By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Find the walking cane.
An old walking cane with a distinctive silver handle that had been used as a prop in many old Hollywood movies is stolen by a prostitute named Vera (Nancy Fisher) after it is laid on top of a casket of deceased actor at his funeral. Later Vera is murdered inside her apartment by a man named Chess (Frank Ashmore) who retrieves the cane, but not before coming into a violent confrontation with Shep (Fred Williamson) a black private eye who lives across the hall from her. Chess manages to escape, but Shep decides to track him down in an effort to find out why everyone is after the cane and what secret it might hold.
The film is an okay blend of action and mystery that tends to show its cards to soon. The revelation for why the cane is so much in demand is quite predictable and makes the viewer feel like they wasted an hour and a half of their time watching a pedestrian plot that leads nowhere. Director Jack Arnold dresses the story up by inserting offbeat scenes and eccentric characters that only adds a mild diversion to the proceedings, but still culminates with a flat finish.
Former pro football player Fred Williamson who played for the Kansas City Chiefs during the ‘60s is the best thing about the movie. Other athletes who turned to film acting after their sports careers were over were not as adept in front of the camera. Jim Brown for instance was great on the gridiron, but lacked an ability to play anything more than a hardened tough guy whose facial expression never changed. Williamson has more of an appeal because he doesn’t take himself or his role too seriously while also showing an ability to play either comedy or drama.
His female co-stars though are wasted and really didn’t need to be in it at all. Theresa Graves looks beautiful, but her character has no integral link to the story the lesbian angle dealing with the relationship that she has with her white girlfriend (played by Rosemary Forsyth) seems to be thrown in simply to give the film a certain perceived ‘kinky’ edge. Forsyth for her part has her voice dubbed and for what reason I don’t know, but it’s distracting and unnecessary.
88 year-old Cyril Delevanti, in his final film appearance, is quite amusing as an elderly man who’ll stop at nothing to get his cane back, but character actor Richard Anderson is a detriment. He plays a father who hires Shep to find his missing runaway daughter (Susan Arnold). At the end Williamson and Anderson get into a fistfight with Anderson doing his own stunts, which looks fake. A shot capturing him lowering his foot towards the camera in a dramatic attempt to show him stomping on Williamson (with the camera working as being Williamson’s P.O.V.) doesn’t work because it is clear that he is restraining his foot so it doesn’t actually hit the camera and break it. If you’re going to do a shot from this angel then have the foot actually pounce onto the camera even if it means damaging it because that would make it appear more authentic, or otherwise don’t do it at all.
For those that enjoy blaxploitation flicks from the ‘70s you may give this one, which is based on the novel ‘Murder on the Wild Side’ by Jeff Jacks, a slightly higher rating than I did. Some of the action is good especially a scene where Williamson escapes out of a immobile elevator and shimmies his way down the elevator shaft, but overall there’s nothing else about it that is distinctive to raise it above all the other black action films that are out there.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: May 17, 1974
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Jack Arnold
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video
Reports at the time indicated that this film appeared to have been rewritten on the set and in the editing room – the press material described a couple of scenes that were different in the released film and a completely different ending – post-production alterations might explain why Forsyth was dubbed. Also, if you ever wondered how an actress named Floy Dean managed to get co-star billing with Rosemary Forsyth and Teresa Graves – she was the producer’s wife.