Gig Young

The Killer Elite

1975

United Artists

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Produced by Martin Baum

Screenplay by Marc Norman and Stirling Silliphant

Based on the novel “Monkey In The Middle” by Robert Rostand

THE KILLER ELITE is most definitely a lesser Peckinpah entertainment. But lesser Sam Peckinpah is still better than most other directors on their best days. It hasn’t got the wild, chaotic and yet balletic violence of some of his earlier movies. It’s not as energetic as his other, earlier movies. And the story doesn’t deal with the themes Peckinpah is known for such as men searching for redemption and justification in a violent and dishonorable world. The two reasons for this could be because Sam Peckinpah wasn’t allowed to rewrite the screenplay and this was when Peckinpah began using cocaine. (allegedly it was the star of this movie, James Caan who introduced him to the stuff) and adding the yayo to Peckinpah’s already legendary intake of alcohol didn’t make for the best of working conditions.

In any case, whatever the reasons for the way it turned out, THE KILLER ELITE is essentially a straight-up cloak-and-dagger action flick. We got double crosses, gun fights, car chases, ninjas, martial arts…it all adds up to a satisfying package.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are mercenaries working for a company called Communications Integrity. It’s a private intelligence/military/espionage corporation that contracts itself out to official government intelligence agencies to do the jobs that for one reason or another they can’t do. Locken and Hansen have been friends and partners for years and that’s the only thing that saves Locken on their last assignment together. Hansen has sold out to a rival corporation. He kills their latest client, an East European defector and goes against orders to kill Locken as well. Instead he shoots out Locken’s knee and elbow, crippling him.

As far as Locken’s bosses, Weybourne (Gig Young) and Cap Collis (Arthur Hill) are concerned, his career is over. But Locken undergoes an intensive period of rehabilitation that includes studying martial arts and actually becomes pretty damn fearsome at using his cane as a weapon. And the rehab pays off when Cap Collis comes to him with a job. An Asian client , Yuen Chung (Mako) needs protection from assassins while he’s in the United States. While the C.I.A. are supposedly in charge of his security they pass the job along to ComTeg because of who’s leading the assassination team: George Hansen.

Locken recruits two former ComTeg operatives as his backup for the assignment. Mac (Burt Young) is an expert driver who now owns his own garage where he builds custom made vehicles for security work. Jerome Miller (Bo Hopkins) is a weapons expert who doesn’t have all the spots on his dice. But what none of them are aware of is that they’re all pieces on a bloody chessboard and the game is an internal power struggle between Cap Collis and Weybourne.

You have to sit through a lot of plot exposition before getting to the good stuff but it’s worth it. I like the scenes of Locken regaining the use of his leg and arm and I appreciate that the story doesn’t turn him into a Jim Kelly level martial arts master. He’s good but he’s not that good. I enjoyed the humor in the scenes of him recruiting Mac and Miller. Burt Young and Bo Hopkins obviously are having a lot of fun in their scenes together and I wish they had had more. Burt Young gets a lot of mileage out of his character Mac who is an unashamed slob. Unkempt is a polite word for his appearance. But put him behind the wheel of a car or a .45 automatic in his hand and he’s pure dynamite. And quite unexpectedly he takes on the job of being Locken’s conscience, forcing Locken to re-evaluate his own worth in this shadow word of death and deceit.

There’s a couple of terrific action sequences such as a Chinatown shoot-out and a battle between Locken, Mac and a hoard of katana wielding ninja. There’s a really goofy scene involving Mac’s wife Josephine (Sondra Blake) who calls everybody ‘Mr. Davis’ when Locken is around. The funniest scene is probably the one where Mac is trying to defuse a bomb attached to the underside of their getaway car while a cop is standing over him, kicking his legs, demanding he come out from under there while Locken is calmly explaining to the cop why that isn’t such a hot idea.

So should you see THE KILLER ELITE? Yes. I will be the first to say it’s not one of Sam Peckinpah’s best but it’s a solid action flick that has good performances from everybody and more than enough story to hold your interest until the ass-kicking commences. Highly recommended.

