions). The 1964 Fantomas includes an excellent audio commentary by Tim Lucas. The transfer is excellent.

Tuesday 15 June 2021

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970)

Luciano Ercoli’s The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, released in 1970, is a kind of giallo although it might be more accurate to describe it as a giallo-esque suspense crime thriller. It was released on DVD by Blue Underground a few years back (and happily the DVD seems to be still in print).

Minou (Dagmar Lassander) is married to an industrialist named Peter. Peter seems to be the sort of businessman who sails close to the wind financially and enjoys the risk-taking side of business. As the film opens Minou tells us in a voiceover that she intends to give up smoking, drinking and taking pills. She’s going to give them up any day now.

She is almost raped at the beginning of the movie. At least she thought she was going to be raped but her assailant (played by Simón Andreu) seemed to have something else in mind, something much more twisted. He wants to play a game with her mind. He tells her that her husband Peter is a murderer and that he has proof of this. If she fails to show up to an appointment at his apartment he will go to the police with the evidence against Peter.

Minou loves her husband and will do anything to save him. She’s also perhaps a little naïve and with all the booze and the pills she is also perhaps not always thinking too clearly.

The blackmailer intends to force her into a sexual relationship a relationship with some definite sado-masochistic overtones.

And as to the forbidden photos - they do make their appearance later on after a major plot twist.

Minou is increasingly confused and desperate. Her friend Dominique (played by Nieves Navarro although she’s billed here as Susan Scott) has a plan to get Minou out of her predicament.

It’s not too difficult to figure out where the plot is heading although there was one important point which did surprise me.

There is, surprisingly, very little graphic violence and no nudity. Of course European genre movies of this era often existed in multiple cuts. The running time on Blue Underground’s DVD release suggests that it’s uncut but with these types of films you can never be sure.

The acting seems very flat but that may be partly the very poor very lifeless English dubbing (sadly the DVD includes only the English dubbed version).

Luciano Ercoli had a brief career as a director in the early to mid 70s (and a longer career as a producer beginning in the early 60s). His output included a couple of genuine giallos. Ernesto Gastaldi, who co-wrote the script, had an extremely prolific career (spanning 40 years) as a screenwriter.

Dagmar Lassander had a busy movie career from the mid-60s to the mid-80s after which she worked mostly in television. She’s best known to cult movie fans for her rôle in Mario Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon. Her performance in The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is adequate. Spanish-born Nieves Navarro (who was married to Luciano Ercoli) gives a nicely decadent performance as Dominique. Not surprisingly she made several movies for Ercoli.

I don’t think this movie can really be described as a giallo. It lacks too many of the crucial ingredients. It has some of the visual touches that we associate with giallos but it’s rather restrained stylistically and it’s not violent enough or sexy enough to be a true giallo. It’s just a suspense movie.

Blue Underground’s DVD release offers a very nice anamorphic transfer. The only extra of note is a brief interview with co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi. Gastaldi has one very amusing anecdote about Riccardo Freda with whom he worked on The Horrible Dr Hichcock. Freda asked Gastaldi if it was OK to tear up the last ten pages of the script. Gastaldi objected that if he did this the story would make no sense. Freda replied that that was the whole point - he didn’t want the film to make any sense. I think that sums up the brilliance of Italian film-making in this era rather well.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is well-crafted and looks good and unlike some giallos the plot makes perfect sense and the solution is clearly explained. It’s worth a look although this one might be one to rent rather than buy.

Saturday 12 June 2021

Sky Raiders (movie serial, 1941)

Sky Raiders is a 1941 Universal serial and what makes it enticing is that it’s both an aviation adventure and a spy thriller - two of my favourite genres.

It might not be one of the better known serials but it combines action, romance and great aerial sequences and it’s prepared to play around with the conventions of the serial form at least to some extent. And it’s extremely entertaining.

Here’s the link to my full review at Classic Movie Ramblings.

Tuesday 8 June 2021

The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man, directed by Robin Hardy and written by Anthony Schaffer, is one of the most admired British horror movies of the 70s. In fact, it is possibly the single most admired British horror film of that decade. There are even those who claim it to be the greatest British horror film of all time, and it’s a claim that has some validity.

There are now three different versions of this film in existence. There’s the 87-minute theatrical cut, the 99-minute director’s cut and now a 94-minute “final cut” has emerged which is claimed to be the closest to the original intention of the film-maker. It doesn’t matter which version you prefer because the recent Studiocanal 2-disc Blu-Ray release includes all three cuts.

The Wicker Man was made in 1973 and then, due to problems with the distributor, it simply vanished from sight. It was pretty much unseen until the end of the 70s. When people finally did get to see it, in a very unsatisfactory form, its greatness was soon recognised and its reputation has since grown steadily as better prints became available.

