The Salamander (1981)
In the tradition of an Agatha Christie mystery comes this hybrid espionage/murder tale that sees Franco Nero courting a group of well known actors that populate this filmed in Italy thriller from producer Lord Grade with a Jerry Goldsmith score for accompaniment. Trivia buffs may take notice that during the opening seconds, Rod Serling is acknowledged with an adaptation credit. This despite passing away 6 years prior to this films production and release.
It’s political intrigue in Italy when a high ranking General is thought to have died of natural causes. Franco Nero who is investigating the case knows different and begins to go over the star studded list of suspects and acquaintances of the deceased. With a narration to accompany the funeral, Nero introduces his costars at the funeral. These include the newly appointed General and his wife, Eli Wallach and Claudia Cardinale, Nero’s superior on the force, Christopher Lee, and a man of great wealth and political power in Anthony Quinn. I love the introduction Nero gives to Quinn’s character in the voice over …. “A man who’s as tough now as the day he laughed at his Nazi torturers.” Nero will also be meeting the mistress of the dead man played by Sybil Danning. She knows she’s out of a meal ticket and not surprisingly takes a fancy to the one time Django, Mr. Nero.
The country is in a political upheaval, the murderer has left a calling card in the form of the films title and Nero will turn to his brother, Martin Balsam for help in deciphering the code names of various suspects. These include Woodpecker and Falcon. Whenever Nero questions a lesser known actor about the General, that individual turns up dead. One at the hands of a political torturer played by Paul Smith. Smith once again is used as a heavy with pretty much one facial expression. That of a twisted grimace as he goes about his nasty work. He and Nero will make quick enemies of each other which will lead to a violent encounter later in the film. One with Nero wrestling the giant in nothing but a jockstrap! No fooling ladies.
Honestly, I’m not too sure what the hell was going on half the time but the film looks pretty and with the cast that are turning up for the scenic shoot, I’m hooked from the get go. Even Cleavon Little checks in as an old army pal of Nero’s to back him up on an espionage mission. Car bombs, assassination attempts and more Sybil Danning are soon to follow. When Marty Balsam gets his big dramatic scene opposite Nero it can only mean one thing. His death at the hands of political assassins. This will trigger that vigilante that lives within Nero to expose the political wrong doers via the gathering of all suspects at a swank dinner party put on by Quinn.
“The lions of power and their pussycats.” so says Nero as he watches the suspects gather around Quinn.
This Peter Zinner film could almost play like a made for TV movie of the week and that’s where I saw it many years ago for the one and only time. Thankfully it’s surfaced on blu ray recently under the Scorpion Releasing banner. The location shoot works for it and having a cast of well known faces surrounding Nero only adds to the fun. There are plenty of reunions going on here as well. Just to name a few…..
Quinn and Nero had made a western together in 1973, Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears
This was Quinn’s third film opposite Christopher Lee in short order. The others being The Passage and Caravans.
Lee of course made movies with almost everybody it seems and would reunite with Nero in The Girl after already having shared the screen together in The Pirate. Lee and Sybil starred in the must be seen to be believed, Howling II and he’d already appeared with Eli Wallach in a film I just don’t “get”, Circle of Iron in 1979.
Even Balsam and Eli had appeared in The Sentinel four years prior to this one.
Balsam and Nero had starred together a decade earlier in the cop thriller, Confessions of a Police Captain.
Nero and Sybil were in a couple just prior to this one, The Man With Bogart’s Face and Day of the Cobra. Need to see that one!
That’s enough connecting the dots for today. (love doing this)
No big deal but I can’t help myself with this roster of stars. Each one of course, like Balsam, will get their big chance to chew up some scenery. It’s also nice to see a very classy looking Sybil Danning. Still though, I do confess to remembering her “busty” line of VHS tapes that hit the market back in the 80’s when I was a perfect target audience to spot them on the video shelves much to Mom’s chagrin.