122 minutes

Rated PG

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia

1974

United Artists

Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Produced by Martin Baum
Screenplay by Sam Peckinpah and Gordon T. Dawson
Story by Sam Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski

A young pregnant girl is ushered into the cavernous den of her father, a powerful Mexican industrialist/crime lord. The room is filled with family, friends and a doctor stands nearby. The industrialist has only one question for his pregnant daughter: “Who is the father?” She refuses to identify him. Three times he asks and three times she refuses. He motions to two of his men. One holds the girl down while the other, with a casual ruthlessness, breaks her arm. The girl collapses to the floor, sobbing while her mother rushes to her side, along with the other women in the family and the doctor. The doctor whispers to the girl and she hands over a locket with the picture of a man inside. It’s given to her father who recognizes the man and issues a simple order to his army of hired guns and assassins: BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.

I related the above scene because I know that many readers of my reviews are women (God Bless ‘em, every one) and so might be sensitive to such a scene of brutality involving a girl who looks to be around 16 years old. Be advised that this scene happens in the first five minutes of the movie and Sam Peckinpah is just getting warmed up. If you think the first five minutes of BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA are horrifyingly sadistic and savagely brutal then you must not know your Peckinpah. Trust me, there’s a lot more to come during this movie. If you’re a sensitive soul as you read further you may just decide that this movie isn’t your bag and decide you don’t want to see it. Well, that’s why I write reviews for you, my friends.

The mercenaries and hired guns spread out across Mexico, hunting for Alfredo Garcia. The father has placed a million dollar price on the head. Just the head, mind you. But it’s got to be intact and plainly identifiable as Alfredo Garcia. Two American bounty hunters, Quill (Gig Young) and Sappensly (Robert Webber) wind up in a dingy fifth rate bar/whorehouse where they meet piano player Bennie (Warren Oates) who is sick to death of playing “Gunatanamera” for half-drunk tourists looking for ‘local color’. Bennie soon strikes a deal with the two men. He thinks he can find Alfredo Garcia for $10,000. Quill and Sappensly agree. With the condition that if Bennie doesn’t produce results in four days, there will be no hard feelings when they kill Bennie. Call it a breach of contract clause.

Bennie tracks down the beautiful Elita (Isela Vega) a hooker he knows has been sleeping on and off with Garcia. She’s also been sleeping with Bennie more off than on lately and he thinks it has something to do with Garcia. Turns out that Alfredo Garcia is dead and Elita knows where he’s buried. Bennie and Elita sneak out of town to go dig up the body so Bennie can get the head. But it’s not that easy. Bennie finds the body and takes the head but he has to fight for it in a truly grisly battle to the death where Elita is killed. Bennie puts the head in a burlap sack and as the movie goes on he forms a weird sort of bond with the head. He calls it “Al” and speaks as though it can hear him. Bennie starts to see that he and “Al” have a lot in common as he defends the head against all who try and take it from him. And Bennie decides to take “Al” directly to the man who asked for the head. It’s a confrontation that will end in a horrendously bloody shootout fueled by booze, grief, hatred and revenge.

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is by no means a fun date movie. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll be depressed after watching it. Unless you’re like me and actually enjoy this kind of take-no-prisoners storytelling. It’s not a pretty movie to watch. You can almost taste the sweat and dirt on the characters. It’s an extremely violent movie, even by today’s standards. But this is a Sam Peckinpah movie and one of Peckinpah’s major strengths as a director and as a storyteller was that he knew how to show violence. And I mean real violence. After a fight or shootout in a Sam Peckinpah movie there’s no high-fiving or throwing off glib wisecracks. The survivors are exhausted, traumatized and oftentimes surprised to find themselves still alive. Peckinpah directed “The Wild Bunch” which has what I think is the best shootout ever filmed and the movie’s graphic violence is legendary. In fact, the movie was reissued in 1993 with an NC-17 rating because of its violence. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA isn’t quite in that category but its close.

The movie is worth seeing just for the performance of Warren Oates alone. A major character actor, Mr. Oates had few opportunities to star in a movie and after seeing this one, I wish he had. As Bennie he goes through an amazing range of emotions and situations, from wanna-be tough guy, to drunken slob, to tender lover and finally, grim avenger. It’s an Oscar worthy performance and supposedly, Mr. Oates adopted a lot of the personal mannerisms of Sam Peckinpah himself to use as Bennie. The sunglasses he wears throughout the movie were a pair he stole from Peckinpah.