Sergeant Howie of the West Highland Police (Edward Woodward) arrives by seaplane at the tiny island of Summerisle to investigate a report of a missing child, Rowan Morrison. When shown photographs of her nobody on the island will admit to having ever seen the girl.

Sergeant Howie is a devout Christian. He is a little on the priggish side but he’s sincere and well-meaning. He is shocked to discover that the inhabitants of Summerisle are pagans. There is no longer a church or a minister on the island. Christianity has been banished entirely.

Presiding over this pagan society is Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). He’s a jovial enough fellow and much-loved but he has all the power of a mediæval lord. Summerisle is a kind of petty kingdom which recognises no authority other than Lord Summerisle.

Sergeant Howie realises that the islanders have been lying to him. They do recognise Rowan and he’s sure that they do know what happened to her. Howie isn’t certain what happened to Rowan but he is beginning to have dark suspicions that she has been murdered. His suspicions are both correct and incorrect.

Howie is determined to solve the mystery of Rowan’s disappearance but he’s not going to get any coöperation at all from the locals. In fact they will hinder his investigation at every step.

Howie simply cannot deal with this pagan society. It offends him as a Christian but his response to Summerisle is a little more complex than that. This is 1973 and Howie has obviously dealt with non-believers before. The people of Summerisle are not just touchy-feely New Age neo-pagans or hippies play-acting at paganism. They are hardcore pagans. They worship nature, which leads them to worship sex. They take their worship of sex to extremes. They are every bit as extreme in their beliefs as Sergeant Howie.

Howie is not just a Christian, he is a policeman. It’s not just the paganism of the islanders that shocks him but also their obvious contempt for the police and for any authority other than Lord Summerisle.

Howie may be bigoted in the sense that he will not and cannot accept the very different religious beliefs of the islanders but they’re just as bigoted against his Christian beliefs. This is a clash of cultures in which neither side is capable of understanding the other and neither side is willing to respect the beliefs of the other side. There is intolerance on both sides.

That’s what makes this film so interesting. Depending on your own point of view you may be inclined to sympathise with either the Christian Sergeant Howie or the pagan islanders but whichever side you sympathise with your sympathies and prejudices will be challenged. Howie might be wrong to reject the islanders’ beliefs out of hand but he’s not wrong about everything. He might be right to reject the extreme beliefs of the islanders but he’s not right about everything either.

This rôle was tailor-made for Edward Woodward. He was always extremely good at playing characters who were much too tightly-wrapped, with their emotions much too tightly suppressed. He could not only do this, he could do it with a certain amount of subtlety and could give you the impression that the character was suffering from a great deal of inner turmoil. He could also give the impression that if such a person started to unravel he’d probably do so in a big way. And somehow he could make an audience care about such a character. The Callan TV series gave him a great opportunity to play such a character. Sergeant Howie is a very different man from tortured professional killer David Callan but both men are emotionally repressed and have difficulty in relating to others, not because they don’t want to but because they’re simply not able to.

Christopher Lee apparently considered this to be the best movie he ever made. He certainly makes the most of his rôle. Lord Summerisle, like Howie, is right about some things and wrong about others. He’s neither a simplistic villain nor a simplistic hero.

Britt Ekland is excellent as the innkeeper’s sexy daughter who tempts Sergeant Howie. Is she a free spirit trying to liberate Howie or is she a cruel temptress who enjoys torturing him by flaunting her sexuality at him?

There’s an impressive supporting cast including Diane Cilento, Aubrey Morris, Ingrid Pitt and Lindsay Kemp (who taught David Bowie mime).

Since this movie deals with a society that takes the worship of sex to an extreme there is of course a certain amount of nudity and sex but it’s absolutely integral to the theme of the movie and cannot in any way be considered gratuitous.

Britt Ekland’s ambiguous nude dance of seduction is certainly memorable.

The film was shot on location in Scotland and looks stunning. The music is excellent. There are a lot of old Scottish folk songs but the lyrics have been altered to give them a more overtly pagan feel. The music plays a major rôle is establishing the atmosphere.

This is a very literate horror film. There’s no overt horror until the end but the atmosphere, which starts out colourful and liberated, slowly and inexorably grows more sinister. The ending is a horror tour-de-force.

The Wicker Man is a provocative horror but it’s more than just a horror movie. It’s thematically complex and intelligent. It deals with belief and it deals with other important themes (although to reveal the most important theme of the movie would be to reveal a major spoiler). Anthony Schaffer’s script is brilliant and it’s only at the end that you realise just how brilliant it is as everything comes together perfectly and with a sense of inevitability and you finally realise what the story is really about.

