[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]
Having ripped off just about every other kind of commercial movie, Michael Winner has inevitably turned his attention to the Bond-style action thriller. Since the Bond films have been ripping themselves off for the past dozen or so years, the pilferings involved in Firepower don’t seem too outrageous. It’s not a good movie by any stretch of goodwill, but it’s not as unutterably crummy as, say, The Man with the Golden Gun either. At least Winner has some decent leads – not that they have a hell of a lot worth doing. I have been infatuated with Sophia Loren most of my life, and hope always to be, so I am pleased to report that, at 45, she still looks fabulous; but cast as a routinely enigmatic widow out to avenge (or is she?) the slaughter of her chemist husband by the world’s richest crook, she has no chance to display any acting ability. James Coburn is cast principally, one supposes, because he was a Bond surrogate in the Flint films; here he’s a sort of bounty hunter with a fondness for flora and fauna (cf. Robert Mitchum in The Yakuza) and, you guessed it, his own peculiar code of honour. The flowers-buff bit is just about the only characterisation the script attempts. There’s a token black buddy (O.J. Simpson), as per Dr. No and Live And Let Die, plus the suave millionaire villain tossing off hopefully aphoristic witticisms (any of the Bonds, although the character is also a Howard Hughes-type recluse, like an heroic character in Diamonds Are Forever). This chap has a sadistic aide – don’t they all? There are gadgets galore, a helicopter explodes in mid-air (v. From Russia with Love), people catch fire and so does the sea at one point (FRWL again). The film also comes equipped with casino and the standard exotic sun-drenched backdrops, in this instance Antigua and Curaçao.
God knows, Fritz Lang would have problems making anything out of the several thousand yards of old rope that constitute the plot, and if you don’t guess the big twist straightaway, then you haven’t been near a TV set in the last twenty years. However, it does look quite good, or at least better than the average Winner movie. A trio of cinematographers have worked hard to ensure lots of sunshine and bright colours, with none of the filmed-through-minestrone chromatic effects a large number of the director’s other films have bruised our eyes with. The editing is smoother than usual, too. Gato Barbieri’s score is loud. Winner being Winner, there’s inevitably some gratuitous nastiness to leave an unpleasant taste in the least discriminating of mouths: a bit in the chase finale where pieces of blazing helicopter fall out of the sky and brush some terrified horses underneath; a nauseating glimpse of cockfighting, watched with delight by the Loren character, whom we’re supposed to like. Nostalgia freaks lured by the “special guest star” billing of Victor Mature should be warned that, whilst the dear fellow looks extremely fit and dashing, he has absolutely no reason for being in the movie, and any extra in a tuxedo could have managed his couple of lines. Still, at least he’s there, and I’m old-fashioned enough to find his presence, like the presences of Loren, Coburn, Wallach, Gardenia, Billy Barty and even (in a bit) Jake LaMotta, reassuring. Among them, they can just about hold up even a ham-fisted lamebrain like Michael Winner; I hope he’s properly grateful, though somehow I doubt it.
© 1979 Pierre Greenfield
Direction: Michael Winner. Screenplay: Gerald Wilson, after a story by Bill Kerby and Michael Winner. Cinematography: Robert Paynter, Dick Kratina; second-unit: Richard H. Kline. Production design: John Stoll, John Blezard. Music: Gato Barbieri.
The players: Sophia Loren, James Coburn, O.J. Simpson, Anthony Franciosa, Eli Wallach, George Grizzard, Vincent Gardenia, Billy Barty, Jake LaMotta, Andrew Duncan, Fred Stuthman, Victor Mature.
A pdf of the original issue can be found here.