Isela Vega is remarkable as Elita. She’s simply fascinating to look at and has a mature sexuality I find irresistible. This isn’t some anorexic pop tart trying to play a woman. This is most certainly a woman in body and soul and the scenes between Vega and Oates are amazing to watch in their raw frankness. They have a scene where they wake up the next day after having sex and the scene is amazingly natural in that they act as if the camera isn’t there. You know what I’m talking about. They do the things that people do after waking up from a night of boozy sex that might make you squirm uncomfortably if you’ve ever been there.

Gig Young and Robert Webber almost seem to be winking at the camera sometimes as they play their bounty hunter characters. They’re obviously having fun. There’s a great scene where they first meet Bennie and one of the bar’s whores tries to come onto Webber’s character. Webber cold cocks her without blinking an eye and the bar empties out in 4.1 seconds, with the whore’s girlfriends picking her up and carrying her out. I wouldn’t even spoil it for you by relating Bennie’s comment here. But you may find yourself laughing out loud and then wondering just why you laughed. And there’s a great bit where Bennie asks the Gig Young character what his name his. Young smirks as he answers; “Fred C. Dobbs”. Which shows me that the character Young plays was well aware of the parallel between the situation they were in and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” And keep your eye out for a young Kris Kristofferson as a biker rapist.

So should you see BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA? I would say yes for a number of reasons: Sam Peckinpah was one of the greatest director/storytellers we’re ever gonna see and this movie is his dark, twisted masterpiece. It is so uncompromising in its vision that I honestly think it couldn’t be made today. The performance of Warren Oates is masterful. There are scenes of unrelenting psychosis as he drives toward his rendezvous with Hell, talking to the head of Alfredo Garcia that may make you think Mr. Oates is actually drinking real tequila from that bottle he keeps next to the head. You can see where notable film directors Quentin Tarentino and John Woo got a lot of their influences in this movie. But it’s a movie that shouldn’t be seen unless you’re willing to go where it’ll take you. There’s a part in the movie when Elita allows herself to be taken away to be raped and she says to Bennie; “I’ve been down this road before and you don’t know the way” I kinda get the impression that Sam Peckinpah thought the same way about directing BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.

112 minutes
Rated R

Spectre

1977

20th Century Fox

Directed by Clive Donner
Produced by Gene Roddenberry, Gordon Scott and Danny Steinmann
Written by Samuel A. Peeples and Gene Roddenberry
Based on a story by Gene Roddenberry

It’s safe to say that Gene Roddenberry needs no introduction. In this Internet day and age is it possible there are those who do not know the name of the man who created what is unarguably one of the best-known and most profitable entertainment franchises of the 20th Century? We’re talking “Star Trek” of course which has lasted now for 45 years, innumerable paperback and hardcover novels, enough comic books to wallpaper a Borg Cube inside and out, eleven theatrical movies, five live television series and one animated. But all that came much later after “Star Trek” lived on in reruns and became first a cult then a mainstream classic. During the 70’s, Roddenberry worked on a number of pilots that never caught on that appeared as Made-For-TV Movies.

There was “Planet Earth” Roddenberry’s riff on Buck Rogers about a 20th Century scientist frozen in suspended animation then thawed out in the 22end Century. Roddenberry liked that idea so much he actually remade “Planet Earth” not once but twice. Roddenberry must have really liked the name Dylan Hunt because it was the hero’s name in all three versions and eventually wound up as the name of the main character in “Andromeda”. In whatever version, it didn’t click with anybody so he presented “The Questor Tapes” about an android in the modern world learning to be human. That also went nowhere although Roddenberry returned to that theme with his character of Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and that brings us to the movie we’re talking about now, SPECTRE.

SPECTRE is extremely different from Roddenberry’s other work for a couple of major reasons: One, all of Roddenberry’s other pilots were firmly in science fiction and two, the main characters in the other pilots were square jawed, true-blue heroes with stalwart hearts. SPECTRE is a supernatural thriller whose heroes are deeply flawed men crippled both emotionally and physically but together their respective and diverse skills make them a formidable team.

