Black Sea 2014 ***

black-sea-3After enduring an age of pretty-boy vehicles (Alfie), Jude Law has gained in intensity what he’s lost in looks. Law plays Robinson, a submarine expert in Kevin Macdonald’s serviceable action film, pulling together a mercenary crew in a search of hidden gold on an abandoned Nazi submarine. Something in the vein of Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra, right down to Scott McNairy in the Patrick McGoohan role of US interloper, Macdonald maintains a decent tension through a few tricky hairpins, which Michael Friend typically oily in support. Law’s accent is flawless, and if the action doesn’t have a big-budget for spectacle, the close-quarters action makes for a grown-up slice of derring-do.

John Wick 2014 *****

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Always a good mover, Keanu Reeves’s combination of Zen-blankness and physical mobility made him a perfect action lead in Speed, The Matrix; Chad Stahelski and David Leitch‘s thriller gives him plenty of opportunity to show his skills. Taking a lead from the writings of Alistair MacLean, we’re talking about tough ex-agents rather than genetically modified soldiers. John Wick is a man on a mission, to revenge the death of his dog, which was given to him by his dying wife. Wick rips through hotels, nightclubs, and a kill-a-minute as he rages through a rigorous, glorious HR cull of various crime organisations, with nice work in support from Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Ian McShane and Michael Nyquist.

Bear Island 1979 ***

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Don Sharp’s 1979 thriller marked the closing of the cycle of films based on Alistair Maclean novels; Bear Island sold over eight million copies, and Sharp’s film is a big-budget Canadian production. Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark and Christopher Lee are amongst the party stationed on Bear Island, which was a base for Nazi U-boats during the war. Various espionage elements are engaged in a search for Nazi gold, and there’s a notable snowmobile chase in the style of a James Bond movie. Public tastes had drifted away from this kind of stoic action by this point, but Bear Island is a decent who-dunnit that keeps the audience in doubt as to the motivations of the well-wrapped-up characters. A coda, noting that Goodbye California by Maclean was in the pipeline, proved to be misguided.

 

Fear Is The Key 1972 ***

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Barry Newman made a perfect Kowalski in Vanishing Point, one of the classic car-chase movies, but there’s actually more action, in the form of a whopping twenty minute stunt scene, in this 1972 adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s novel. Newman plays John Talbot, who infiltrates a criminal organisation in order to revenge his family, who died in an air-crash. Early roles for Ray McInally and Ben Kingsley, plus a villainous turn from John Vernon, are plus points, but it’s Michael Tuchner’s staging of the chase, with Newman’s brand-new Ford Gran Torino escaping the cops, that gives Fear Is The Key a place in cult-movie history. Roy Budd provides a jazzy score.

When Eight Bells Toll 1970 ***

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With Chris McQuarrie apparently considering an Ice Station Zebra reboot, it would be nice to imagine a renaissance of interest in the work of Scottish writer Alistair Maclean, with When Eight Bells Toll a good example of the kind of terse derring-do that made his work internationally knows.  Coming out post Where Eagles Dare and in the same years as the speedboat-chase-tastic Puppet on a Chain, it attempted to set up an alternate Bond franchise, with two more films planned but never to materialize. Sporting a healthy head of lustrous hair, Anthony Hopkins plays Philip Calvert, sent by Robert Morley to deepest darkest Scotland to investigate a missing ship, and uncovering espionage ring. Calvert is a professional and shoots first, giving When Eight Bells Toll a gritty heart that most action movies lack. Directed by Etienne Perier.