Saturday 12 July 2008

The Ransom (1977)

Director: William Compton
Star: Oliver Reed

The Ransom goes by many names, which is never a good thing for a movie. Chandler Cinemas screened it under its original title but it's also known as The Town That Cried Terror, Assault on Paradise or, subtlest of all, Maniac! It's an Oliver Reed film with other recognisable faces like Stuart Whitman and John Ireland, along with Robert Mitchum's eldest son Jim. The best reason for me to watch it though was the location: it was shot locally in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and while this happened in 1977 when I was precisely six years old and I wouldn't move to this ever growing metropolis for another 24 years, I could still recognise some locations.

This sort of thing would make an awesome set of films to put together for Chandler Cinemas. I know many people even remember some of the films shot here and would love to revisit the memories. It could even be restricted to genre movies. Eight Legged Freaks used the same mall in Glendale that was burned down in Carrie II: The Rage. That Circle K at which strange things were afoot in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was in Phoenix and of course that's where Psycho began. The stunning Electra Glide in Blue was shot mostly in Arizona, including Phoenix and Scottsdale.

This one is a very seventies thriller, opening with a bunch of murders. A guy in a clown mask kills a necking couple; a sniper takes out some cops, a sniper who shoots arrows from a bow with a telescopic lens. Cue lots of floundering around until the message is found on a wall. The killer wants one million dollars (insert Dr Evil joke here) because the rich will pay or the rich will die. The reasons behind this setup are never made precisely clear but our protagonist would appear to be an Indian, his grievances seem to tie to land and people in this town are making a lot of money that perhaps they shouldn't be making.

Here's plot problem number one. Apparently Phoenix is full of millionaires, more per capita than anywhere else in the country. Now I'm not saying we don't have any but more than everyone else? Not in my neck of the woods, that's for sure, and not anywhere else in this metropolis. Perhaps the United States we're watching in The Ransom doesn't include California, who must have seceded from the union. These millionaires are everywhere, they're shady as all get out and they're filthy rich, so much so that they can afford black butlers with eyepatches. Perhaps this was Nick Fury working undercover.

Of course, these shady millionaires have precisely no clue how to deal with this mysterious killer, so they call in a professional: Oliver Reed. Now, not being a shady millionaire myself, I'm not on familiar territory and have no idea what I should look for when hiring a professional to save me from this sort of terror, but I'm guessing that someone who hasn't spent the last thirty years inside a bottle would be high on the list. And sure enough, the first thing Olly's character, Nick McCormick, does is to hit a bar. There's nothing like playing it in character.

Now officially McCormick and his assistant, Wolf Heller, are supposed to just catch the guy, but secret orders from William Whitaker, who's paying the bill, are to take the man down with extreme prejudice. So, we're talking secret and serious illegal stuff, to keep very quiet indeed. So our professional hitman promptly talks with the press, in the form of Cindy Simmons. He chats her up over a Tequila Sunrise and points a gun at her in a crowded bar. Naturally they end up in bed together, because what else would this dynamic two minutes of time possibly lead to? I'm sure you're as confused reading this as I am writing it and I watched the movie!

Anyway we do end up back on the plot at some point. McCormick has help from the cops, given that one of the rich guys he's working for is the chief, and he also gets to hire the unnamed tracker played by Jim Mitchum, who gets released from the drunk tank specifically to be deputised. What's most amazing about the film is that these talented guys get to do next to nothing, even McCormick himself. While the film is never boring, it's amazing to see so little actually happening. Sure enough, the bad guy gets caught; sure enough, it takes a full hour and half to get there; and sure enough there are more casualties to deal with before we do. Best of all is when the mayor gets taken out on Main St in the middle of a parade. Talk about getting your point across! But next to nothing really happens and the main characters don't actually do much of anything.

Obviously, this isn't a great film but it's far from a bad one. What impressed most was the inventive use of CCTV, which was probably rather innovative in 1977. The chases aren't all out there in the desert, recreating old western setups with helicopters and sniper rifles. The best ones are indoors, in the houses of the rich and infamous, with some great cat and mouse work where you're never sure who's chasing who. There's probably a lot of depth in the script that didn't make it into the movie, because the whole thing feels like it's supposed to be deep and meaningful but never actually attempts it. I wondered about picking up a DVD copy to just watch the outtakes. Perhaps they'd have made a better film stuck together than the film itself.

And who was the clown?

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