Mystery Collection Disc 38

The Boxer (orig. Un uomo dalla pelle dura or “A man with a thick skin”), 1972, color. Franco Prosperi (dir.), Robert Blake, Catherine Spaak, Ernest Borgnine, Gabriele Ferzetti, Orazio Orlando. 1:13.

Let’s see if I can get the plot straight. Teddy “Cherokee” Wilcox (Robert Blake), a boxer after a stint in prison and in Vietnam, decides his manager’s holding out on him, takes the manager’s entire wad ($800) and goes somewhere else—where, as he’s being ignored by a diner waiter and making a scene, an old buddy runs into him, says he’s in the money (he’s an assistant newspaper editor/sportswriter) and takes him home.

After a while, Wilcox says he needs to make some money, so the buddy introduces him to a manager/trainer who’s not in it for the money, supposedly. We then get to The Fight, in which the manager’s called with a threat that if he doesn’t throw the fight, he’ll be killed—and the manager tries to throw it by dosing Wilcox with something that partly blinds him. But he catches on, rinses out his eyes, and wins the fight, and of course says he’s gonna kill that manager… Who then calls him, says he needs to talk, Wilcox goes over…and winds up on the floor next to the dead manager. Running out (as the cops arrive), he collides with the beautiful estranged daughter of the manager.

That’s just the start. Police Captain Perkins (Ernest Borgnine) grows increasingly exasperated as the daughter perjures herself by identifying a cop in the lineup, the buddy perjures himself with a phony alibi for Wilcox, and the body count keeps growing—the ex-manager, two TV station (I guess) guys trying to work with the fight video and audio, maybe some others? Oh, and a little random footage of a pseudo-hippie at the fight can be lip-read by a deaf professor making the whole scene a little clearer: Big Money’s involved and the hippie “balances the books.” All of which is sort of resolved in the last few minutes with another two or three murders, the police miraculously saving the day and a fadeout with promise of romance between the daughter and Wilcox.

Lots of plot, but not much of a picture. It’s just plain dull. Some of it almost seemed random; some seemed slow and pointless. I guess Borgnine would take any paying job, and the same must have been true for Blake at the time. (I just learned from IMDB that Blake started out in the Our Gang comedies. Now it all makes sense…) R-rated, I guess for all the killings (there’s less than a minute missing so it can’t be sex that was trimmed from the American release). The print’s OK, and on that basis I can maybe come up with a generous $0.75.

Cat O’ Nine Tails (orig. Il gatto a nove code), 1971, color. Dario Argento (dir. & story), James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak. 1:55 (1:52).

It’s Italian—with two known Hollywood actors and one of Europe’s best actresses for this sort of thing, Ms. Spaak. It has lots’o’plot mostly involving a genetics research company and some sort of idea that we could solve violence by testing all children for the “XYY” deviation that’s linked to murderous rage and “separating them” (a euphemism for eugenics? separate them for life? to Italy’s version of Australia?). The “cat o’ nine tails” refers to nine threads in the mystery, I guess.

And it’s all a bit much. Karl Malden is one lead as a blind former journalist (the sleeve says police detective) living with his sub-teen niece; James Franciscus another, a journalist who gets involved in whatever this story really is. Spaak is the mysterious daughter (well, not really…) of the head of the research firm who’s always showing lots of leg and a fair amount of breast, who pretty much demands sex of Franciscus (always happy to oblige) and who continues to be mysterious to the end, even after Franciscus puts 2 and 2 together and gets 7. Four murders (two of them shown in loving detail as people are garroted slowly), child kidnapping, industrial espionage (maybe), gay bars…and lots more. Oh yes: also car racing and a humorously incompetent thief they call The Loser.

I never did quite know what to make of this. Maybe it makes more sense in Italian. But it’s stylish in its own way. I’ll give it a slightly-better-than-mediocre $1.25.

The Woman Hunter, 1972, color (made for TV). Bernard L. Kowalski (dir.) Barbara Eden, Robert Vaughn, Stuart Whitman. 1:14 [1:10]

Ah, there’s nothing like a plot twist—unless it’s one, three minutes before the end of a movie, that makes you go “Give me a break!” Which is the case with this movie. You have Barbara Eden as the wealthy woman who’s apparently accidentally killed someone with her runaway car, now recovered from the hospital and on her way to Acapulco (I guess) to relax. Robert Vaughn as her husband, a go-getting developer who wants to develop a resort—with her money, natch. And Stuart Whitman as an apparent stalker who, well, stalks her throughout and seems likely to be the jewel thief who murdered somebody else at a party (before the titles). (Larry Storch is in the movie for the first five minutes, telling really awful jokes at a party as a woman’s being killed outside. The best I can say for Storch is that he was not in the rest of the movie.)

And then there’s the twist. And, you know, it doesn’t work. Sorry. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth; it just undermined what was otherwise a mediocre little star vehicle, appropriate as a TV movie. (There’s also a magic tape recorder—a pocket unit that, somehow, when you push the Play button goes back to play from the start of the last recording session all by itself. Isn’t that convenient?) At best, for a good cast and scenic filming—well, and for Barbara Eden really doing a pretty good job—I could maybe cough up $1.00.

Escape from Sobibor, 1987, color (made for TV). Jack Gold (dir.), Alan Arkin, Joanna Pacula, Rutger Hauwer, Hartmut Becker, Jack Shepherd. 2:23 (1:59)

While I’m not quite sure this counts as a mystery, it’s quite a movie—apparently based on the true story of the one and only time workers in a Nazi death camp managed a mass escape. Alan Arkin is the key man fomenting an escape for perhaps 10 or 20 people—and rethinking that after seeing two people escape, 13 others try and 26 in all shot because of the attempt. Rutger Hauer arrives halfway through the film as leader of a captured Russian outfit—and between the two of them, they conclude that the only way for anybody to escape is for everybody to escape.

I’m not sure it’s a great movie, but it’s close. I’m also not sure what more to say about it. I’m a little surprised it’s a TV movie; the production values seem movie-worthy, the acting’s good, and it’s just under two hours, long for a TV movie. (Apparently the original was even longer!) Good print, and I’m giving it a full $2.00

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