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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sudden Death (1977) review

SUDDEN DEATH 1975 (released in 1977)

Robert Conrad (Harrison "Duke" Smith), Don Stroud (Dominic Elba), Felton Perry (Wyatt Spain), John Ashley (John Shaw), Nancy Conrad (Melissa Smith), Vic Diaz (street show peddlar)

Directed by Eddie Romero

The Short Version: Not to be confused with the 1995 Van Damme flick, this is a US-Filipino co-produced actioner from the man responsible for the BLOOD ISLAND trilogy and a slew of other low budget Drive In favorites. Eddie Romero's movie is modestly sloppy in places, but loaded with fights, gun battles, splattery blood squibs and a few scenes of outright nasty violence. The script by Oscar Williams is peppered with expletives and an almost non-stop barrage of memorable one-liners. It's arguably the manliest Filipino exploitation movie ever made with its bare, hairy chests and endless tough guy dialog. SUDDEN DEATH is essential 70s exploitation for lovers of the most wildly, lovingly uncouth decade in cinema history.

A board of ruthless shipping company executives hires assassins to take out Ed Nielson, the American corporate president and his family. Unfortunately for them, their main intended victim survives. He asks the aid of former covert operative Duke Smith to help him. Initially he refuses, but after Nielson is killed, he and his Karate fighting colleague team up to take on a corrupt syndicate, renegade agents and deadly assassins.

Eddie Romero (who passed away Tuesday, May 28th of 2013) is best known on these shores for an entertaining string of quick-fix exploitation movies that ran the gamut from bloody monster movies to violent action pictures. His films (whether as a producer or director) were prime examples of Drive In fare at its finest. SUDDEN DEATH (1977) is his last such passion pit flick of significance and one of the most fun examples of the buddy movie.

While many Philippine set exploitation movies focused a good deal of attention on women and their bodies, SUDDEN DEATH puts men at the forefront; and surprisingly, features very little female flesh. Bare hairy chests, dollops of testosterone and bad guys who rarely remove their sunglasses take center stage here. Compared with Hong Kong films, the martial arts moments (those with the participation of Felton Perry) fail to convince. However, Robert Conrad, who was no stranger to stunts and fighting, looks good in his scenes. His fight at the end against Don Stroud is somewhat brief, but bloody and brutal. 

The package is topped off by one of those patented 70s 'wa-wa' soundtracks and kung fu movie sound effects. Romero's movie gets additional bonus points for some added local flavor with some scenes showcasing Filipino festivals and a street barker (played by perennial banana republic bad guy, Vic Diaz) huckstering a burly wrestler.

The streamlined script by Oscar Williams draws some gruff, aggressive good guys and sadistic, cold-blooded bad guys. This goes a long way in making an enjoyable movie. Even when the film gets wobbly with some strange, almost intrusive goofball moments, the characters are so likable or despicable, you can't help but be entertained. There's a slight political theme running through Romero's movie involving corruption in corporations and government, but it eventually drowns in a sea of fist fights and gun battles. The dialog is highly quotable and the many great lines are fired off as quickly as a machine gun clip.

Robert Conrad was a major player on American television, but did very few movies. He was never a great actor (and admitted to this, himself), but he did good enough in roles that rarely (if ever) demanded a whole lot of emoting. His most famous role is arguably as the Bond style Secret Service agent James West in the amazing, innovative THE WILD, WILD WEST television series that ran for four seasons between 1965 and 1969. What he lacked in thespian skills he made up for in a vigorous determination to outdo himself in action sequences. He was notorious for doing his own stunts on that series (as well as being a wild card offscreen, too) till a serious injury shooting a season three episode (later moved to season four) got him a regular stunt double for the more dangerous stunts the remainder of the series.

Conrad retains that vigor in SUDDEN DEATH, and shows more life in the fight scenes than in the exposition. However, his line deliveries of some of the more obscene exchanges are pretty damn funny.

Felton Perry will be best remembered by some for his recurring role in the ROBOCOP trilogy. But others will know him better as Buford Pusser's deputy in the violent Southern crime drama, the original WALKING TALL (1973). Perry was no stranger to exploitation movies, either. You'll find him as one of the crazed soldiers in the obscure BRUTE CORPS (1971), New World's NIGHT CALL NURSES (1972) and Ivan Dixon's superlative TROUBLE MAN (1972).

