Tuesday, February 9, 2010

ACTION MAN COLLECTION

Despite the prominence of Robert Stack's (UNSOLVED MYSTERIES) name and image on the packaging, he only appears in a co-starring role in one of the four films comprising VCI's new ACTION MAN COLLECTION.

The 2-disc set includes four crime caper films from the late 60s-early 70s of various levels of quality, from dull to surprisingly suspenseful - but none of them are particularly "action-packed."

The first feature in the set is the eponymous ACTION MAN (1967), or LE SOLEIL DES VOYOUS, a French adaptation of a fairly nifty, mostly-forgotten little crime paperback novel by American author Jay Flynn. Of course, the story - about a retired thief-turned-bar owner plotting one last heist - has been transplanted to France, and the lead is portrayed by Gallic movie star Jean Gabin, who's really just a bit too suave and elderly for the role. Stack co-stars as his American accomplice. There's little action in the leisurely-paced film, and I found it a bit of struggle to get through.

The second feature on Disc 1 is 1973's DAY OF THE WOLVES, an ultra-cheap, but compelling heist film that almost certainly influenced Quentin Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS, with six professional thieves (in identical clothes and known to each other only by code numbers) hitting an Arizona town with a precision plan to strip it of all its money. Extremely low budget, unpolished and crudely shot, WOLVES nonetheless is an engrossing, gritty crime thriller, tensely directed by Ferde Grofe Jr.

Disc 2 kicks off with BIG GAME ( a/k/a CONTROL FACTOR, 1972), an Italian espionage flick which features a number of familiar faces - Stephen Boyd, Cameron Mitchell, Ray Milland - in an ultimately tedious "thriller" about a scientist who hires a team of mercenaries to protect him and his mind control device. Ludicrous and dull, BIG GAME is another one I found it a chore to sit through, the only highlight for me being the presence of exotic France Nuyen as a sexy spy.

The disc and set concludes with PEKING BLONDE (1967), another Eurospy "adventure" starring Mireille Darc and (in an extended cameo) an elderly Edward G. Robinson (LITTLE CAESAR, SOYLENT GREEN). Based on a novel by James Hadley Chase, this early effort from director Nicolas Gessner (THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE) tries to be a light-hearted Cold War spy caper, but is really just an all-around misfire that never quite comes together.

VCI presents all four films in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers culled from remarkably good source materials. None of them look perfect, but for basically forgotten movies of this vintage, the results are more than satisfactory. There are no extra features whatsoever.

Hard to recommend this set unless you've been specifically searching for a good copy of one of the titles included. I found THE ACTION MAN slightly interesting (and ultimately, disappointing) because I was familiar with the original source novel, but DAY OF THE WOLVES was the only one I didn't feel let down by or bored with. It's a genuine - if very rough - little gem, but I'm not sure it's worth picking up the whole set for.

BUY: Action Man Collection: Action Man, Peking Blonde, The Big Game, The Day of the Wolves