Friday, March 2, 2012

If This Wasn't Streaming On Netflix, Would Anyone Remember It Existed? Vol 6: CONCORDE AFFAIR (1979)

(Italy - 1979)

Directed by Roger Deodato (Ruggero Deodato).  Written by Ernesto Gastaldi and Renzo Genta.  Cast: James Franciscus, Mimsy Farmer, Van Johnson, Joseph Cotten, Mario Maranzana, Venantino Venantini, Mag Fleming (Fiamma Maglione), Edmund Purdom, Francisco Charles, Ottaviano dell'Acqua, Renzo Marignano, Robert Kerman, Robert Spafford, Goffredo Unger, John P. Dulaney, John Stacy, Michael Gaunt, Jake Teague, Dakar, Marie Claude Joseph. (Unrated, 96 mins)

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Italian ripoffs of American blockbusters were big business at US drive-ins and in grindhouses and provided constant employment for American actors ranging from leading men and women whose stars were fading to aging Hollywood vets from the golden era, or some who simply wanted a paid vacation and figured nobody outside of Europe would ever see it.  Wade through enough Eurocult exploitation swill and you'll be amazed at what you find. Henry Fonda appearing in the 1977 Italian JAWS ripoff TENTACLES or Kirk Douglas starring in the 1978 Italian OMEN ripoff HOLOCAUST 2000 are merely scratching the surface.  Wait until you get to Richard Harris taking third billing in Bruno Mattei's 1988 RAMBO ripoff STRIKE COMMANDO 2,  the standard by which all "WTF is (fill in actor's name) doing in this?!" Eurotrash paycheck gigs are judged.

Universal's AIRPORT franchise, along with blockbusters like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) were the building blocks of the '70s disaster film cycle, so, as had happened in the same decade with a flood of GODFATHER and EXORCIST clones, it was inevitable that the Italians would have to make their own version of a disaster movie.  And, in true exploitation fashion, Ruggero Deodato's CONCORDE AFFAIR was rushed through production quickly and cheaply and beat its big-budget counterpart (THE CONCORDE: AIRPORT '79, the final film in the franchise) to European screens by several months.  Despite featuring more American stars than was typical for such fare, CONCORDE AFFAIR never made it into American theaters, though it was acquired in 1983 (four years after its release everywhere else and several years after the disaster craze had died down and been so brilliantly parodied by AIRPLANE! in 1980), by none other than the Weinstein brothers in the early days of Miramax.  But they shelved it and it's really only been seen on bootleg VHS and unauthorized DVDs over the years.  And now, possibly as part of its deal with Miramax, this little-seen B-movie is now streaming on Netflix.

As far as cheap Italian ripoffs go, it's pretty entertaining, though much of the amusement comes from just how little of the plot and the primary action take place on an airplane.  A Concorde test flight experiences technical problems and crashes near the Antilles, and it's actually sabotage set in motion by evil rival airline CEO Milland (CITIZEN KANE's Joseph Cotten) who wants to put the Concorde out of business.  Milland doesn't count on the test flight's one attendant, Jean Beneyton (Mimsy Farmer), surviving the crash.  He dispatches his henchmen, led by the ruthless Forsythe (Venantino Venantini), to kill Jean, but instead, they hold her captive and try to blackmail Milland, who's easily one of cinema's most recklessly hubristic businessmen.  Meanwhile, hack NYC reporter Moses Brody (BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES' James Franciscus) has an ex-wife (Fiamma Maglione) on Martinique, and she gives him a tip to get down there because she knows something about the Concorde crash.  The ex is mysteriously dead by the time Brody arrives, and after doing some investigating, he discovers the sunken Concorde.  By the time he convinces the American consulate to look into the matter, Milland has had the plane destroyed.  Brody rescues Jean, with Forsythe and his goons in hot pursuit, and in the meantime, a second Concorde, piloted by Capt. Scott (THE CAINE MUTINY's Van Johnson), is taking off from NYC to London, and Milland has dispatched new saboteurs to ensure this flight will suffer the same consequences.

