lørdag 1. august 2009

The Concorde Affair/Concorde Affaire '79

Italy, 1979

Directed by Ruggero Deodato

James Franciscus, Mimsy Farmer, Joseph Cotten, Venantino Venantini, Van Johnson, Edmund Purdom, Francisco Charles, Fiamma Maglione, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua, John Stacy, Robert Kerman, Mario Maranzana, Aldo Barberito, Francesco Carnelutti, Enrico Papa and numerous others

After neglecting this blog for months I've finally gotten around to look at some more interesting films and sat down with what is a virtually forgotten entry on the filmography of Ruggero Deodato: The Concorde Affair. Like so many other Italian films, this was conceived as a cash-in on a popular Hollywood cycle; in this case the many all-star cast disaster movies that were doing the rounds in the 1970s after the huge success of Airport (1970) and its sequels. Actually, The Concorde Affair was released just a few months before the fourth and final film in the Airport series: The Concorde – Airport ’79, which - obviously - also dealt with the Concorde but on a much bigger budget. I suppose that at the time the world was fascinated by this aircraft that could transport passengers at speeds greater than that of sound, and movie producers must have seen the potential for big business in movies featuring the Concorde. But unfortunately, the timing – for both Concorde films – was all wrong as the disaster movie fad was on its dying breaths by now. The Concorde Affair also had the misfortune of being made in-between Deodato’s two notorious cannibal films Last Cannibal World (1977) and Cannibal Holocaust (1979) – the two films most people remember Deodato for. They have completely stolen Concorde's thunder and it remains a neglected item on Deodato’s filmography to this day. That’s a terrible shame because this is actually a really enjoyable little film that deserves to be seen as more than a mere footnote in Deodato's career.

Now, on to the plot! We are introduced to Milland (Joseph Cotton), an evil business conglomerate who is earning good money on his successful South American airline. However, the rising interest in the Concorde has both Milland and his partner Danker (Edmund Purdom) worried as they fear that the speed and efficiency of the Concorde might bring an end to their profitable airline business. Thus, they come up with a plan to sabotage some Concorde flights in order to make the public think the Concorde is an unsafe aircraft. Not long after, they successfully sabotage a Concorde test flight (equipped with just a couple of crew members on board), which crashes into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Concorde goes down...

Miraculously, stewardess Jean Beneyton (Mimsy Farmer) manages to survive the crash and is discovered floating unconscious in the sea by two local fishermen from the island of Martinique in the Antilles. Fans of Italian genre cinema will no doubt recognize one of the fishermen as he is played – uncredited – by Dakar (real name: Alejandro Barrera), a Peruvian wrestler turned actor who played supporting roles in countless Italian films. Dakar’s most famous role is no doubt that of Richard Johnson’s superstitious assistant in Lucio Fulci’s legendary horror hit Zombie (1979), which, incidentally, was also shot on location in the Antilles not long after The Concorde Affair.

The sole survivor

Dakar (to the left) as one of the fishermen

Anyway… the action now shifts to New York, where a successful news reporter named Moses Brody (James Franciscus) receives a phone call from his ex-wife Nicole (musician/actress Fiamma Maglione, billed under her usual ‘Mag Fleming’ moniker), who just happens to run a restaurant in Martinique. She also just happens to be the employer of the fishermen who rescued Jean out of the ocean. Nicole hints to Moses that there’s a big story behind the crashed Concorde flight and begs him to come to Martinique at once.

Moses chillin' in his New York office

Moses obliges and travels to Martinique; only to learn that his ex-wife has died very suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. The fishermen are dead too – having been speedboated to death – and the poor traumatized Jean has been kidnapped by a shady fellow named Forsythe (the always awesome Venantino Venantini), who is the ruthless guy who was paid by Milland and Danker to sabotage the Concorde test flight. Forsythe figures he can use Jean, the sole Concorde flight survivor, to blackmail Milland and Danker for more money. It’s up to Moses to find out what happened to his ex-wife, undercover the truth about the crashed Concorde, rescue Jean and, most importantly, try and stop Milland and Danker from crashing a second Concorde – this time a fully booked flight riddled with clichéd Airport-style passengers...

The Concorde in trouble

Not surprisingly, The Concorde Affair is often referred to as a rip-off of the Airport films but the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t really have all that much in common with the popular Hollywood franchise. For starters, the majority of the action in Deodato’s film actually occurs either on the ground or at sea. Furthermore, none of the main characters figure among the imperiled Concorde passengers. Which may not have been a terribly wise decision as it’s a little difficult to care too much about any of the Concorde passengers because they are rather poorly developed (we don’t even learn the names of any of them).

Furthermore, the film's plotline is far too convoluted (especially the part with all the sabotage and blackmail business) and somewhat unoriginal, too, considering that it was penned by reliable genre scribe Ernesto Gastaldi. But in the end this is of little consequence because when you have a dependable professional like Ruggero Deodato in the director’s seat, the film becomes a really fun and engaging little suspenser nonetheless. And like all of Deodato’s works, The Concorde Affair is a very slick-looking and technically well-made product. Federico Zanni’s cinematography is top-notch and the use of attractive locations in the Antilles as well as some street scenes in New York brings a continental feel to the proceedings; making this look like a bigger budgeted production than it really was.

