25 March 2009 | Bunuel1976
THE SALAMANDER (Peter Zinner, 1981) **1/2
Peter Zinner won an Oscar for editing THE DEER HUNTER (1978); for his only directorial effort, he chose this adaptation of the Morris West best-seller which was shown on local TV back in the day (actually, that is how I first heard of it). He did manage to assemble an impressive all-star cast: Franco Nero plays the hero carabiniere in a throwback to some of the political thrillers he had made in his native country such as DAY OF THE OWL (1968), in which he co-starred with Claudia Cardinale, and CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN (1971), also featuring Martin Balsam; both actors also appear here, the latter as Nero's closest collaborator who eventually falls in the line of duty. Anthony Quinn is the titular figure (a wealthy industrialist and ex-legendary WWII partisan), Sybil Danning the mistress of a dead army officer (whose apparent suicide sets events in motion) but also serving as Nero's unconvincing love interest, Eli Wallach the General leading a proposed coup d'etat, Christopher Lee as Nero's superior (actually a prince[!] who is unsurprisingly inextricably related with the Government takeover plot interestingly, his on-screen wife was played by Lee's own real-life spouse in an infrequent appearance), Cleavon Little as a Black American ex-colleague of Nero's (whom the latter calls upon when he is in a fix) and Paul Smith (as a sadistic "surgeon"). There are, however, also a number of Euro-Cult regulars: John Steiner in the role of Wallach's aide as well as lover of his neglected wife Cardinale, Renzo Palmer, Marino Mase' unenviably playing a corpse! and Nello Pazzafini. While tolerable as entertainment (though there is less action than I had anticipated) and featuring a decent score by the great Ennio Morricone, the film is ultimately too superficial and uneven to make a ripple in the circles it professes to denounce; nevertheless, the clever climax is surprisingly (but effectively) handled in the style of the "Thin Man" movies! Besides, one particular scene nearly turns this into a camp classic i.e. when the hero, caught and about to be tortured by Smith, attacks the latter clad only in a harness along his waist (which gives unwarranted prominence to Nero's groin while leaving his buttocks completely exposed!) but ends up slammed against the wall hanging upside-down instead!!