Mystery Collection Disc 39

Paco, 1976, color. Robert Vincent O’Neill (dir.), Jose Ferrer, Allen Garfield, Pernell Roberts, Panchito Gomez. 1:37 [1:30]

Paco’s a kid living in the hills of Colombia with his ailing father, his mother and his younger siblings; his only real possessions are a donkey and cart. He makes his way down to the village where he tells the priest that his father is very, very sick—so sick that his uncle’s on his way from Bogota. The priest performs Last Rites; the father dies; the uncle shows up; there’s a funeral.

Paco wants to go to Bogota with the uncle (Ferrer), who says no, stay here, I have a business there, go back and be the man of the house. But first, since the next bus isn’t until the next day, the uncle’s going to show Paco a good time: buys him new clothes, takes him to dinner at a “restaurant” (one table, a woman cooking on a home stove)—and would have taken him to the hotel, except that the uncle gambles away his money (with the priest looking on and drinking beer) and, eventually, the kid’s donkey and cart; both wind up sleeping on the street.

Next morning, the uncle says the donkey must have been stolen, says he’ll send money to get a new donkey and cart as soon as he gets back to Bogota and leaves on the bus. So we already know the uncle is a liar; soon enough, we learn that his business is being Fagin to a huge gang of gamines, street thieves for whom he acts as fence and occasional loan shark. (He begs as a presumed blind man when he’s not dealing with the street thieves, and apparently has a cozy relationship with the police.)

Anyway…Paco eventually runs away and makes his way to Bogota, in the process having most of his possessions stolen and doing an odd job for which he doesn’t get paid. He encounters one of the street kids and keeps looking for his uncle. Then a new plot enters: the uncle had claimed he was a good friend of a big-time movie star…and the kid manages to find the movie star and give him a crucifix necklace for good luck. While the movie star, a former street kid, is now informed by his Family that he must do something for them: steal a huge emerald that’s to be shown in a museum. Let’s just say the plots intersect thanks to the crucifix necklace and, in the end, the uncle continues to be what he is and Paco goes back home.

I guess the mystery is whether the incompetent jewel robbery (which becomes a smash-and-grab job, and come on, of a gang of four or five people only the actor has any disguise at all and there are a bunch of eyewitnesses…) will be solved and whether Paco will survive. I’m not sure what to make of the movie. The plot (badly mangled on the sleeve summary and equally mangled by IMDB: Paco is not an orphan!) seems to bear a fair amount of debt to Oliver Twist; the movie doesn’t make as much of the Colombian scenery as it could. It’s sort of a mess. But it’s not terrible. Maybe $1.25.

The Lucifer Complex, 1978, color. Kenneth Hartford & David L. Hewitt (dirs..), Robert Vaughn, Merrie Lynn Ross, Keenan Wynn, Aldo Ray. 1:31.

Where to start? How about “how did Robert Vaughn and Keenan Wynn both wind up in this atrocity?” It seems to be a one-hour low-budget schlock paranoia movie stretched out to 90 minutes through, well, loads of padding—a guy on an island, with thought narration, who happens to have a cave equipped with a big lights-flashing computer that’s apparently actually a laserdisc player with All of Man’s Records, including footage that couldn’t plausibly have been taken—oh, and although the huge console has a microphone, he doesn’t control playback using a keyboard: he twiddles one of many knobs scattered across the console. He mostly sits there staring at the screen and twiddling knobs. He’s apparently the Last Man on Earth, which does raise the question of who’s filming him, but never mind. For the first half hour or so, he’s showing various war clips from WWI and WWII. Then, he goes on to what I assume is Woodstock footage and Vietnam.

Then he gets to The Real War, in 1985, and that’s the actual movie. Basically, the Fourth Reich is cloning world leaders and running an operation on an island. Robert Vaughn, an apparently not-very-competent special agent, winds up parachuting onto the island, being captured and uncovering the plot. Or, rather, being told the plot by his captors until he uses his Fancy Moves to get out. Oh, and all the women who’ve been kept in a barracks (for unclear reasons that have something to do with cloning) have apparently armed themselves with submachine guns (maybe they made them during craft period?), so when he gets away, they start shooting up the place. I think half an hour is devoted to this nonsensical mayhem. All of which ends with…it being too late, because by then all the world leaders had been replaced by clones anyway. Which is why the narrator is alone on this wholly self-sufficient, eternally-powered island.

The pacing is…zzz…sorry, nodded off there. The photography is worse than mediocre. The acting…what can I say? It’s probably better than the direction. I would say the direction is better than the screenwriting, but you reach a certain level below which it’s hard to make fine distinctions. There’s no character development at all. The “small group of women who’ve been under constant watch suddenly become fully armed and wipe out an entire Nazi compound” plot makes no sense. Honestly, I only watched the whole thing because I was exhausted from a hike and kept hoping it would improve. I see from IMDB that the movie, filmed in 1976, was never released to theaters, going directly to TV in 1978. I imagine it was shown mostly after midnight.

This is dreck. It’s not “So bad it’s funny” or “Nice try by an incompetent team,” like, say, Plan 9 from Outer Space (a masterpiece by comparison). This is more in the Apache Blood category: so bad it’s really bad. But at least that horrendous film (which I think was even worse) had good photography; this doesn’t. Not worth a cent. The big zero.

A Tattered Web, 1971, color (TV movie). Paul Wendkos (dir.), Lloyd Bridges, Frank Converse, Sallie Shockley, Murray Hamilton, Broderick Crawford. 1:14.

Lloyd Bridges standing on a hill looking down at the young couple in swimsuits strolling far below. Lloyd Bridges in car as guy (from the couple) comes out of apartment building; calls girl, tells her to stay away from the guy. It doesn’t take long to learn that Bridges is a veteran cop, that the guy is his cheating son-in-law, that his daughter and son-in-law are living with him (and she’s a papa’s girl)…and when Bridges confronts the girl again, he winds up accidentally killing her.

That’s the setup. The rest of the story is how he tries to cover for it—and simultaneously keep his son-in-law from being blamed. It’s not great drama, but it’s reasonably well done, with a fairly predictable ending. Broderick Crawford has a remarkable turn as a befuddled old drunk who’s killed his best friend and can be convinced that he killed the girl as well. It looked like a TV movie from the get-go; I’m not surprised that it was one. Good cast, TV-movie direction and music, not great but not terrible. $1.25.

Target of an Assassin, 1977, color. Peter Collinson (dir.), Anthony Quinn, John Phillip Law, Simon Sabela. 1:45 [1:42]

Anthony Quinn. John Phillip Law. Hey, how bad could it be?

I honestly can’t tell you. First, I had external speakers on. Kept turning them up and up and still couldn’t make out the dialog. So switched to headphones. Kept turning them up and up, to the point where any musical cues were way too loud…and still couldn’t understand the dialog.

Based on IMDB reviews, it’s not that I’m going deaf(er)—it’s that either the original movie had incompetent sound recording or the transfer (which looks fine otherwise) was absurdly mishandled. After about 20 minutes, I gave up—at least up to that point, it was slow-moving and required the dialog to be worth watching at all. (Actually, based on other IMDB reviews, the flick sounds pretty marginal in any case.) South African; not sure if that’s part of the problem. Couldn’t watch; no rating.

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