Working for whoever will pay him, trapper and big game tracker Harry Stanton (Robert Mitchum) is the best at what he does; finding and capturing exotic animals for zoos all around the world. Visiting Berlin, he's approached for a job that even he's not sure he can pull off. Traveling to Malaysia, Harry must capture two tigers, but that's just the start. He must also track and capture the Enchantress, a half-tiger, half-leopard, a rare animal that's been spotted several times. Along for the hunt of sorts is a big-game hunter and guide, Otto Abbot (Jack Hawkins), who immediately butts heads with the equally strong-willed Harry. The rivalry for supremacy is one thing, but it gets ratcheted up even more when Otto's girlfriend, Anna (Elsa Martinelli), accompanies them on the dangerous hunt.
Like the much-better Hatari!, 'Rampage' works at its best when it is on location. According to the recent airing on TCM, director Phil Karlson shot on location in Hawaii (filling in nicely for Malaysia). It is a beautiful movie to watch, boasting a very 1960s look and style to it. The first hour-plus serves as a nice tour of "Malaysia," Harry's crew of Sakai hunters (including guide Sabu) navigating their way through the lush, green jungles full of beautiful streams, cliffs, hills and waterfalls. It has a distinct cheese-ball quality, not quite low budget, but getting there. It is a popcorn film, one that transports you to somewhere else and lets you enjoy the adventure and the scenery for a little while. Composer Elmer Bernstein aids the cause with his score, at times jazzy and fun, other times emotionally more effective, bits of 'The Great Escape' evident at times.
When I did stumble across this late night on TCM, I was surprised I'd never seen it, much less heard of it, considering its star power at the top. Now to be fair, both Mitchum and Hawkins made much better movies with much better roles. I wouldn't calling this slumming for either actor, but neither delivers a career-defining role. Still, it's fun to see them in a more mainstream, straight entertainment part. As he always was, Mitchum is effortlessly cool. The early 1960s were transitional for Mitchum, the veteran actor finding his nice, but this is a fun, lead man type part. Hawkins too is perfect for the part, a great actor who could more than hold his own but seemed at his best as the second fiddle and/or banana to the lead. They have some great banter back and forth, that banter eventually turning into a heated rivalry (more later there). Also starring in Hatari!, Martinelli just isn't a great actress. Words that come to mind? Eye candy. One scene has her swimming naked, some "digital" rocks obscuring her.....talents?
Did it seem like the movie -- and this review -- was going too smoothly? Yeah, I thought so too. 'Rampage' couldn't have just been content with a hunting/safari trip to exotic locations, could it? No, that would far too easy. Instead, the story resorts to one of my favorite plot devices, the love triangle. The second Martinelli's Anna was introduced, I groaned as both Harry and Otto stare her down. Oh, so the movie's about this. Yeah! I thought watching Mitchum and Hawkins fight over her might be interesting, but nothing even somewhat entertaining comes of it. Is there any doubt who she will end up with in the end? If you said she ends up with Sabu, slap yourself for me. The love triangle is dull, drawn out, and predictable. The supposedly impossible hunts for the tigers and the Enchantress end up being relatively easy, the story clearly wanting to get back to the love triangle.
Making it worse is that 'Rampage' has no real idea how to wrap things up. I can't help but wonder if Michael Crichton was a fan of this movie because the end could be a forerunner for The Lost World. The Enchantress has been captured, its delivered to Berlin and what happens? SPOILERS STOP READING SPOILERS In an effort to have Anna all to himself, Otto traps Harry in the train car, lets the Enchantress out, and runs. Cue the Berlin zoo director who opens the car and unleashes the exotic animal on a sea of expectant, waiting fans. Cornball much? As if the love triangle aspect wasn't painful enough to watch, we've now got to see a homicidal, lunatic in Otto trying to kill Harry who just wants to capture his prize. What a big, old mess.
Rampage <---TCM clips (1963): **/****