Like everyone else in the cast, Perry seems to be having a grand time playing a trigger happy, Karate fightin', lady lovin' former agent. He gets his share of great lines, and these moments go a long way in allowing the viewer to overlook his painful attempts at performing martial arts. He gets in there and puts his all into it, but it comes off badly. The filmmakers edit his fight scenes in such a way to salvage what they can, but one can clearly see that Perry is no Karate master. 

Don Stroud is one of the big screens best loved tough guys. He could play either good guys or bad guys, but when he was a villain, he was one mean bastard. You'll find him as one of Ma Barker's youngins in BLOODY MAMA (1970), a racist deputy in ...TICK... TICK... TICK (1970), the good guy biker in ANGEL UNCHAINED (1970), one of the villains after Clint Eastwood in JOE KIDD (1972), an evil hitman in SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP-OFF (1973), a psychotic rapist-murderer in DEATH WEEKEND (1976) and a kung fu killing machine in SEARCH AND DESTROY (1979). He also appeared with his friend, Robert Conrad again in LIVE A LITTLE, STEAL A LOT (1975) aka MURPH THE SURF. He worked in dozens of television shows throughout the 1980s and mixed up his repertoire between TV and low budget movies in the 1990s. He was MIA at the dawn of the new millennium, but has appeared in movies sporadically in the last several years.

Stroud's role as Dominic is, in this reviewers opinion, one of his best bad guy roles. He doesn't appear in the film till nearly an hour into the movie, but he makes his scenes count. His introduction (where we don't see his face while he holds a white cat in his lap!) exudes a Bond villain level of calculating evil. His accent and speech is as meticulous as his character is in pulling off his hits. He's given some meaty lines as well; a highlight of which is a scene where he and Duke (Conrad) meet in a public place. They walk down a hallway, their eyes never leaving each others face as they converse. His fight at the end against Conrad takes place in an ice warehouse and is well choreographed with a gory finish.

John Ashley was a Jack-of-all-trades in the film industry. He was something of a heartthrob in the late 50s and early 1960s and was, like Stroud, a close friend of Robert Conrad. Ashley also took a role in a WILD, WILD WEST episode from season two, 'The Night of the Watery Death'. He was also a singer and movie producer, later finding success in the Philippines acting in, and producing movies there and becoming friends with Eddie Romero in the process. Despite initially looking like an Elvis impersonator in this movie, his role as a crooked US agent/hired killer was a departure for him. He wasn't that great of an actor, but he had charisma to spare.

There's much to recommend in SUDDEN DEATH for exploitation fans. The cast alone holds a great deal of marquee power for this sort of picture. It benefits from plentiful (if not always successfully realized) action, splashes of sleaze and bloody violence, and is capped off with the sort of shocker ending that was indigenous to 70s cinema. If you're a fan of exploitation movies, and especially those with a Filipino flavor, Eddie Romero's star-studded action thriller provides an entertaining 90 minutes worth of popcorn and Coke escapism.

This DVD is representative of the Inception Media Group double feature DVD paired with MURPH THE SURF.


Dick said...

Nice review (and a nice tribute for Eddie Romero). I had just ordered this DVD a few days ago.

Dick said...

Just wanted to let you know that your updates aren't showing on my (and others) blog list. The last one that shows up is The Gamma People. I really enjoy your blog.


venoms5 said...

Hi, Dick. Thank you for stopping by. It was strange as while I was writing the review, I read Eddie Romero had passed away.

I have no idea why it's not showing in anybody's blog roll. I have contacted blogger and gotten no response. I have tried everything I know to fix it, but nothing seems to work. I am guessing that blogger has tinkered with things so much now, that possibly the template I use (a third party template compatible with blogger) is no longer compatible. I also have a FB page for the site with a lot of different content that links to here, so it's not so bad, but unfortunate for anyone who occasionally stops over and doesn't know CAC is still up and running.

I do like your blog as well. Very nice selection of films and subjects, and the font you use is a nice touch. I don't get to stop and read other folks stuff as much as I'd like, but I do take time to try and catch up, and The Oak Drive In is among those I frequent often.

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