With a Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai vibe to it, Kill a Dragon opens with an army of modern day cutthroats headed by crime king, Fernando Lamas, raiding an island village off the coast of Hong Kong. He’s looking for cargo that has been legally salvaged off an abandoned boat that had washed ashore on the island in a storm. Representing the islanders is Kam Tong of Have Gun Will Travel fame. He refuses to give up the cargo to Lamas and has been given just three days to give it up otherwise Lamas will lay siege to the island murdering all the inhabitants including women and children.
The Cargo? An explosive fortune in Nitroglycerin.
Like the villagers in the famous Seven films, Kam Tong heads to the mainland in search of help and while being chased by a pair of Lamas’ goons along the docks he finds himself hiding below deck on a boat belonging to Jack Palance. It’s an amusing scene as Jack is in the middle of some lovemaking with his leading lady, Alizia Gur, who sure looks a lot like Luciana Paluzzi.
Jack’s quick to pull up his britches when the two goons turn up looking for Tong leading to a fistfight with bare chested Jack as the last man standing. Of course Tong takes note of this and before we know it he’s pleading with our legendary tough guy to save the village from Lamas and as a reward he can have one third of the money that the Nitro will bring in on the open market.
All of which puts Jack in the market himself for locating hired help. Paging Aldo Ray! “What I don’t do for money and friendship.” Along with Ray as a tough guy sidekick we have English expatriate Don Knight and local talent Hans Lee as a karate expert. Not quite the Magnificent Seven but then maybe the budget didn’t allow for it.
After a brief skirmish with Lamas and his men to get Kam Tong back after he’d been snatched the boys are off to the island where Tong proudly announces to the people, “They have come to slay the dragon.”
Time for the explosive action to begin and with crates full of Nitro that won’t be too hard with the way Jack sets his plan in motion following a cease fire meeting with Lamas. Lamas may be the heavy here but never really comes off that way. He’s clearly having fun on camera and his character admires his adversary. He’d rather be partners with Jack then have to kill him. Their relationship and interaction in the film feeds into the thought that these are just a couple of good old boys having fun, collecting a paycheck and enjoying the game. They really shouldn’t be too worried. It’s all those no name characters surrounding Jack, Fernando and Aldo that might find themselves standing a little too close to the nitro at pivotal times over the final thirty minutes.
As Fernando says to Jack near the finale “I like you and I like your style.”
The film? Likable enough provided you’re not expecting all that much aside from a good way to spend 90 minutes on a rainy day. I happened across the film on a TCM showing and since I’m a card carrying Jack Palance fan for life it’s a perfect fit. The print was a little dark with some of the colors washed out so I’m anxious to see the new blu ray release put out by Kino Lorber.
For the trivia buffs there’s a point in the film when Jack tells Kam Tong he’s 41 and that he was born in Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania. A half truth. Jack was indeed born there but at the time of filming he was 48 years of age. In case you’re interested we get the lower key Palance this time out. He’s edging towards the laid back Jack as opposed to the over the top performer he was known to be at various points in his long career. See Hawk the Slayer for a prime example of Jack slicing the ham rather thick.
This proved to be the only time Palance and Ray would make a film together. Kind of surprising considering they both starred in a number of war films during the 1950’s including Halls of Montezuma (1951) and Attack (1956) with Palance and Battle Cry (1955) and Men In War (1957) with Ray among many others. Following this location shoot in Hong Kong, Ray, would find himself back in military fatigues working alongside John Wayne in 1968’s The Green Berets.
Kill a Dragon served as a break from TV for Lamas by this point in his career as he was guesting in numerous shows of the week like Burke’s Law, The Virginian and It Takes a Thief. He’d even turn up in a 1976 episode of television’s Bronk which starred Jack Palance in the title role as a police detective.
Employed as a Second Unit Director or Assistant Director for over 50 years, Michael D. Moore, took the helm of a small handful of “B” Films in the late 1960’s beginning with an Elvis Presley programmer, Paradise Hawaiian Style, before directing Jack and Co. kicking ass on location in Hong Kong. Among the more notable films he worked on as Assistant or Second Unit director you’ll find The Great Gatsby (1949), War of the Worlds (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956) , Last Train From Gun Hill (1959), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Patton (1970), The Yakuza (1974), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) followed by the Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade to round out the original trilogy. These titles are the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Moore has quite the impressive resume working quietly behind countless stars and directors we all know by name.
Kill a Dragon was executive produced by “B” movie specialist, Aubrey Schenck, who had been in the film business since the mid 1940’s. Schenck was on a steady diet of action fare by the 1960’s producing war films like Ambush Bay (1966) and westerns such as More Dead Than Alive (1969). Among his earlier titles worth seeking out are T-Men (1947), Big House U.S.A. (1955) and The Black Sleep (1956).
So while I may grab the blu ray release of Dragon if given the chance I won’t have to worry about finding an original one sheet as I already have one here in the vault at Mike’s Take.