William Sebastian (Robert Culp) is one of the world’s best criminologists.  If you ask him he’ll tell you he’s is the best.  He summons his old partner Dr. Hamilton (Gig Young) to his side to help him on his latest case. Sebastian has been contacted by Anitra Cyon (Ann Bell).  A member of the immensely wealthy and powerful Cyon family. Anita claims that her older brother Sir Geoffrey Cyon (James Villiers) is possessed by a demon and she wants Sebastian to prove the possession is genuine and destroy the demon.

Why does she call in a criminologist and not an exorcist? It’s explained that William Sebastian, because of his incredible deductive abilities and off-the-chart I.Q. has left the field of conventional criminology out of boredom and now uses those methods to solve mysteries dealing with the supernatural. Dr. Hamilton (we never do find out his first name…Sebastian generally just calls him ‘Ham’) was his partner for many years until they had a falling out but now Sebastian needs Hamilton to keep him alive. Sebastian’s heart is damaged due to witchcraft and the only reason he’s alive is thanks to the spells his secretary/assistant/personal witch Lilith (Majel Barrett) casts to ward off the spells. But her spells can only do so much and Sebastian needs a doctor he trusts  who can deal with his abrasive personality and constantly monitor his condition.

Upon arriving in London where the Cyon family lives, Sebastian and Hamilton meet up with Mitri Cyon (John Hurt) the baby of the family held firmly under the domination of his brother Sir Geoffrey who lives an openly hedonistic lifestyle that would make Hugh Hefner blush. There are attempts on the lives of the various members of the Cyon family by demonic forces and Sebastian deduces that it may not be Sir Geoffrey who is possessed. There’s more than enough evidence that either Mitri or Anita could be under the power of the demon Asmodeus. Sebastian and Hamilton have more than enough on their hands not only trying to uncover who is truly possessed but avoiding getting killed themselves.

I’ll tell you right from the start that SPECTRE isn’t going to scare you at all. It wouldn’t scare any of today’s five-year olds who have been raised on CGI and buckets of gore. But it is a tremendous amount of fun to watch mainly for the performances of the two leading men. Robert Culp and Gig Young play the story absolutely straight, as a modern day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigating the supernatural and it works damn well. This movie has a wonderfully intense performance by Robert Culp and Gig Young is right there backing him up all the way. Ten minutes into the movie you’re totally convinced that these are two old friends who have been through a lot together.

It’s also interesting in that the two main characters aren’t all that heroic. William Sebastian is a towering egomaniac secure in his intellectual arrogance but the man is emotionally dead as a brick. Dr. Hamilton is an alcoholic womanizer and doesn’t give a damn who knows it. Apart they’ve lost their direction in life but together they compliment each other and make one whole person. It’s interesting to watch these two flawed characters as they piece together not only the mystery of Cyon House but their own troubled souls as well. But it’s not all psychological insights…there’s a couple of murders to solve, with the victims being torn apart by demonic claws and there’s a Druid temple under a Stonehenge-like formation of rocks where forbidden orgies and sacrifices are held in the light of flaming pits. And for those of you who need your eye candy, the movie has plenty of beautiful, busty women walking around in those clingy, lacy gowns that women in British horror movies always seem to be wearing.

John Hurt is also very good here and I was amazed to see that even back in 1977 he looked middle-aged. The rest of the British supporting cast is equally capable. Out of all the busted pilots Roddenberry made, I like SPECTRE the best and I’m really surprised that no one ever thought to try and turn this into a series, especially after Roddenberry’s death when apparently his wife (Majel Barrett) was giving TV producers every random idea Roddenberry ever wrote to turn into a series. With today’s CGI and the flawed nature of the lead characters, SPECTRE could be a terrific series. Of course, it would be hard to find actors to match the excellence of Robert Culp and Gig Young. And maybe it shouldn’t even be tried. SPECTRE as it is stands as a wonderful entertainment from Gene Roddenberry and shows he knew his way around a Druid temple as well as he did the bridge of a starship.

98 min.