This rollicking adventure film features a rather odd pairing of cinematic stars. Lee Marvin and Roger Moore. At times you might say it’s Lee Marvin vs. Roger Moore. Especially when the two engage in one heck of a comical brawl that brings to mind the donnybrook featured in The Quiet Man between Duke Wayne and Victor McLaglen.
Apparently based on fact we have Marvin as somewhat of a con man drunkard in Zanzibar circa 1913 as the German forces are coming to power. Along the lines of The African Queen if you please. He quickly enlists Roger Moore into his schemes setting off on an ivory hunt. It’s a nasty bit of business but the producers assure us that no animals or in this case elephants were harmed during the filming.
It seems that Marvin has had more than one run in with the German officer in charge of the area played by Reinhard Kolldehoff. Both would like nothing more than to see the other at the end of a rope. Marvin is always out to make a quick buck and is continually putting Moore in harms way. That’s all about to change when Moore meets our female lead played by Barbara Parkins. The main problem with this romance is her father. You guessed it. It’s Mr. Marvin. Hence the donnybrook.
While the film tries to be light in tone there is way too much violence creating an uneasy balance. The violence comes in the form of Kolldehoff’s German officer who tortures and maims far too many of the locals. The film takes a nasty turn when his troops lay siege to Marvin’s estate and do harm to his family.
The time has come for both Lee and Roger to brush aside all of their petty grievances and take out the German boat that patrols the coastal waters. Hence The African Queen comparison. The blood will flow and heroes will be born as the film heads towards it’s fiery finish.
This is a film that’s easy to point out it’s flaws. Front and center is the uneven mixture of comedy and violence. Marvin’s character belongs in a sequel to Donovan’s Reef. Instead he’s caught up in a violent tug of war with a sadistic German officer. Moore tries hard not to be Bond and allows himself to be used by Marvin’s unsavory character at times. But we know he’s going to come thru in the end with Bond like finesse.
In supporting roles we have Ian Holm as Marvin’s mute sidekick and Captain Kronos actor Horst Janson as a German soldier who tangles with Moore.
The film was directed by Peter Hunt who had a connection to both actors over time. He had already directed the pre Moore Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. A Persuaders episode with Moore as well as the 1974 film Gold where Roger played the lead. Hunt would work with Lee Marvin once again in the underrated Death Hunt in 1981. A personal favorite.
Working as a second unit director this time on locations in Malta and South Africa is John Glen. Another connection here to the Bond series as Glen would go on to direct five 007 films in total including three with Moore and the two Timothy Dalton flicks which I must say seem better with age.
At almost two and half hours this film is overlong and too violent. But then there’s Lee Marvin. And that’s hard to resist.