TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE LAST SHARK (1981)

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THE LAST SHARK (1981)

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Italian Jaws rip-off is most infamous for Universal Pictures having sued it’s makers for plagiarism and getting it’s US release cut short and the film banned on these shores. It didn’t get any kind of official release in North America till it finally showed up on DVD in 2013, after over 30 years in exile.

As a movie, it’s pretty bad. Though, as such, it can be mildly amusing at times, especially when you see Universal’s point…it’s a virtual clone of Spielberg’s classic with a few bits of Jaws 2 thrown in for good measure. Story has an enormous great white shark attacking a beach community with an upcoming windsurfing competition placed in peril. Writer Peter Benton (a nod to Jaws author Peter Benchley?)…played by James Franciscus…and shark hunter Ron Hamer…played by the late, great Vic Morrow, who fades in and out of a Scottish accent…are the only two who can stop it’s rampage, while the local bureaucrats refuse to close the beaches. Sound familiar?

Director Enzo G. Castellari directs the carnage, sadly, by-the-numbers and we actually wish he would have been a bit more over-the-top, as a lot of Italian films notoriously were with material like this. He seems to really want to make a serious shark flick from Marc Princi’s script and we wish he had just cut loose and had a bloodier good time with it. The pacing is very slow for this type of adventure and there are long stretches between the action. At least Castellari’s beast gets more screen time than Spielberg’s monster fish. As for the critter, the shark varies from live footage to a cheesy underwater miniature to a full size mock up, that is actually pretty decent, but we never really come to fear it, like Spielberg’s carnivore, even with it’s lion-like roars and decent sized body count. The rest of the FX range from passible to awful, such as with a helicopter sequence becoming increasingly laughable as the model used during it’s crash looks exactly like the toy helicopter it is. Composers Guido & Maurizio De Angelis also give the film a very 80s Italian movie score, so at least there is that for Italian horror movie fans.

The acting isn’t much better. Except for some solid work from our leads, it’s also pretty bad, as is the ludicrous dialog, especially from Morrow’s Hamer. It’s a tribute to Vic Morrow’s professionalism that he played what looks like a definite paycheck role with such seriousness and sincerity. Franciscus is right behind him in one of his last film roles before he left acting to produce and write. The rest of the predominately Italian cast are adequate at best, terrible at worst.

Overall, The Last Shark is an amusing curiosity, but one we wish was a lot more fun than it is, even with some ‘so bad it’s good’ moments and laughable Baywatch style slow motion shots. Castellari should have taken a hint from Joe Dante’s Piranha and took the rip-off ball and ran with it, instead of trying for a serious thriller with such blatantly familiar material. For Jaws/shark flick completists and Vic Morrow fans (like me) only. Ironically, during it’s brief release in the US as Great White, it earned enough money to, probably, more than pay for it’s costs anyway, before Universal’s lawyers pulled the plug.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 rubber sharks.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK (1978)

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GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK (1978)

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After watching Expendables 2 and seeing Chuck Norris appear in his extended cameo as “Booker”, I decided to go back and revisit one of his early films, the one from which his Expendables 2 character’s name pays homage to…or is he playing the same character decades later?

Good Guys Wear Black may not be Chuck Norris’ first action flick, or his best, but it is the first one I saw (at the now gone Park Lane theater in Palisades Park, N.J.) and it not only started his career as an action movie star, but made me a fan as well. Sure his flicks are low budget and cheesy, for the most part, but as you probably know, if you visit here frequently, that is right up my alley.

The story starts out in 1973 and has a senator (James Franciscus) using the fate of a special CIA black ops team called The Black Tigers as a bargaining chip to appease the Vietnamese during war negotiations to get back US soldiers held as prisoners of war. The deal is simple, the senator arranges for the assassination of the Black Tigers by setting them up on a phony mission and the Vietnamese will agree to release the POWs. But Major John T Booker (Chuck Norris) and some of his men survive the ambush and make their way home. Five years later the surviving members start to turn up dead and Booker must not only must fight to survive, but find out, with the help of a sexy reporter (Anne Archer), who is killing his former team and why.

As directed by Ted Post (Magnum Force), from a story by Joseph Fraley and a script by Bruce Cohn and Mark Medoff, Good Guys Wear Black is a moderately paced movie that is far more thriller than it is action flick. Sure there are scenes that make good use of star Norris’ martial arts skills, but those scenes are few and far between as the film is far more interested in being political thriller which, in turn, forces the karate champ to be more of an actor than an action star at too early a point in his career. The action we do get is routinely staged and being a low budget film, is modest in scale. I can appreciate not wanting to stick Norris in a routine martial arts flick, but putting him in a Three Days Of The Condor type political thriller wasn’t the way to go either. Norris didn’t have the chops and is rather wooden. It doesn’t help that Post doesn’t seem to be able to drum up any real suspense or really draw us into Booker’s story either. Despite being filmed widescreen, the film is shot rather like a TV movie by DOP Robert Steadman and has a fairly unremarkable jazz infused score by Craig Safan whose gone on to do some decent scores.

The cast are all fairly unremarkable with veteran Franciscus being very by-the-numbers in his few scenes and only Anne Archer, giving her side-kick role a little sex appeal, seems to be trying. Norris is likable but wooden as stated and since there is nothing special about the choreography of the action scenes, he really doesn’t get to show us much there either. The film was a big hit anyway, so it gave Norris the opportunity to be in flicks that far better displayed his martial arts skills, such as in The Octagon two years later.

Overall, the flick has some personal nostalgia for me as it was the first Norris flick I saw…and in a theater. Otherwise it’s fairly unremarkable except for being the film that got Norris started as a headlining action star, after initial notice from his legendary on-screen fight to the death with Bruce Lee at the end of Return Of The Dragon (Way Of The Dragon). Norris is now considered an action film icon and I have enjoyed many of his movies, cheesy or not.

So I give this flick a little more credit than it really deserves for being my first Norris flick and the movie that got him started on his way to being an 80s action movie icon. Worth a look if you are curious, but really nothing to recommend other than for the reasons previously stated. Flick also features Chuck’s younger brother Aaron in a small role as one of the Black Tigers. Aaron would go on to direct a number of his older brother’s films a decade later and is an accomplished martial artist as well.

2 and 1/2 bullets.

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