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March 16th, 2013 was a very special day. One that I didn’t know how special it was going to be until after this historic screening. If you know me personally, you know I love seeing older films in theaters. Especially lesser known films, oddities, and the like. Films that deserve praise, no matter what they are. So on this date in particular, which is almost 5 year to the day, this great little theater here in Brooklyn called Spectacle were doing a 16mm screening of a film I had heard only little rumblings about called Darker Than Amber. And that this 16mm print was the personal print of Roy Frumkes, director of the fantastic documentary Document of the Dead.
Sitting down in the 35 seat theater, it’s cramped in a wonderful ’70s type of way. At least, I like to imagine that’s what it was like on The Deuce here in NYC back in the heyday of grindhouse cinema. The film played to a packed crowd and we all ate it up and wanted more. I seriously had wished Frumkes just played the film again right after, that’s how much I fell in love with that film that day. And I’ve been championing it ever since, always wishing some sort of home video release would come about. The closest thing to a decent print is a TCM screening that happens every so often, but this is a film I want the world to fall in love with like I did that fateful night.
Travis McGee is a character I should have known I’d love from the start. A private eye/do gooder who lives on a houseboat, has a sidekick and helps people, especially gorgeous young women. What’s not to love? And Travis is played by none other than Rod Taylor, one of my favorite actors ever, which was a blast to see him just being young, tan and good looking while investigating stuff and fighting like a bull in a china shop. His nemesis in the film? Played none other than legendary bad guy character actor William Smith. And the fight that’s in this film is one for the ages (and seriously, John Carpenter had to have seen this film when he was writing the fight scene in They Live. Does anyone know if that’s the case? If not, well, they are a great double feature slobberknocker). What’s crazier still is that supposedly the fight between them went from being staged to being a real fight when one of them struck the other in the eye and the rest is cinematic history. You also have the radiant Suzy Kendall, who was always a favorite of mine, especially in films like The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Torso).
What pains me about this film is that nobody knows what I’m talking about when I mention it, and that’s primarily because when it came out in 1970, it didn’t light the world on fire when it came out initially, as well as there not being any sort of home video release, might be a reason that not many people know about this great film. Also, Rod Taylor was very into the making of this film, producing it and picking the book out himself because he loved it and thought this series would almost be an anti-James Bond, where it’s a more normal guy in crazy adventures. It was sadly not meant to be for the John MacDonald series, which is a fantastic book series in its own right, and hopes of a series to come out are still out there. Give me a limited weekly TV series and I will be all over that in a heartbeat.
I really don’t want to say too much more about the film. It’s just a fun and effective detective film, with Rod Taylor just being so damn charismatic on screen (like he always did) and William Smith is a main baddie for the ages. It also ends on a more realistic slant than most of these types of films end, which puts it in a completely different category. Hell, Robert Clouse directed it and he later made the amazing Gymkata (yes, I know he also made Enter the Dragon, the China O’Brien films with Cynthia Rothrock, Game of Death and quite possibly one of my favorite animal attack films The Pack). The music by John Carl Parker is also amazing stuff, which is crazy that he didn’t do as many feature films as you’d imagine (but he did do TV series such as Trapper John, M.D. and Dallas).
So what I’m trying to say is that this film deserves a beautiful blu-ray with some special features. It’s the least they can do with such a cult favorite. A film that is spoken highly among film aficionados around the country in a proud way, as if it’s some sort of secret handshake only you would get if you’ve seen the film. Also, there’s so many books to read in the Travis McGee series, so this is a film or TV series that can go on for a long time. You hear me, Hollywood? You’ve got my number.