UPDATED March, 2012 - new US DVD release
What if Daniel Craig was James Bond in the 1970s?
Movies based on Alistair Maclean novels were sure-fire hits back in the 1970s, fuelled by the popularity of his earlier schoolboy-pleasing WW2 adventures, The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare, he then spawned a string of modern-day tough-guy action thrillers, like this one.
After a triple-murder in Los Angeles, a heroin-smuggling pipeline is traced back to Amsterdam and the police's top unorthodox undercover operative is brought in to track down the murderers. Diving headfirst into the seedy world of prostitutes, junkies, pimps and pushers, he murders his way through the bad guys to get closer to the truth. OK, maybe it was self-defence. There's some creepy doll moments too, adding to the weird twilight portrayal of drug-addiction.
Besides the boat chase similarity with Live And Let Die, the hero's persona is much the same as Daniel Craig's present James Bond, but with less charisma. He's not totally heartless, falling for his fellow operative on the case, but he's practically a stone killer.
It's a good opportunity to enjoy a 70s Bond-type thriller without Roger Moore's increasingly lightening of the role with awful jokes. A very similar Maclean character is the downright misogynistic anti-hero played by Anthony Hopkins in When Eight Bells Toll.
Puppet on a Chain was usually cut for TV, but in the early 1970s even family audiences could see a little bloody mayhem and even the occasional topless waitress in the cinema. Go-go boys, body stockings and psychedelic nightclubs were borderline classifications, but still allowed for all ages.
The best Alistair Maclean thrillers on DVD:
These include some of the most action-packed thrillers of the 1970s, paralleling the early Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood tough guy films where the hero is an anti-hero, prone to destructive, stunt-heavy action. More love wanted for the Maclean!
Here's a scratchy original trailer on YouTube, NOT representative of the quality on the new DVD...
The big chase scene makes the most of the location, with spectacular helicopter shots of the speedboats charging through the canals of Amsterdam city centre. The stuntwork, particularly the collisions, seems to exceed the bounds of safety of even Jackie Chan's Hong Kong films. The scene was shot by cult director Don Sharp (Psychomania, Curse of the Fly, Kiss of the Vampire, The Face of Fu Manchu).
I've yet to see the new DVD from Scorpion Releasing, but DVD Talk give the new widescreen transfer a good review...THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961) UK and USTHE SATAN BUG (1965) Available widescreen from Warner Archives
WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968) UK and US
WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL (1971) UK DVD
PUPPET ON A CHAIN (1971) USA widescreen DVD, released March, 2012 (above)FEAR IS THE KEY (1972) UK widescreen
FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE (1978) US and UK
Other films based on Maclean novels include Caravan To Vaccares, Breakheart Pass (Charles Bronson), Golden Rendezvous (Richard Harris) and Bear Island (Donald Sutherland) all of which I haven't seen recently enough to pass comment. But his body of thrillers obviously influenced action cinema for nearly two decades. Many of these rarer films are out in Scandinavia, but only as fuzzy-looking, non-digital, full-frame transfers.