Mystery Collection Disc 41

A Dangerous Summer, 1982, color. Quentin Masters (dir.), Tom Skerritt, Ian Gilmour, Ray Barrett, James Mason, Wendy Hughes, Guy Doleman, Kim Deacon. 1:28 [1:29]

Set in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, this fiery movie starts with fire, ends with fire and is about firebugs and insurance fraud. It’s also deeply disappointing, in that it can’t seem to decide whether it’s a heavily plotted situation—or just an insane young man. Mostly, I guess, it was a paid Australian vacation for James Mason and Tom Skerritt.

It’s set in December (summer in Australia). We open with brush fires and school fires simultaneously, so that when Skerritt—the American co-developer for a supposed resort hotel that never seems to be much more than multistory wood framing—sees smoke from a (set) fire nearby and asks for firefighters, he’s told they’re all busy. We learn a bit later that the chief of the brush fire squad is absolutely convinced the resort will eventually burn down, and apparently not too unhappy about that. Meanwhile, a lawyer at a local insurance company is a bit concerned that the place is insured for $10 million—but only through the end of the year—even though it can’t possibly be worth more than a fraction of that. So is the co-developer, who is told by the person putting up the money that, well, a bit of the bank’s money went to “other little projects” like the money guy’s yacht. Oh, and the local insurance company, which has reinsured with Lloyds of London, either owns the company that owns most of the resort or vice-versa.

We wind up with a drowned insurance company lawyer who was an excellent swimmer (we see the drowning in some detail, and apparently the drowner felt the need to rip off the top half of the lawyer’s swimsuit: she was an attractive young woman). We get various other stuff, including the train the co-developer is on running right into a fire zone and catching on fire. And eventually the partial wood framing that’s supposed to be a big hotel burns down (this time through direct arson on Christmas day)—taking the firebug with it. (First, he sets the co-developer’s house on fire, with his girlfriend—the co-developer’s daughter—upstairs, naked and partly bound. Her father does save her.) And that’s it: We get no resolution of any plot other than the firebug himself.

I found it disappointing and, frankly, not all that well done: poor photography, mediocre directing, poor sound, mediocre acting, incoherent editing. Really nothing special. I’m being generous (mostly for Mason and Wendy Hughes) by giving it $0.75.

Mitchell, 1975, color. Andrew V. McLaglen (dir.), Joe Don Baker, Martin Balsam, John Saxon, Linda Evans, Merlin Olsen. 1:37 [1:31]

This feels like the pilot for a TV series—but it also appears to be filmed wide-screen (but displayed pan & scan), so maybe not. Joe Don Baker is Mitchell, a slob of a plainclothes detective who doesn’t get along with much of anybody, seems largely incompetent, drinks too much, lives in a studio apartment and seems to be sort of a wreck. He’s warned off one case that’s called justifiable homicide but that he thinks is murder (because the killer’s subject of a big FBI investigation) and told to tail another crook; things start out from there. He’s very obvious about tailing, winds up having drinks with the crook and saying what he’s supposed to be looking for (the crook’s been set up by an associate), and…well…lots’o’plot. None of which makes much sense, any more than Mitchell’s defective, er, detective work

We have Linda Evans as a $1,000/night hooker who shows up at Mitchell’s door as a Christmas present (he chooses the wrong crook as the likely donor) and shows up again—the second time, he busts her for pot. But he asserts that he’s clean, as in, he doesn’t take cash bribes. Some interesting car chases; some interesting interactions; and in the end all of the low-level bad guys are dead, which doesn’t help the FBI or anybody else get to the bigger crooks.

But never mind: it’s mostly just a hoot. Great cast, and if you suspend disbelief a little it’s fun in its own cornpone way. For that, I give it a credible $1.25.

Please Murder Me, 1956, b&w. Peter Godfrey (dir.), Angela Lansbury, Raymond Burr, Dick Foran, John Dehner, Lamont Johnson, Denver Pyle. 1:18 [1:15].

Raymond Burr and Angela Lansbury. In 1956. When Lansbury was a stunning young (31-year-old) femme fatale, and Raymond Burr was (39-year-old) Raymond Burr. It starts with him buying a handgun at a pawnshop, then going into a dark office, turning on a lamp, putting the gun and an portfolio into a desk drawer, then starting a tape recorder in the other desk drawer—and telling the story of how he’s going to be murdered in 55 minutes.

It’s quite a tale, involving best friends, apparent love, pure gold-digging, a dramatic murder trial and acquittal—and people with and without integrity. Talky, to be sure, but compelling enough. I downgrade it somewhat because the print’s jumpy at times, with missing frames and words. Still, $1.25.

The Squeeze, 1978, color. Antonio Margheriti (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, Karen Black, Edward Albert, Lionel Stander, Robert Alda. 1:39.

Great cast (Lee Van Cleef, Edward Albert, Karen Black, Lionel Stander, Robert Alda and more). Interesting concept—retired safecracker (Van Cleef) lured into one more job to help an old friend’s son, who soon finds out that the folks he’s helping are Bad Crooks (that is, they’d rather shoot helpers than share the loot). Odd side-story that leads up to an interesting triple-cross finale. (There are a lot of movies entitled “The Squeeze”—this one’s from 1978 and stars Lee Van Cleef, and was filmed on location in seedier parts of New York City.)

Also not anywhere near as good as it could be—but not bad. Unusual to see Van Cleef in something other than a Spaghetti Western, but his looks and personality work here as well. Not a great print, but not bad. On balance, $1.25.

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