Picturesque scenery in the Antilles

This only thing that really betrays the film’s low-budget origins is the use of grainy stock footage for all shots of the Concorde. There are also a couple of hopelessly unconvincing miniature airplane models on display – particularly the underwater ones – and this mars the film somewhat. But on the other hand, Italian B-movies have a long-standing tradition for using stock footage and cheesy miniatures, so for true devotees of Italian genre cinema this will probably add to the fun rather than take away from it.

Concorde stock footage

Miniature work

The Concorde Affair also benefits tremendously from Stelvio Cipriani’s rousing score, which is a marvelously catchy, toe-tapping tune that really livens up the proceedings. Further assets are the impressive underwater sequences shot by Gianlorenzo Battaglia, a gifted underwater expert who would go on to work on the celebrated submerged ballroom sequence in Dario Argento’s horror classic Inferno (1980). Here we are treated to some very well-made and suspenseful sequences of James Franciscus diving to explore the wreckage of the crashed Concorde. The scenes of him searching the darkened aircraft with a flashlight are eerily effective and there’s also a briefly seen shark thrown in for good measure– prepping Franciscus for his next Italian film, Enzo G. Castellari’s shark-shocker The Great White (1981). We even get some cool underwater fights and a bit of glorious blood-shedding, although this is – not surprisingly – rather tame when compared to the stuff Deodato would conjure up for Cannibal Holocaust.

Underwater action, sharks and some gore really adds to the fun

The cast is certainly impressive; featuring a truck-load of Hollywood has-beens in European exile. At the front is James Franciscus, who has just the right charm and rugged handsomeness to play the suave but likeable lead. He gets to do plenty of underwater work here and even prances around a bit in a pair of tight swimming trunks. Interestingly, the other two Italian films Franciscus did during the same period – the piranha flick Killer Fish (1978) and the aforementioned shark opus The Great White (1981) – also involved lots of action at sea.

Franciscus in swimming trunks

Then there’s Mimsy Farmer, who gets to do her thing once again – that is play a slightly twitchy and on-edge character. It’s the same routine she does in most of her films from this era but she admittedly does it very well. Things do lapse into laughable silliness in the climax, however, when Mimsy is given the heavy burden of rescuing the sabotaged Concorde flight via telephone(!) and breaks down in hysterical sobbing from the pressure put on her. With that said, this is a priceless moment of grandiose cheese that really adds to the overall fun.

Mimsy does her hysterical routine

Unfortunately, the remaining Hollywood players are used mainly as marquee value without really bringing much to the screen. Van Johnson is under-used but manages to do a fairly decent job as the brave Concorde pilot but Joseph Cotton and one-time matinee idol Edmund Purdom fare less well. Cotten, in particular, looks really bored as he sleepwalks through his part as the corporate bad guy. With the exception of a single outdoor scene where Cotten is shooting clay pigeons, all scenes with him and Purdom take place in an office where they discuss the sabotage plot with their advisors. Obviously shot in a day or two, these scenes are a textbook example of faded stars showing up only to collect a quick paycheck.

Uninspired office scenes with Cotten and Purdom

Luckily, several reliable Italian B-movie veterans are on hand to fill the supporting parts and they certainly deliver the goods. A bespectacled Venantino Venantini packs his usual mean stare and makes for an excellent villain, and it’s also good to have omnipresent stuntman/actor Ottaviano Dell’Acqua onboard as Venantini’s tough-guy henchman.

Venantino Venantini: great actor, great bad guy!

Many will also no doubt enjoy spotting numerous familiar faces in small or uncredited roles. In addition to Dakar’s aforementioned role as the unfortunate fishermen who fishes Mimsy out of the water, we are also treated to British-born character actor and voice dubber John Stacy as the skeptical American consul in Martinique and Aldo Barberito (a regular in many of Umberto Lenzi’s films in the 1970s) as a kindly priest aboard the Concorde etc.

But the most interesting presence here is arguably that of an uncredited Robert Kerman, the American hardcore porno actor better known as R. Bolla, who Deodato later cast in the leading role in Cannibal Holocaust, and who also appeared in Umberto Lenzi’s two cheesy cannibal flicks Eaten Alive! (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981). Here, Kerman plays the chief operator at the London control tower, who works hard to try and prevent the sabotaged Concorde from meeting the same fate as the test flight. His presence is very welcome and Kerman delivers a surprisingly strong and dedicated performance. An even more amusing piece of trivia is the fact that two further American porno actors also appear in the London control tower scenes alongside Kerman: Jake Teague and Michael Gaunt. They too would go on to appear in further Italian films: Teague was one of the detectives in Eaten Alive! and the university professor at the end of Cannibal Ferox, while Gaunt was a grave digger in Lucio Fulci’s zombie classic City of the Living Dead (1980)!

Porn star roundup: Michael Gaunt, Robert Kerman and Jake Teague

In spite of a few flaws, The Concorde Affair is a criminally underrated effort from Ruggero Deodato. It's good, enjoyable fun and if you ever get the chance to watch it then do so!

© 2009 Johan Melle

The main cast:

James Franciscus as Moses Brody

Mimsy Farmer as Jean Beneyton

Joseph Cotten as Milland

Venantino Venantini as Forsythe

Van Johnson as Captain Scott

Edmund Purdom as Danker

Francisco Charles as George

Fiamma Maglione as Nicole Brody

Ottaviano Dell'Acqua as John, Forstyhe's henchman

John Stacy as The Consul

Robert Kerman as Kelman, chief operator at the London control tower