Mystery Collection Disc 40

Death Collector (aka Family Enforcer), 1976, color. Ralph De Vito (dir. & writer), Joe Cortese, Lou Criscuolo, Joe Pesci, Bobby Alto, Frank Vincent, Anne Johns. 1:25 [1:29]

What to say about this? I guess it’s about a small-time Jersey (New, that is) crook involved with the local crime families, who tries to act as a collector but never actually recovers any money. Eventually, he gets killed.

There’s lots’o’plot in between, but the movie failed a personal test: There was nobody—nobody—who I found worth caring about. At all. I’m not sure why I even watched the whole thing, except maybe that Joe Pesci (a costar who gets killed partway through) is at least interesting to watch.

The flick establishes its R rating in the first five minutes and seems to glory in showing as much blood as possible. (The picture on the IMDB page, with an alternate title, seems to suggest that Pesci was the primary star. He wasn’t.) If you’re a big fan of sleazy lowlife crime flicks, it might be worth $0.75. Personally, I wouldn’t give it a dime.

The Master Touch (orig. Un uomo da rispettare or “A man to be respected”), 1972, color. Michele Lupo (dir.), Kirk Douglas, Giuliano Gemma, Florinda Bolkan, Wolfgang Preiss, Reinhard Kolldehoff. 1:52 [1:32]

Here’s another widescreen movie—filmed very widescreen, panned & scanned to 16:9. It’s not enhanced for DVD—zooming it out loses a little clarity—but it’s a pretty good widescreen picture anyway. And, you know, Kirk Douglas, also a Morricone score. And one impressive and long car chase with loads of bumper-car action, with one car pretty much demolished at the end and the other only drivable thanks to suspension of disbelief. Also, apparently everybody in West Germany drives like a maniac with lead-footed starts and hasty stops, and police cars travel in huge flocks.

The plot has to do with Kirk Douglas, safecracker who relies more on explosives than finesse, getting out of prison after a three-year term and the crime lord who’d gotten him into the failed job wanting him to rob a safe in an insurance company that’s protected by incredibly high technology alarm systems. He rejects the idea—but only (apparently) because the only time he ever got caught was when he was working for somebody else. Instead, he recruits a circus trapeze artist who’s made an enemy of the crime lord’s henchman (there’s a lot of fighting in this movie as well, but the henchman ultimately disappears for no good reason). He has this great notion of giving himself a perfect alibi for the 1.5 million-dollar high-tech safe robbery (hey, $1.5 million was a lot of money in 1972—equivalent to $8.4 million in 2013): he gets caught cracking a pawnshop’s safe at the same time the other alarm goes off. Easy-peasey: Serve 18 months for attempted burglary, get out to retire with the money (after the trapeze artist who actually cracks the safe gets his cut). Except that the trapeze artist kills a guard—changing the 18 months to a life sentence. It seems as though the trapeze artist and Douglas’ wife…oh, never mind.

Sorry if these are spoilers, but the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway. Defeating the high-tech security system is way too easy; the henchman turns out to be a sideshow that takes up close to a third of the movie; and the situation with Douglas’ wife suggests that Douglas has all the emotional sensitivity and listening capabilities of a fencepost. The missing 20 minutes might help. It’s an Italian production set in Germany, and it’s at least stylishly done at times. One IMDB review does point up one thing: None of the characters is really likable, although Douglas comes close enough that I watched the whole thing. All things considered, I’ll give it $1.25.

Code Name: Zebra (aka The Zebra Force), 1976, color. Joe Tornatore (dir.), Mike Lane, Richard X. Slattery, Glenn R. Wilder, Anthony Caruso. 1:40 [1:20]

We start with seven black guys robbing a (presumably illegal?) casino (I guess in LA), shooting quite a few folks in the process—but it turns out they’re not black guys, they’re whites wearing uncannily good black masks. The honcho of the group is The Lieutenant, a one-armed Vietnam veteran with half his face badly disfigured: the rest of the group were his squad from Vietnam (where he got blown up by a land mine). He’s worked out a plan to rob the Mob (it was a Mob casino) four different ways, then split the money among the eight so they’ll be set for life. Hey, why not? They’re taking from the crooks (the second heist involves a big load of heroin, which he insists they flush down the toilet: they only keep the money) and keeping for themselves—not quite Robin Hood, but close.

Meanwhile, the local mob’s brought in a Detroit enforcer because the Detroit capo’s son was one of those killed in the casino heist. Naturally, they assume that their black subordinate in East LA is either behind it or leaking info (the robbers always know just where the security is and how to deal with it). In one plot, they decide to set up the black subordinate using the crooked cop (in a tiny little police station that seems a bit odd for LA) and, in the process, take out the cop as well. That happens…but the Vietnam vets also make their fourth and final stop, robbing the local capo’s house on delivery day. Unfortunately, one of the vets gets captured.

This all leads to a big gun battle involving the mob, the vets and the police. If I count right, either three or four of the eight (including the leader) survive and escape. There’s one final plot twist, but I won’t give that one away.

An interesting plot, albeit wildly implausible (there’s no explanation for the amount of info the vets have, the mob seems underarmed and generally sloppy, etc., etc.). Unfortunately, once again, there’s nobody that’s worth cheering for—not even close. More unfortunately, the print’s really bad in parts, with serious digitization artifacts. How bad? It’s literally impossible to read the closing credits and about half of the opening ones. I relied on IMDB for credits—as, apparently, did the people doing the sleeve copy, as both their “star” and their plot are for another movie, eight years later, with the same director but an entirely different plot. It’s also not, shall we say, a paragon of acting or screenwriting—but there’s loads of action. Maybe the extra 20 minutes would help, but I’m guessing not. At best, I’d give it $0.75.

The Cape Town Affair, 1967, color. Robert D. Webb (dir.), James Brolin, Jacqueline Bisset, Claire Trevor, Bob Courtney, John Whiteley. 1:40.

This is more like it. James Brolin plays an expert pickpocket in Cape Town, who lifts a wallet from a young woman on a bus (Bisset, lovely as ever)—a wallet, as it turns out, that was carrying something she was supposed to deliver to somebody. Who, although she didn’t know it, is a Red or Commie (used more or less interchangeably in this of-its-time movie); the delivery is a strip of Highly Important Film (not microfilm). And although Brolin’s an expert pickpocket, he’s identified immediately—because two agents on the bus (trying to find who the wallet’s intended for) were watching her, not him, and could figure out when the wallet disappeared. A tie-selling woman (Trevor), Sam, knows all the crooks and, when the cops provide a 50 Rand inducement, gives them four names (based on the guy’s methodology), allowing the agents to select his photo.

Thus begins a reasonably fast-moving number with a modest number of complications. I won’t even attempt to describe all the plot twists, although—with one huge exception—none of them seems especially outrageous. The huge exception: The villain (not Brolin) is at large, the cops have an all-out bulletin for him (with photos), they know Brolin’s address and that the villain’s likely to head his way…but when that happens, the cops are nowhere to be found, leaving Brolin to take care of the matter on his own.

That glaring improbability near the end weakens what’s otherwise a pretty good flick. The print’s good, the cast is good, the acting’s good enough, the script is…well, you can’t have everything. You get to see a lot of Cape Town at the peak of apartheid (the movie’s a South African production) and even with the slightly-weakened ending, I’ll give it $1.25.

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