Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nowhere To Hide (1977)

Director: Jack Starrett
Screenplay: Edward Anhalt, from a story by Edward Anhalt and Rift Fournier
Producers: Edward Anhalt, Rift Fournier
Music: Ray Ellis, Jerrold Immel
Cinematography: Jacques Marquette
Original Air Date: June 5, 1977 on NBC (Mark Carliner - Executive Producer)

Lee Van Cleef (Ike Scanlon), Tony Musante (Joey Faber), Charles Robinson (Deputy Ted Willoughby), Lelia Goldoni (Linda Faber), Noel Fournier (Frankie Faber), Edward Anhalt (Alberto Amarici), Russell Johnson (Charles Montague), David Proval (Rick)

Once his work in Spaghetti Westerns began to wane, tough guy actor Lee Van Cleef returned to the United States, and swapped out his stetson and six gun for a toupee and loud suit jacket to star in this busted pilot for a proposed TV series, "Scanlon", adding to the endless amounts of 70's TV cop shows known by the surname of their onscreen heroes ("Baretta", "Delvecchio", etc.). In this would-be opener US Marshall Ike Scanlon is recruited to hide hood Joey Faber from the mob until he can testify against his former cohorts in court. However, mob boss Alberto Amarici will stop at nothing to make sure that Faber is dead on arrival.

That plot sounds serviceable enough for any TV cop show, and it's got the requisite funky soundtrack to boot. However, right from the get-go, with a disclaimer like "...the names have been changed to protect the innocent.... and the guilty", and an opening shootout which turns out to be a training maneuver, we know this isn't going to be a conventional TV shoot-em-up... and I'm not sure we're the better for it. The Oscar-winning screenwriter Edward Anhalt (Panic in the Streets; Becket) seems more interested in bizarre details than straight exposition (when really, that's all we would've wanted). (Anhalt also appears onscreen as the vindictive mob boss, overacting like crazy, throwing around telephones.) The flashy crook Faber (played by Tony Mustane, from TV's "Toma") is also an obsessive nutbar, who has to bring along all of his pets (including his beloved cat) into seclusion. Even the typically hardboiled "Dragnet" narration sappily refers to his "beloved pussycat".

The centerpiece of this actioner is on an island military compound where everyone generically wears green fatigues, but Amarici still manages to blow Faber's cover. Director Jack Starrett had established himself as a good action director on drive-in screens with such modestly budgeted films as Run Angel Run or Race With The Devil, but this film leaves him or anyone else little to do. The climax of this movie, in which Scanlon and Faber duke it out, occurs over (I kid you not) Faber's jealousy that his kitty cat is now more affectionate toward the marshall! Lelia Goldoni (of Cassavetes' Shadows) spends most of her role sitting around and looking worried, even though little happens.

Don't get us wrong. Mr. Van Cleef is our favourite actor over here- it's great to see him taking another shot for the mainstream success he so deserved, and he's solid and always, but it's saddening to see him wasted in another cornball movie. If you can accept the film from the beginning as a goofy send-up of crime show conventions, you might get a kick out of it. However, if you're looking for something straight up, you'll be disappointed. There is one interesting scene where you actually see Scanlon fill out all of his required paperwork-- something you never saw his former co-star Clint Eastwood do after shooting someone in any of the Dirty Harry movies. TV viewers will enjoy seeing Charles Robinson (of "Night Court") and Russell Johnson (the professor from "Gilligan's Island") in small roles.

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