(UK - 1981; US release 1983)
Directed by Peter Zinner. Written by Robert Katz and Rod Serling. Cast: Franco Nero, Anthony Quinn, Eli Wallach, Martin Balsam, Claudia Cardinale, Sybil Danning, Christopher Lee, Cleavon Little, Paul Smith, John Steiner, Renzo Palmer, Anita Strindberg, Jacques Herlin, Marino Mase, Fortunato Arena, John Stacy, Andre Esterhazy, Nello Pazzafini, Tom Felleghy, Gitte Lee. (R, 101 mins)
Based on the 1973 novel by Morris West, the long-in-the-works conspiracy thriller THE SALAMANDER began life as a screenplay adaptation by TWILIGHT ZONE and NIGHT GALLERY creator Rod Serling, left unfinished following his death in 1975. It languished for several years until Robert Katz (THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, THE SKIN) reworked and completed it. The film finally went into production in 1980, with veteran editor Peter Zinner making his directing debut at 62, fresh off his Oscar win for editing 1978's THE DEER HUNTER. Zinner was a late-blooming hot commodity at the time, as his other credits included 1967's IN COLD BLOOD, 1972's THE GODFATHER and 1974's THE GODFATHER PART II, but he really was a hired gun at heart, as his work on THE DEER HUNTER was sandwiched between esteemed prestige projects like 1977's TINTORERA and 1979's THE FISH THAT SAVED PITTSBURGH. Shot entirely in scenic locations throughout Italy and featuring an all-star cast, THE SALAMANDER should've been a hit but was a DOA dud worldwide. It was another in a string of flops from Sir Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment, the British company that produced THE MUPPET SHOW and had some hits like THE MUPPET MOVIE, ON GOLDEN POND, and THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER, but lost a ton of money over 1980-81 on expensive bombs like the Village People's CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, the Farrah Fawcett-pursued-by-horny-robot-in-space sci-fi dud SATURN 3, the Clive Cussler adaptation RAISE THE TITANIC!, and the ill-fated THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER. ITC had distribution through various means, whether it their own Associated Film Distribution or was major studios like Universal and 20th Century Fox, but after being released in Europe in 1981, THE SALAMANDER remained unseen in the US until it turned up in one theater in NYC in May 1983 before being bum-rushed off to television and a belated VHS release in 1986. Pathfinder released it on DVD with no fanfare in 2002 but otherwise, it's spent 30 years in relative obscurity despite a cast packed with cult icons and big-screen legends and it's just been resurrected on Blu-ray courtesy of Scorpion Releasing. It's nice that it's available again and in a quality presentation, but it should come as no surprise that THE SALAMANDER isn't exactly an unsung classic waiting for its day in the sun.