The Diamond Mercenaries aka Killer Force 1975 ***

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‘They’re mercenaries, not idiots’ is a telling line from The Diamond Mercenaries, but the matter is very much up for discussion. Sure, if your idea of a good Saturday night romp is watching the late Peter Fonda suffering an intrusive rectal examination, then Val Guest’s 1975 thriller is likely to be just what you’re looking for. But Fonda’s indignities are only a small part of what’s on offer here, from Telly Savalas’s turtle-neck wardrobe to Christopher Lee in khaki; if you miss the simple virtues of a 1970’s potboiler, the Force assembled here is all Killer and no filler.

Savalas is Harry Webb, the head of security at the “Syndicated Diamond Corporation’ which sounds like a trip-hop band and that vibe seems to have influenced Savalas to play Webb like a night-club owner complete with a garish wardrobe. The random picks for the opposition include OJ Simpson, Christopher Lee and Hugh O’Brian, while Bond girl Maud Adams slinks about on the side-lines as a glamorous tv reporter. Fonda was coming to the end of his leading-man status, his bankability drained by the vogue for anti-heroes having ebbed by the mid70’s, and he gives a strange performance behind a Seth Rogen beard and mega-shades.

Having excoriated Amazon Prime for some of their awful prints, I should note that The Diamond Mercenaries looks crisp and the desert scenes are rather beautiful. As are, in a different way, the 1976 interiors, which have a luridness worth catching. And it’s worth appreciating that the South African setting allows for a certain largess in terms of action, which many bullets and explosions in a frantic half hour.

For Guest, late in his career and sandwiched between Confessions of a Window Cleaner and Cannon and Ball vehicle The Boys in Blue, this is a surprisingly zestful actioneer in a sub-Alistair Maclean style. The bright yellow jeeps may well be the most memorable thing here, but streaming is probably the best shot that this forgotten movie has of any kind of redemption.

Race With The Devil 1975 ***

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A film-loving friend suggested trying to imagine the definitive 70’s movie; The Great Smokey Mountain Carquake and Orangutan In a Trans-am were the (fictional) winning entries. Race with the Devil would do just as well; Jack Starrett’s 1975 horror-action hybrid attempts to capture the mid-70’s angst by fusing demonology with hard driving; the late Peter Fonda was the ideal centre for this film. Roger Marsh (Fonda) and his pal Frank (Warren Oates) grab their girls (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) and head into the desert with their RV and motorbikes, only to come across Satanists; the result is, quite literally, a race with the devil. There’s a few staples of 70’s cinema here, from distrust of authorities to a downbeat ending, but there’s also a sense of fun; if you mash up Deliverance, Easy Rider and The Exorcist, this is exactly what you get.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/race-with-the-devil/id759908747

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry **** 1974

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(This review renosed and updated after the death of Peter Fonda in August 2019). On the back of his Easy Rider success, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with Peter Fonda, and he was shoe-horned into a number of vehicles in the hope of capturing a youth audience. Some of them, notably Race With The Devil, are great fun, and probably the best of Fonda’s work in this period is Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. Finding a sweet spot between the road-hippie odyssey of Easy Rider and the sunny automotive destruction of Smokey and the Bandit, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry cast Peter Fonda and Susan George as the titular ex-NASCAR driver and his girl as they evade the attentions of a corrupt sheriff and somehow strike a blow for all-American freedom by causing pile-ups and car smashes. The final helicopter chase is a high-water-mark of stunt-work, well handled by John Hough, and the ending is a absolute one-off that sticks in your mind forever. Simultaneously sociopathic and patriotic, it’s an anti-establishment drama without the politics, and shows Fonda’s free-wheeling charisma and anti-hero styling at its best.

Futureworld 1976 ***

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Although the much discussed remake of Westworld has travelled a much more high-brow road, the original has a special place in pop culture, notably taking Yul Brynner’s cowboy from The Magnificent Seven and repositioning him as a terminator-style robot, bent on hunting down two tourists (Richard Benjamin and James Brolin) in the futuristic Delos theme park. This sequel expands the Delos universe to reveal a plot for taking over the world with strategically placed robots, with Peter Fonda as the journalist uncovering the conspiracy. Blythe Danner provides colourful support, and there’s a surreal dream sequence in which she imagines herself romantically stalked by Brynner’s robot. Futureworld is a sloppier proposition than the original film, but certainly has its moment of surreal charm, not least for the early CGI, quite literally in the form of the hand of Pixar exec Ed Catmull.