It seems like there's about four different movies going on here.  The bulk of the film deals with Brody's investigation in the Antilles, with a lot of underwater sequences and even a brief shark attack, as if Deodato was giving Franciscus a taste of what he'd encounter a couple of years later in Enzo G. Castellari's GREAT WHITE.  There's periodic cutaways to an irate Cotten, sitting in his office and grumbling to yes-man Danker (Edmund Purdom).  Johnson doesn't even appear until nearly an hour into the film, and even then, he's never seen out of the pilot's seat.  I'd bet Hollywood legends Cotten and Johnson, by now old hands at vacillating between quick-buck appearances in Italian trash and enjoying the relative prestige of LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND guest spots, didn't spend more than two, maybe three days working on this.

James Franciscus and Mimsy Farmer
Franciscus is fine in the lead, bringing an appropriate Charlton Heston-esque gravitas to the proceedings.  A well-known movie and TV actor, Franciscus still never quite made it to Hollywood's A-list, which probably made it a certainty that he'd end up in movies like this, Antonio Margheriti's KILLER FISH (also 1979) and Castellari's GREAT WHITE (1982), while tackling supporting roles in American films like Irwin Allen's WHEN TIME RAN OUT (1980).  Franciscus was a believable and good-looking actor who deserved a better career.  He didn't act after 1985 and was only 57 when he died of complications from emphysema in 1991. You'd think he'd end up being the hero in CONCORDE AFFAIR, but he's pretty much relegated to the sideline for the last 20 or so minutes, though he does get to give Farmer an inspirational pep talk when she's on the phone with Heathrow air traffic controllers.  I love that the British air traffic guys are all played by dubbed-with-Brit-accents NYC porn actors Robert Kerman (aka R. Bolla), Michael Gaunt, and Jake Teague, all of whom made periodic appearances in Italian exploitation.

Deodato, largely a journeyman at this point in his career, follows the disaster formula and keeps things pretty restrained in CONCORDE AFFAIR, a surprise considering his next two films were his masterpiece/albatross CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and the scuzzy HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (both 1980).  Deodato had dabbled in over-the-top exploitation before, with 1975's sexploitation WAVES OF LUST, 1976's insane poliziotteschi LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN, and 1977's gorefest THE LAST CANNIBAL WORLD (aka JUNGLE HOLOCAUST, THE LAST SURVIVOR).  There's an F-bomb early on and one gory shot of a guy getting shot in the face, but other than that, CONCORDE AFFAIR is tame by Deodato standards, displaying none of the stomach-turning imagery and disturbing violence so prevalent in many of his other films.

Featuring a large cast of name actors and Eurocult mainstays (including a rare on-camera appearance by gravelly-voiced dubbing vet Robert Spafford), and all the familiar dubbing voices, plus hilarious miniatures and a Concorde model surrounded by toy cars in the climax, as well as a Stelvio Cipriani score that features the composer at his most harpsichordy, CONCORDE AFFAIR is mindless entertainment that should please Eurotrash completists.  The relative rarity of it, at least for US viewers, is enough to make it a curio title, especially since Netflix streaming has granted it the easiest accessibility it's ever had in America.  Their print looks like a 1.33 VHS transfer, cropped down from its original 2.35--not ideal, but given the circumstances, it's better than nothing.

 Trailer for French release, titled S.O.S. CONCORDE


  1. Sounds like the Netflix print is taken from the source my DVD-R is taken from.

  2. I forgot to mention that Joseph Cotten has the distinction of appearing in an Italian ripoff of the AIRPORT franchise two years after co-starring in AIRPORT '77. Also, before Deodato's CONCORDE AFFAIR, Cotten was in a 1978 French obscurity called LAST IN, FIRST OUT with Donald Pleasence and Dennis Hopper that was released in some parts of the world as...wait for it...THE CONCORDE AFFAIR.

  3. Two CONCORDE AFFAIR's isn't as bad as Mel Ferrer being in two different movies titled EATEN ALIVE.