Stateline Motel 1973 ***

stateline
Also known under the underwhelming title Motel of Fear, Maurizio Lucidi’s Stateline Motel is a rather cool little melodrama, ruined for your home viewing by this hideous print on Amazon Prime. Looking like the disregarded holiday snaps of an extremely amateur photographer, Stateline Motel is of interest primarily to connoisseurs of murk, but for those prepared to look beyond the abject, miserable presentation, there’s some narrative gold to be mined.

More recent efforts like Deadfall or Reindeer Games have a similar vibe; Stateline Motel is a Canadian-set, Italian financed melodrama the follows crooks in the aftermath of a heist gone wrong. Fabio Testi plays Floyd, jail-bird partner of Eli Wallach’s Joe, who both have blood on their hands and some priceless jewels to split after a Montreal store-raid; Joe takes the bus across the border, while Floyd takes the car. Driving like a diddy for no obvious reason, Floyd totals his car and is forced to check into the motel of the title, where Michelle (Ursula Andress) is undressing five times nightly, distracting him from his share of the loot. Floyd and Michelle inevitably get it on, but when he wakes up, the jewels are gone…

Stateline Motel is no masterpiece, but it’s actually pretty compelling in the final straight as Joe closes in and the plotlines finally intersect before a cool final twist; it’s tough, hardboiled stuff, the kind of thing that Tarantino’s best films ape effectively. Testi and Andress are fine, and Wallach is a nasty bad-guy, with another Bond- girl Barbara Bach also in a key supporting role.

With horrible dubbing, gibberish subtitles and a dismal print quality, Stateline Motel perhaps is not the ideal place for genre fans to gain a taste of the 1970’s, but there’s just enough meat on the bones to justify a watch. It’s just a pity more time and effort hasn’t gone into restoration; the cast deserve better than this.

The Blue Max 1965 ****

The old maxim ‘they don’t make them like this anymore’ applies nicely to John Guillermin’s 1965 action drama; it’s hard to imagine this getting made now, and it’s not even clear why this was green-lit in 1965. George Peppard stars as Bruno Strachel, a German Colonel who realises that wars are not won in trenches; they’re won in the air, and circa 1918, he’s going to lead the charge against the British from his biplane. Strachel is something of a cold fish, nursing grievances against the aristocracy while desperate to start scoring kills that will lead him to the Blue Max medal. Watching Strachel shoot down British planes isn’t particularly crowd-pleasing, but there’s also long stretches without action as Strachel resents being used for propaganda purposes by Count Von Klugerman (James Mason) and enjoys some bedroom encounters with Ursula Andress. While the back-projection isn’t great, the actions scenes are amazing, with real planes rather than models, and great photography by Douglas Slocombe. Complete with a downbeat ending, The Blue Max is a smart, bitter war film that has plenty of big ideas to unfold over a considerable 156 minute run-time. Bonus points for whoever designed the link below, complete with the cheeky Mad Max 2 style font.

Africa Express 1975 ***

africa Express

Exploitation film are usually extreme; Africa Express is an odd fish because it’s an Italian rip-off of something, but it’s not clear what. Ursula Andress is Madeleine Cooper, an environmental campaigner who falls foul of big-game hunter William Hunter (Jack Palance). Disguised as a nun, she escapes from a train ambushed by Hunter’s men, and seeks help from a truck-driver (Guiliano Gemma) and his pet monkey (Bibi). This being 1975, Africans are relegated to bit parts in their own movies, and there’s periodic breaks for wild-life photography and a garishly upbeat score. If it wasn’t for the causal racism and goggle-eyed misogyny, Africa Express might be a good family film, which was presumably the intention. Instead, Michele Lopo’s film is something of a time-capsule of attitudes it was acceptable to have in the 1970’s. Andress does the best here, enjoying the chance to play a driven character while not eschewing a smidge of glamour. Another weird choice for streaming on Amazon Prime, this film might seem obscure, but it presumably made enough money to justify a sequel the following year, Safari Express.