It has to be said that there are problems with the Final Cut - it’s missing some very important early scenes which are important not only for what they tell us about Howie’s character but they’re also vital thematically. Those scenes are included in the Director’s Cut. The Final Cut looks terrific but the Director’s Cut has to be the preferred version.

The Blu-Ray presentation includes a host of extras including an audio commentary (for the Director’s Cut) featuring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and director Robin Hardy.

Very highly recommended.

Friday 4 June 2021

Eyewitness (AKA Sudden Terror, 1970)

Eyewitness (released in the US as Sudden Terror) is a modestly budgeted British thriller released in 1970.

Ziggy (Mark Lester) is a young boy, probably about eleven, and he lives in a fantasy world. He is constantly making up elaborate stories which he swears are true but of course they aren’t. In other words he’s basically a perfectly normal boy although he’s gifted with a lot of imagination and an unusual facility for telling the most outrageous lies.

Ziggy lives with his big sister Pippa (Susan George) and their grandfather (played by Lionel Jeffries) in a lighthouse on Malta.

Then comes the day when Ziggy’s wild stories catch up with him. A visiting African president is assassinated. Ziggy is an eyewitness to the assassination and the assassins know that he saw them and now they’re after him. He tells all this to Pippa but of course she doesn’t believe a word of it. What makes Ziggy’s story harder to believe is that he insists (quite correctly) that the assassins are policemen.

While watching the visiting president’s motorcade Pippa strikes up an acquaintanceship with a young man named Tom Jones (played by Australian actor Tony Bonner). Or rather he strikes up an acquaintanceship with her. The fact that Pippa is drop-dead gorgeous may well be the reason he was so anxious to get to know her.

The bad guys really are out to kill Ziggy and the difficulty of persuading anyone to believe him is just the beginning of young Ziggy’s troubles. It’s also just the beginning of the nightmare for his grandfather, his sister and Tom. Tom gets mixed up in all this because after driving Pippa home he finds the whole island is under curfew so Ziggy’s grandfather decides that they’ll have to put Tom up for the night.

It’s going to be quite a night. With an extraordinary amount of mayhem and quite a high bodycount as the two murderous cops kill anyone who gets in their way including innocent bystanders. The violence isn’t especially graphic but it’s the casualness with which the bad guys kill people that makes this quite a brutal film. There’s also a notable car chase.

This was director John Hough’s feature film debut. Prior to this he’d worked in television, directing a number of episodes of the final season of The Avengers (the Tara King season). He followed up Eyewitness with the notorious 1971 Hammer film Twins of Evil and the absolutely superb 1973 horror film The Legend of Hell House. With Eyewitness Hough proves himself to be an inspired action movie director.

He has a fine cast to work with. Having recently starred in Oliver! Mark Lester was at this time the biggest child star in Britain and he gives a fine performance as the mischievous but likeable Ziggy. Susan George was on the cusp of stardom. She’s a very underrated actress and she’s terrific and very believable as Pippa, who dearly loves Ziggy although there are times when she could cheerfully strangle him. Lionel Jeffries is excellent as the grandfather and provides a few lighter moments in an otherwise rather grim and brutal film. Tony Bonner is fine as the good-natured Tom. Jeremy Kemp is great as the police chief, a man who is dedicated to the point of fanaticism.

It’s the two villains who really shine, especially Peter Vaughan as the chief bad guy. It’s a bit weird seeing Peter Bowles as a murderous heavy although at this time he dd play the occasional darker rôle, notably in A Magnum for Schneider (the pilot for the superb Callan TV spy series).

The film was shot on location in Malta. This provides an interesting and exotic setting and it has the advantage that Malta is an island - once the authorities have sealed off all sea and air exits both the hunters (the assassins) and the hunted (Ziggy) are trapped together on the island. The location shooting really is splendid. The fact that Ziggy and his family live in a lighthouse is just one more cool touch.

On the audio commentary Hough claims (and having watched the movie I’m inclined to believe him) that there’s not a single process shot in the movie - all the car chase scenes were done for real, filmed as they happened. This gives the action scenes an extraordinary intensity and immediacy.

In fact everything in this visually astonishingly bold film has a sense of urgency and palpable menace.

Kino Lorber have outdone themselves with their DVD release (and they’ve issued this one on Blu-Ray as well). The anamorphic transfer is excellent the extras include two audio commentaries, the first featuring John Hough and Bryan Forbes (who wrote the final version of the screenplay and as head of production of Elstree Studios was the man who gave the movie the green light), the second featuring a couple of film historians.

While the plot might not be dazzlingly original it’s the execution that makes Eyewitness a very much above average action thriller. It really is a well-crafted piece of film-making and it’s very highly recommended.