BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Dec 15th, 2011 •

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This title was shown no mercy on IMDB, but it’s a decent film with a casual, improvisational feel worth a viewing.

Director Robert Clouse was the man at the helm of the sub-cult classic DARKER THAN AMBER, which features a climactic fight scene so brutal and cathartic that Bruce Lee, on seeing it, hired him to direct ENTER THE DRAGON. This film has no such action sequence, unfortunately, but there are other ‘Clouse’ trademarks. One is his penchant for hiring old Hollywood names for supporting, almost cameo roles. In AMBER it was Jane Russell as the party-throwing “Alabama Tiger’ whose yacht-spawned revelry never ceased, according to that film’s protagonist,Travis McGee. The scene was completely extraneous and deserved excising. NEEDLES has Ann Sothern in a more central role as a nightclub owner who cuts lead actor Joe Don Baker some slack and gets roughed up for it.

I also give Clouse credit for letting the actors loose on the locations and sets, encouraging them to improvise physically. Joe Don Baker’s performance might be seen as method indulgence, but I choose to see it as a directorial gesture, indicative of his willingness to let his cast enrich a somewhat mundane action flick. The choice doesn’t produce spectacular results, but it is fun, and provides little moment-to-moment diversions from the linear, all-too-familiar plot machinations.

Along with Baker as an is-she-a-good-guy or is-she-a-femme-fatale is Elizabeth Ashley. She also is encouraged to imposes her own feelings and pacing upon her role, and I wasn’t bowled over by her choices as I was by Baker’s, yet the freedom she was given certainly allows for some fun moments to creep into the frames. Jim Kelly, an action star of the Bruce Lee era, is inserted for name value in a mainly thankless role. And Burgess Meredith, as a low-key villain (until things go bad for him), wrings all the nuance he can out of the ‘Sydney Greenstreet’ role.

Oh, yes, the film is definitely a re-tread of THE MALTESE FALCON. This time the statue contains needles which can do everything but make you young again. In particular they can restore sexual prowess in a pre-Levitra era. There wouldn’t be nearly as many people killed if it were sought after in our modern time of other, simpler, more affordable solutions.

The film is adventurously filmed and often oddly edited as if coverage was an underlying problem. But the transfer is good, the sound is good, and hopefully I’ve given you a proper balance of its weaknesses and strengths so that you can decide if it’s worth your giving it a look. In case I haven’t quite, then let me add this: if you’re a Joe Don Baker aficionado, go for it. You won’t be disappointed.

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